As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

All About Starting a Flock

I’m inserting an email I recently sent to my friend’s mother who is considering getting chickens. She lives in Ohio, so is somewhat concerned about the chickens in the cold as well as questioning if her cats would bother the chickens. Lots of great info as to how I started my flock!


Hi Sally!

Good to hear you are considering getting chickens. I got mine (6 hens) last May as week-old chicks. I raised them in a box..then the shower…then finally their coop. It has been an absolute fabulous process raising them from little ladies to now big ladies who give me eggs! It kinda makes me feel like a little kid again–seeing how natural processes and nature work. Sometimes I will just sit in my backyard and watch them as they scratch around, look for bugs, roll in the dirt, etc.

If you do get them as chicks, you’ll want to read up on how to care for them as they are pretty delicate and need a constant source of warmth. Also, I got chicks that were all supposed to be females (and they were). If you raise what’s called a “straight-run” you could end up with roosters and then have to find homes or pots for them because a lot of urban neighbors are not too fond of males. Just something to think about.

Mine are quite social because I “coddled” them (as my boyfriend would say) 🙂 I definitely would pick them up a lot as chicks and to this day there are 2 that I can pick up and walk around holding like you would a friendly cat.

I get between 4-6 eggs per day. Needless to say, I don’t have to buy eggs anymore! In fact I am selling them to co-workers and friends for $3/dozen, which is nice because it helps me cover feed costs. I give them an organic feed I get from a local chicken/pet supply store. I probably spend maybe $40/month on feed..that is a guess, but I think that is about right. I supplement their feed with weeds I pull out of my garden and free-left-over-going-bad greens from the farmers at the farmers’ market. They absolutely LOVE greens and fruit/veggie extras. And bugs, they love bugs.

I have two types of chickens–Americaunas and Silver-laced Wyandottes. The Americaunas lay greenish and blueish eggs, the Wyandottes lay light brown eggs.

As far as chicken laws, which can vary from city to city,–check this out:

If you don’t find what you are looking for there, I can see if I can find an answer via my sustainable food network.

Also, I would do a search on google or yahoo to see if there are any Ohio-specific cyberspace groups. For example, I am part of the Austexpoultry Yahoo Group which is all about keeping primarily urban chickens in Austin/Central TX. It’s a great resource with hundreds of subscribers that share information and ask questions all about raising chickens. I joined this group a few months before getting my chicks just to “lurk” and learn more about having chickens. You also might want to try talking to some folks at your local farmers’ market or ag extension office; they might have more resources or could put you in touch with other urban chicken keepers in your area.

A few other websites I recommend are:

I learned about different breeds of chickens before I got mine. For example, there are some chickens that tolerate heat better than cold and vice versa or are more social or better layers, etc. etc.

I too have a cat and I was worried that he would bother the chickens or the neighborhood cats would them. And yes, had I left my cat with the chicks alone, they probably would have made a fun toy or snack. However, by the time they go outside by themselves, they are usually big enough to defend themselves, so cats really should not be a problem. If you are in an area with hawks, you’ll want to take that into consideration too (as far as not putting them in their yard or run until they are quite large and maybe even once they are full grown place netting around their run).

Now that my chickens are grown to full size, my cat wants NOTHING to do with them. In fact, last time he was in the backyard with them, they were pecking him–more in a curious way–not maliciously. Dino the cat didn’t like it. And the neighbor cats have stopped spying on them, finally realizing that the chickens are too big to bother with and have really sharp beaks and talons.

I do trim the chickens’ wings so that they can’t fly over my fence into my neighbor’s yard, who have dogs (which would most likely kill the chickens). I came home one Saturday morning to my neighbor catching one of the girls and throwing her back over the fence. Ever since that, I keep their wings clipped so they can’t go far.

As far as the weather, they should be fine in the winter with a heat lamp and semi-well insulated coop. I don’t mean you need to insulate it like you would a house, but you might put on an extra board, etc. to put over a wire opening to keep out the drafts. Right now as I write this email, the hens are in their coop and I have a huge house-painting canvass draped over it; it looks like an army tent. However, their behavior seemed normal today (this is the coldest weather they have experienced) and I think they keep quite warm under the lamp, plumped up with each other and out of the elements.

Of course I don’t live in Ohio where it gets considerably colder. However, it’s supposed to be around 16 tonight, 0 with windchill. (If they didn’t have a heat lamp, though, I would probably bring them in.)

As far as the coop, I am lucky to have a boyfriend who is incredibly handy and built me my coop with recycled materials! However, with more and more urbanites and suburanites having backyard chickens, I seem to see coops for sale more and more (Craigslist, local coop building companies, etc.)

The size of your coop will also need to correspond to how many chickens you will have. My chickens roam around the backyard, so they really only sleep in the coop. The coop is too small if they were to live in there full time. You also want to make sure your coop is very secure so raccoons and possums can’t break in at night. I don’t want to scare you, but I have heard many sad stories of raccoons ripping chicken heads through the chicken wire…Anyway, I guess what I am saying is that you shouldn’t just have the chickens’ coop be a flimsy piece of plywood and wire unless you are willing to risk a wild animal getting them.

The last resource I would recommend is a book–really any backyard chicken book. You can probably find them at your library, bookstore or online. I borrowed a book from my co-worker which was really helpful upon first getting the chicks.


2 responses

  1. Ashley Bessire

    I am loving this blog, Joy! You definitely inspire me to make good cooking and food purchasing choices 🙂

    February 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm

  2. Thanks, Ash!! I am enjoying writing and sharing!!

    February 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm

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