Arcadia Farms

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Chicken Breeds I'd Like to Own

Wish List Wednesday | Chicken Breeds I’d Like to Own

Welcome to another Wish List Wednesday! Though most of us are stuck in a deep freeze, this is the season to be thinking about little baby chickens arriving in time for spring. (Learn more about the how-to’s and benefits of backyard chickens here.) Because it’s chick-shopping season, this month’s Wish List Wednesday is focused on chicken breeds I’d love to own.

Blue Orpington

chicken breeds I'd like to own

Blue orpingtons are as docile and friendly as they are cold hardy (very). They are good egg producers and provide brown-colored eggs. Those would all make them a great fit for my suburban Michigan micro-farm, but the real reason I want one is because they look so awesome! Aren’t they pretty?

Lavender Orpington

chicken breeds I'd like to own

Duh. Same info as above, but with the beautiful distinction of being a pale purple color. And unlike Blue Orpingtons, Lavender Orpies breed true, meaning that their offspring will look just like them. (Blue Orpingtons can produce black, blue or splashed offspring.)

Barred Plymouth Rock

chicken breeds I'd like to own
She looks cool. She’s an excellent egg layer who isn’t deterred by cold weather. And, frankly, when she stops giving eggs, she makes an excellent roasting chicken. What Michigan chicken owner wouldn’t want ol’ BPR?

Easter Eggers/Ameracaunas

chicken breeds I'd like own

chicken breeds I'd like to own
I think a basket (or egg carton) of multi-colored eggs is so beautiful! I’d love to introduce an Easter Egger or Ameracauna hen into our flock for their blueish-green eggs. These birds are good egg layers, very cold hardy and friendly (although also very active). They also tend to be a bit broody.

Click here to read the rest of this article including 6 more chicken breeds and their benefits.

Chicken Paddock Planting Plan

chicken coop in paddock area

Last spring’s Chicken Week seems a world away now as I look out onto giants mounds of fluffy snow. That week of posts introducing our first flock of chickens also discussed our plans and tips for chicken keeping. One of the central concepts in our plan is a paddock system. Chicken paddocks provide several benefits, including the reduction or elimination of expenses for commercial chicken-feed. In a nutshell, the paddock system works like this:

Multiple (i.e., four) fenced areas can be accessed from the coop. These areas are deliberately planted with vegetation that is healthy for chickens to self-harvest. The paddocks are also planted with an overstory (trees to roost in, especially for protection) and an underbrush (especially to hide from airborne predators). By planting perennial food, you further minimize the amount of work necessary on your part to feed the chickens (the plants come back every year). Paddocks are designed to be large enough so that chickens can forage there for an entire week without decimating the vegetation available. After a week, they move on to a new paddock. In a system with four paddocks, the first paddock will have three weeks to “recover” before the chickens are back to eat more.

Implementing our paddock system has been a slow process because it fell low on the priority list during warm weather. By the end of last summer (2013) we had created two paddocks to surround our coop. (The original plan called for four paddocks but we decided that two larger paddocks would be better.) This spring (2014) we’ll finally be ready to fill the paddocks with gobs of perennial, chicken-friendly food to give our girls plenty of yummy foraging material.

The Plan

chicken paddock plants

Click here for the complete site assessment, as well as details about what we're planting and why.

Winter Egg Update

In mid-November I shared that our hens had stopped laying eggs completely due to molting, cold weather and minimal daylight hours. Though chickens can and will lay occasional eggs during cold, dark winter days, we decided not to endure an entire winter of feeding chickens who aren’t ‘giving back’ (or the shame of buying eggs at the grocery store)! After research and input form other homesteaders, we settled on the following plan:
  1. Add artificial light in the early morning hours so that the hens receive at least 14 hours of light a day.
  2. Use an eco-friendly white light in our heat lamp. Saves money and energy.
  3. Avoid using a red heat lamp to insure against the scenario where the chickens get used to the extra heat and we subsequently lose power.
  4. Feed more protein to the flock.

Today I’d like to give you a quick update on the progress of our plan.

First, I bought an outdoor automatic timer found in the holiday lighting section of Menards (less than $10). Though I can only plug one thing into it at a time, it allows me to create several (maybe a dozen?) different schedules for times of the day and days of the week. We’ve opted to turn our light on from 2:30 AM to 8:30 AM every morning. It’s a little longer than necessary, but based on the shifting time of the sunrise it will keep us covered without me having to remember to revise the schedule. (Call me lazy…)

The day after I finally go the light installed I went out to feed the chickens. I peeked into the coop from the door opposite the nesting box to see if there were any eggs. (I’d been doing this for several weeks – since the chickens hadn’t laid in egg in sooo long – and because it’s easier then hopping the fence to get to the nesting box.) I noticed that an egg was laying on the floor of the coop below the nesting box; it must have rolled out. How exciting! We had an egg! I hadn’t expected the light to work so quickly…

I hopped the fence, opened the nesting box and, imagine my surprise, when I discovered 16 eggs! No wonder one had rolled out…

The lesson: Yes, chickens still lay winter eggs naturally in the absence of supplemental light and heat.

True as this may be, I had no idea how many eggs per day this 16 represented (it had been three to four weeks since I’d checked… I think… I wasn’t keeping track) and one egg every few days is still not going to cut it as justification when Mr. Shank is reviewing our feed bill.

At any rate, using the light seemed to work fairly well. The girls started laying about 3 eggs a day. Recently we’ve had several four-egg days.

winter eggs

By adding supplemental light and heat we’ve been getting about three eggs a day.

winter eggs

Three eggs a day ain’t bad!

However, two things happened that made me alter the plan. First, the chickens did seem to be getting restless, even a little aggressive from their 6-hour stints locked up inside the lighted coop. Also, on very super cold days (of which we several in late November/early December) they stopped laying completely. With these things in mind, I decided to switch to the red heat lamp.

red heat light lamp chicken coop

As I mentioned in last month’s winter egg production post, red light has proven to be useful in calming chickens’ nerves. (Weird, right?) I’m certainly not conducting a scientific experiment here, but I can say that the hens seem to be calmer now that we’ve been using the red light. I have no idea if it’s just a factor of time or if it has to do with the warmth of the heat lamp, but the two chickens whose feathers were very sparse have filled back in nicely.

So far things are going well – we’re pleased with three or four eggs a day. I’ve been cooking up food scraps (like carrot peelings, apple cores, sweet potato leftovers, bits of steak, etc.) into a warm batch of… goop… for the hens to enjoy. And though I know they’re a heavy breed intended to withstand winter just fine on their own, I can tell that they’re not fond of the snow. They come out in the morning to eat and drink but usually spend their day in the coop.

I bet they can’t wait for six-eggs-a-day season spring.

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Holiday Henhouse

This is our first winter with chickens. As I was putting up the Christmas decorations this year I thought it would be fun to spread some yuletide cheer to the chicken coop. It’s nothing extravagant, but it makes me feel extra Christmas-y every morning when it’s time to feed the hens and gather the eggs.

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

The coop looks especially neat in the early hours of the morning when our red heat light is still on. (The lamp is currently on from 2:30 am to 8:30 am every morning to provide enough light and heat for egg production.)

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

christmas decorated chicken coop

I’m already looking forward to getting extra-creative with decorating the coop next year.

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Four-Egg Day

Ever since wintery weather began we’ve been receiving one to three eggs each day. After skillful interrogation I still haven’t been able to get the hens to spill the beans on which girls aren’t pulling their weight!

Meanwhile, three eggs a day isn’t bad.

Yesterday, however, was an extraordinary day. Yesterday was a four egg day. Apparently whoever decided to start pitching in is a little out of practice, because she gave us this…

odd shaped egg

Honestly, the first thing I thought when I saw it was – ouch! Then I thought about this

I’ll bet the funny-looking torpedo egg tastes just as good as the rest.

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Winter Egg Production

If you live in Michigan then you don’t need me to tell you that the weather is getting cold and the days are getting darker. Our yard has already been covered in a dual blanket of leaves and snow several times this month. Another sign at Arcadia Farms that cold weather has arrived can be found in the chicken coop. Or, more specifically, can’t be found in the chicken coop. No eggs. Our hens have stopped laying completely. We’ve been eggless for over a week now.

Making the transition from egg producers to egg consumers has highlighted how blessed we are to have our own chickens. Last Friday my grocery list included eggs for the first time in about six months. I confess that I felt almost like a fraud as I reached into the cooler of eggs at Meijer. In addition to my farmer-shame, I discovered that ‘natural’ eggs at the store are up to $4 a dozen now – Yikes! I’m eager to get our girls back into production, so here’s the plan.

Why Hens Stop Producing Eggs in Fall/Winter

why chickens stop laying eggsIn early October our hens’ egg production slowed to four or five eggs a day rather than the usual six. We suspect that the hens were in the process of molting. Molting is when chickens produce new plumage for winter and shed their summer feathers. The process is aimed at preparing the bird for winter and takes a significant amount of energy to complete. The energy normally spent on egg production is consumed by the molting process.

We’re cool with losing out on a few eggs here and there while we wait patiently for nature to do its thing. Or at least, we were, until nature started to look like an empty nesting box.

Last week our chickens abruptly stopped laying completely. The event coincided with me cleaning out the coop and refreshing the bedding. Though I knew that was an unlikely culprit in the lack of eggs, I decided to keep the hens in their paddock for an entire day to make sure they hadn’t just picked a new favorite spot to nest. No dice eggs.

Thanks to a little research and feedback from a homesteading Facebook group I discovered the other two reasons why chickens stop laying eggs as the weather cools: Lack of warmth and lack of sunlight.

Chickens require about 14 total hours of sunlight per day to produce eggs. An article on Backyard Chickens does an excellent job of explaining why:

“Chickens are ‘told’ to produce eggs by their endocrine system, a system of different glands and organs that produce hormones.  As the daylight hours shorten in winter, changes in these hormones shut down egg production. Adding additional light triggers the endocrine system into action, causing them to produce more eggs. Continuously giving chickens light in the winter fools their bodies into thinking that the days aren’t getting shorter at all.”

Another cold-weather factor impacts egg production is (no surprise here) temperature. Chickens lay best when the ambient temperature is between 52 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures fall outside of those parameters, egg production slows or stops. Also sudden, extreme changes in temperature can trigger an equally sudden stop to egg laying. (If ‘sudden, extreme change in temperature’ doesn’t describe fall in Michigan, I don’t know what does!)

Our hens had already begun molting in early October (with a subsequent drop in eggs) but during the week of our first official snow (which contained a sudden and large drop in ambient temperatures) they stopped producing entirely.

How to Re-Start Egg Production

The prescription for getting our hens producing again is pretty straight forward. Step 1 is to provide more light. After research and discussion with experienced chicken owners, it appears that adding heat and changing diet may be helpful but don’t always prove necessary.

Winter Lighting in the Chicken Coop

Artificial lighting can be used to supplement sunlight and provide chickens with the total 14 hours needed daily to produce eggs when days are short. We’re not able to hardwire a light in our coop at this time so we’ve run an outdoor extension cord to the same light we used to keep our birdies warm when they were chicks.

lighting chicken coop

Based on my research the best practice is to add early-morning light rather than evening light. Additional evening light can have an impact on the birds’ temperaments and might also result in adjusting the birds to be afternoon layers. For some people these potential side effects might not be a burden. In the event of adding evening light, a low-tech way is to turn the light on in the evening when you’d normally turn your house lights on (5:30ish these days) and turning them off when you go to bed. For early-morning light, or for those of you who want a more hands-off approach, installing a timer will do the trick. I plan to spend between $20-$30 at a home improvement store to find the right solution to add early-morning light without having to get up in the wee hours of the morning.

lighting chicken coopI’ve talked to several homesteaders who’ve had success getting their hens to lay in winter by simply using a white light bulb (40 or 60 watt). Using a high efficiency bulb can make this an environmentally and financially friendly option. Meanwhile, using a red heat lamp (like the one used to keep little chicks warm as they grow) costs more to operate; however, the red light may actually be more beneficial to your flock. Research cited by Animalens Inc. shows that chickens who wear red-tinted contact lenses (yes, seriously) “behave differently from birds that don’t. The chickens are calmer, less prone to pecking and cannibalism; the mortality rate is lower. For a variety of reasons, some not fully understood, they also tend to eat less feed while producing, on average, the same size and number of eggs as other chickens (even a bit more).” I’m not itching to run out and buy contact lenses for my chickens (especially at $20 per pair!) but I’m willing to buy the fact that red might be overall better for the disposition (and egg production) of my birdies.

Warming the Chicken Coop in Winter

Of course using a red heat bulb in the coop helps to address both lighting and warming. If red lighting isn’t an option for you, proper insulation will go a long way to helping your chickens to stay warm. Your inclination might be to simply close up the coop tightly, but remember that proper ventilation is important! You don’t want a direct breeze blowing on the place where your hens roost, however, air flow is important to keep molds and mildews from building up as your chickens add heat and moisture (body heat and breath) to the coop. Overarching all of this is the admonition to select birds that do well in winter weather. In general heavier breeds will be more likely to thrive during cold weather.

A good point to keep in mind is that if you heat your coop your chickens will learn to depend on that warmth. What happens then when if you lose power? A natural way to add a small amount of heat to the coop is to use the deep liter method. With this method the decomposition of liter and manure will add some (not sure how much) heat to the coop all winter long.

In addition to what’s around them, chickens can be kept warm by what is in them. One site suggests feeding the chickens corn in the evening so that they are digesting during the night (adding warmth). Warmed water may also help your birds stay warm. You can buy water heaters from a store like Tractor Supply Company.

heated base chicken waterer

Or you could try something like this…

Should We Re-Start Egg Production?

You can see that re-starting egg production (or keeping it from stopping) when the days become short and cold can be very straightforward – add a heat lamp. But before you head out to the coop, consider this: Should you?

Healthy, happy chickens are likely to produce at least some eggs during the winter. Clearly adding artificial light and heat means you’re adding things that naturally-raised chickens have survived without for many, many generations. There’s some debate about whether or not adding artificial light and heat may have long-term negative effects on the health of your chickens. More specifically, there is debate about the health impact on a chicken who is forced to continue laying when she should be molting.

One fact that is not up for debate is whether or not adding artificial light will shorten the laying longevity of a hen. Chickens are born with all the eggs they will ever produce, so, inducing them to lay (by using artificial light) when they naturally would not (cold, light-deprived winter days) is essentially hastening the day when your hen will be ready to retire. For those of you keeping chickens as pets, this is a serious point to consider. For those raising chickens for their eggs, it may be of less concern.

Our Plans

I want to treat our chickens humanely and provide them with a healthy environment. However… I also want eggs. And though I am planning to keep these birdies for their whole life, I’m also planning on their life ending right about the time they stop laying (likely about 3 years). After that, I’ll keep them… in a ½ gallon canning jar on the shelf or sealed in my freezer. You can imagine then that I’m not too concerned about hastening the advent of each hen’s final egg. I am, however, concerned about raising my hens in a way that is healthy for them (and ultimately, my family). I don’t like the idea of our flock adjusting to artificial heat (i.e., red heat bulb) because I worry about the potential harm it could do to them if when we have one of those famous Michigan winter power outages. Though red light may be more soothing than white, my hope is that providing light from a regular bulb will feel more natural when delivered in the morning (kind of like an early sunrise… maybe I’m kidding myself…). If I see a change in temperament in the flock I’ll likely switch to a red light for good since I also read that switching back and forth can be even more stressful than simply using a white light.

I’ll need to do more research, but I’m considering giving our flock a good 4-6 weeks off each fall (October and November) to molt without the presence of artificial light and heat. After that time, then I think I’ll move on to adding artificial white light. What do you think? Any concerns about that plan? Any tips you can provide this rookie chicken-keeper with? You know I appreciate all of it!

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Clipping Chicken Wings

Last week I shared that we’re one step closer to bona fide chicken paddocks at Arcadia Farms. Our paddocks are enclosed with four foot tall chain link fencing. Despite being a heavy breed (Isa Reds), our hens demonstrated several times that they had no qualms about flying up to and then out of our fences.

Bad news…

Our solution? We clipped their wings.

One wing per bird. That way, if a hen tries to fly, she’ll be off balance and eventually give up on the idea entirely. I love learning to live this agricultural, sustainable life I’m living, but let’s be real – I’m an HR professional, not a farm girl. What do I know about clipping chicken wings?

Thank God for YouTube.

Armed with a demonstration from the video below and a can-do attitude, I figured out how to clip chicken wings. Ryan held each bird for me since holding them steady and making a good cut (and being a nervous newbie!) seemed like a two-person show. Good news is, the process was super easy and equally effective. One hen got off the hook when I did the original clipping because she was laying an egg at the time. Sure enough, she flew out of the paddock every single day until I finally made the time to clip her wing as well.

I’m happy to announce that we’ve had no escapees since then. I also like to think that my farm-girl street cred has increased at least slightly.

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Chicken Paddocks Update #1

Back in April we brought you Chicken Week to celebrate our hen’s introduction to the wild backyard. At that time, I wrote a post about pastured poultry in paddocks. Here’s a quick summary:

There are many methods for raising chickens, including the typical coop and run. Of all the options (I discussed five in my original post) we decided to go with pastured poultry in paddocks. In this system, chickens rotate through several paddocks planted with food chickens can self-harvest because it has several benefits and/or addresses limitations of the other options.

The gist of using paddocks for chickens is that you provide multiple (i.e., four) fenced areas which the chickens can access from their coop. These areas are deliberately planted with vegetation that is healthy for chickens to self-harvest. The paddocks are also planted with an overstory (trees to roost in, especially for protection) and an underbrush (especially to hide from airborne predators). By planting perennial food, you further minimize the amount of work necessary on your part to feed the chickens (the plants come back every year). Paddocks are designed to be large enough so that chickens can hang out there for an entire week before moving on to the next paddock; There is enough vegetation in each paddock that they do not decimate the landscape before they leave. (To further protect the ground cover, you could make use of these grazing screens. These enable chickens to eat the top portions of ground cover but not to destroy the plants by uprooting them.) In a system with four paddocks, the first paddock will have three weeks to “recover” before the chickens are back to eat more. Poop doesn’t accumulate all in one place. The entire bug population is not destroyed in one day. Vegetation is not obliterated. And the only work you have to do is let the chickens out in the morning (each paddock is accessed from the coop via a different gate) and close up the coop at night. In conjunction with the deep liter method for bedding, maintenance becomes almost a non-issue.

I’m still sold on the value of paddocks for chickens. But alas, the realities of life (especially micro-farm life) meant that building paddocks fell to the bottom of the priority list… which meant that our chickens were free-ranging in the (fenced) backyard until recently.

I confess – having free-ranging chickens in the backyard wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. The primary issue that needed to be addressed was keeping the chickens out of the garden – I accomplished this by putting up deer-netting stapled to 4’ garden stakes all along the Fenceline Garden. Since our underground fence is currently not working, this is also effective for keeping the dogs out. As an added bonus, the fabric is tiny enough that you can barely tell it’s there until you get close. (Why didn’t I think of that before installing an underground fence?) The other challenge was that the chickens pooped all over the inside of the lean-to shed which quickly became their favorite place to hangout. Oh, and they loved hanging out at the backdoor; more poop.

If it weren’t for all the poop, I might have considered moving on with allowing the girls to free-range in the backyard. Our bug population was pleasantly in-check and the woods were being eliminated in several places. What’s more, the dogs and chickens get along great so no extra fencing was needed to keep them safe. (In fact, the chickens are the ones who get a little bossy some times!)

But alas, the poop problem could only be addressed by containing the birds to a certain area of the yard. Lucky for us we have fabulous neighbors – one neighbor supplied us with fabric and posts from and old fence and another gave us top rail. Free. Fence. #win

So at the end of June, Ryan adjusted the location of our masterfully created coop and fenced that puppy in! Here’s what it looks like now…

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

Instead of four separate paddocks, we’re opting for just two. The dividing fences aren’t up yet so currently it’s just one chicken yard.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

It’s time to get more vegetation planted in there because the girls are starting to make quick work of the grass! (Most of the brown you see is actually pine shavings that have fallen out of the coop.) You can see in this picture that there are chickens outside of the paddock as well. Since we’ve had so many bugs lately (due to gobs of rain) I thought I’d let them wander the backyard for a while.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

These timbers (attached to the house) will be trimmed back. Right now we still have many of the other timbers still sitting in the paddock. We don’t need them all, but the hens do like climbing on them. And every once in a while I turn one over so they can enjoy the bugs underneath.

Our experimental New Potatoes harvested from outside the garden fence.

You can see bits of kale and bok choy (from our neighbor!) laying on the ground that have not yet been eaten. If you enlarge the picture, you’ll also see the remains of some lettuce I planted for the chicks (it’s in the upper left corner of the paddock).

The day he put the fence in we kept singing:

Posts in the ground,

Posts in the ground,

Lookin’ pretty cool with yo posts in the ground

Looking Pretty Cool

The chickens love it in there and have made quick work of all the weeds. But you’ll notice, it’s just one little chicken yard – no paddocks. I got so used to the sight and idea of them grazing in our big back yard (they are excellent foragers!) that it pains me to think about dividing their little space up into four sections. I’m even a little skeptical about dividing it up into two sections, but that’s what we’ve decided to do for now. Sometime soon we’ll be putting up fences to make two separate sections for the chickens. We’ve laid it all out so that there will be access from the coop and so that the two external gates (we’re going to add a second) will open into separate paddocks.

Now all that’s left to do is plant some food in this bad boys…

I started by transplanting lettuce from the garden. It was too biter for human consumption, I but I thought the chickens would enjoy it. Sunday morning I went to feed them and discovered I was out of feed… by the time I got back from the store after church, they had enjoyed a mighty large salad! I’m still working on a plan for both perennial and annual plants to add to the paddocks. More on that soon! Meanwhile, just yesterday I received a random phone call from a neighbor who is disheartened by some of her (organic) vegetables going to waste and wants to know if she can bring a weekly delivery of too-wilty-for-humans veggies for the chickens. We have such great neighbors!

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Our First Egg

Today we’re getting several things done in the yard. One of those things is finally constructing the chicken paddocks around the coop. (Until now, the chickens have been free-ranging in the backyard.) I’ll be posting a more complete chicken update soon, but just couldn’t wait to share this: We have eggs!

brown egg in grass

Well… one egg, really. The first one. Ryan discovered it in the corner of the coop (not in the nesting box) when moving the coop this afternoon to its permanent home. I wasn’t expecting the chickens to start laying until mid-to-late July. Yay! More updates coming soon.


Our DIY Chicken Coop from Scrap Materials

chicken coop with metal roof

Chicken Week ended many days ago. All the same, there’s one mildly important feature in our chicken raising plans that I have yet to share with you: Our chicken coop. Why the delay? Well… in short, the coop wasn’t done when I expected it to be. It was scheduled to be completed at the beginning of Chicken Week… and then at the end of Chicken Week… and then… well, the coop was ready early the following week.

That’s how life goes when you approach projects with a do-it-yourself perspective. Our DIY chicken coop was created by Ryan and Papa over the course of about three weeks. (Ryan spent nearly every free moment he had on putting this puppy together). I owe them a huge thanks! Mostly today’s post is a tour of the coop. If you have technical questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to get back to you with the answer.

The Materials

The structure of our coop is made entirely of re-used or re-purposed materials. Most of the framing came from a large, old dog house that I mentioned way back in this post. The remainder came from scrap wood that Papa had in his barn (which is where the coop was built). The metal used for the siding and roof were leftovers from when the barn was built. The area under the peak of the roof was put together using wood from our old kitchen cabinets (we remodeled the kitchen this year). Paint for the doors and trim came from a gallon of outdoor paint I purchased last year for the house (it matches our trim and shutters). The only new materials on the coop are the hardware – hinges, clasps and carabiners to keep racoons out. The coop is currently resting on landscape timbers but will eventually sit on cinder blocks.

The Design

The coop is 4? x 6? in order to provide the recommended 4 square feet of space per bird. Windows on two sides (lined with welded wire secured from the inside) provides for ventilation. Eventually we will also add ventilation at the gable ends. And at some point in the future the windows will receive working shutters to close out drafts on cold nights.

chicken coop window

The window is lined with welded wire to keep critters (especially racoons) out.

chicken coop close up

The front of the coop has two windows and a door.

There are doors on three sides of the coop designed to work with the paddock system we have planned. Having a door on all sides of the coop means that no matter which paddock the chickens are using that week, we can leave one door open during daylight hours for easy in-and-out access at the chickens leisure. The fourth “door” is at the back of the coop; the entire bottom half of the back wall opens on hinges. This not only will allow the hens access to the back paddock but will also enable us to more easily clean out the coop when the time comes. Because we’re using the deep liter method for the bedding, clean outs should be infrequent (somewhere between every 2-6 months). It cost about $11 to (deeply) fill the coop and nesting boxes with pine shavings from Tractor Supply Company.

chcken coop door latch close up

All of the doors and nesting boxes have these high-quality latches which will be used with carabiners to keep predators out.

west chicken coop door

Here are the windows and the door on the west side of the coop.

chcken coop door latch close up

In the back of the coop, the entire back half of the south wall opens up. We still need to add hooks for keeping this door secure while open.

Speaking of deep liter, the floor of the coop is lined with vinyl flooring to make clean up easier. It’s high quality vinyl too – a remnant from my in-law’s kitchen flooring! (Thanks again!!!)

vinyl flooring chicken coop

The floor of the coop is covered in a vinyl remnant for easy clean-up.

vinyl flooring chicken coop

View of the back door from the inside.

vinyl flooring chicken coop

High-quality vinyl flooring (for hens with discriminating taste!).

On the east side of the coop there are two nesting boxes. (You should have one nesting box for every four laying hens; two boxes will be just right for our six girls.) The roof of each box lifts up on hinges for easy access to eggs without having to crawl into the coop. These also close with a latch and carabiner to keep pesky but nimble racoons out.  Nesting boxes are topped with the same metal used for the roof. A metal roof allows us to collect rain water from the coop without worrying about dangerous chemicals from commercial shingles leaching into the water. Our intent is to use the water for the chickens but more design thought and work is needed to make a healthy, sustainable system.

chicken coop nesting box

Based on recommendations I’ve received you should have one nesting box for every four hens. We have two for six hens.

chicken coop nesting box

Boxes open from the outside-top for easy access to eggs.

chicken coop nesting box

Although they weren’t attached at the time of this picture, the nesting boxes have the same latches as the doors.

Inside the coop hens are able to roost on the trusses of the roof structure. There are a few areas that need weatherproofing with a wee bit of caulk. But even with that in mind, it is a very comfortable structure for our hens to call home.

inside chicken coop

Roof structure, facing front of the coop.

inside chicken coop

Roof structure, facing back of the coop.

inside chicken coop

This is a view of the front door from the inside.


Front door and windows.

inside chicken coop

See, I told you the liter would be deep! (Don’t worry, the chickens pack it down some when they scratch.)

front of chicken coop

Everything is ready for the hens to see their new home for the first time!


Just waiting for chickens…

chickens in coop


chickens in coop

So much more room than the dog crate brooder! What will they do with all that space?


Security system is operational…

chickens in coop

Welcome home, girls!

What do you think? Any thoughts on how we could make the coop even better? Any innovations you’ve used for your chickens that you think we should consider? As always, I’m 100% open to any ideas you’d like to send our way!

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The Chickens Next Door

The moral of today’s post is that a major component of suburban/urban chicken keeping involves being a good neighbor… sweater or otherwise.

Let’s face it – not everyone thinks keeping chickens is a super idea, regardless of how many benefits there are to be had. Your neighbors might be some of those people. Whether your neighbors are obstinate, hesitant or exuberant about your flock, here are some considerate things you can do to keep their interests in mind without hampering your own.


People like their privacy. In general, people also like control. When it comes to their own property, they have a right to control its use and appearance. While your neighbors don’t have a right to control the use and appearance of your property, good neighbors keep their neighbors interests in mind. Considering all of this, fencing is an important feature in a suburban homestead that includes chickens. Fences serve three purposes. First, they keep your chickens contained on your property or a portion thereof. Second, they help to keep predators away from your chickens. And third, they help to control views into and out of your property. Let’s talk briefly about each purpose.

Keeping Chickens In

Many ordinances require that suburban/urban chickens be contained by either completely enclosed arrangements (chicken run) or four foot high fencing. Besides being a matter of law, this is also a good idea. Keeping your chickens contained gives you more control over their access to portions of your property and keeps them from invading the neighbor’s yard.

Keeping Predators Out

You and I aren’t the only ones who like a plump, juicy chicken breast. Predators ranging from your neighbors dog to area raccoons and many things in between would like to make lunch out of your birds. While a fence won’t keep them all out, it will keep some of them out and possibly deter others. For ideas on good predator-proof fences, click here.

Controlling Views

View of trees lining a country road against blue skyIf your budget allows, a good way to ensure your neighbors won’t be offended by your homestead’s chickens is to install a beautiful (or maybe even standard) privacy fence around the whole of your property. This fence provides you with privacy but also keeps your avian-averse neighbors from seeing your chickens. This kind of fence (usually made of wood) can also serve to keep chickens in and predators out as we discussed above. However if your primary concern is controlling views, you can also plant a hedgerow (a living fence made of a line of shrubs or trees) that grows over time or grow vining flowers/fruits on fences. A hedgerow can provide benefits like nuts and berries (for you or the chickens!) depending on varieties you select. (even blueberry bushes can make a good hedge.) A hedgerow might also consist of tall ornamental grasses. Perennial vining plants may offer the benefit of beauty, attract pollinators like bees and/or provide other edibles like fruit and veggies. The benefit of using vining plants is that you can work with existing fences (especially chain link) for a nominal fee. In our garden, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and nasturtiums climb the chain link fence to partially obscure views from the east. This year we’ll also plant perennial berries on the west fence specifically to provide a more pleasant view to our neighbors (the chicken coop is on that side of the yard). We’ll also be planting climbing nasturtium and beans on the south side of the chicken paddock and evergreen underbrush throughout (such as variegated japanese sedge). These plants serve multiple purposes: Food, shelter and aesthetics for both us and the neighbors.


Some people say chickens are smelly. While this may seem like an unnecessary observation for me to make, let me just say that chickens aren’t smelly: Their poop is. If you were stuck in one spot for a long time and your poop accumulated in one spot without being moved, people would think you were smelly too. (I’m just saying…)

All the same, chickens do make waste and depending on your management method, it can pile up. Here are some good-neighbor ways to address smells.

Avoiding Coop-and-Pen Chicken Raising

The first tactic I recommend is to stay away from a chicken keeping method that involves your birds being confined to one place forever. In the typical coop and run management method, chickens live and eat in the same place where they make waste… and it all piles up. That’s where the ammonia smells affiliated with chickens comes from. For ideas on other ways to raise your chickens, check out this post.

Frequent Cleaning

Unless your birds are truly free range (which seems unlikely and unwise in an urban setting) you’ll have a coop for them. You could opt to clean their coop frequently (once or twice a week) to reduce odors, especially if you can’t avoid the coop and run method. The problems here are 1) that’s a lot of work 2) it’s expensive to replace bedding that often 3) that’s a lot of work 4) the waste you clean out has to go somewhere 5) that’s a lot of work and 6) every time you clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne. Also, it’s a lot of work.


Lilac flowers

Deep-Liter Method

To avoid having to continually clean your coop, try the deep liter method. Click here for a great article on how and why to use this method, but in a nutshell, you use a large amount of bedding and as the chickens scratch in it, the bedding and feces naturally compost and reduce pathogens. This method dramatically reduces odors and amounts to cleaning the coop much less often (between one and four times a year).

Fragrant Planting

If your birds have access to roam the yard (or an area of the yard) and you’re using the deep liter method, you’ve likely eliminated the bulk of any odors normally associated with chickens. If you want to take your quest for good neighborliness a step further, you could also add fragrant plantings to your landscape. According to the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom, the following plants are both durable and fragrant: Daphne, honeysuckle, lavender, lilac, roses, sweet box, viburnum and witch hazel. Fragrant plantings are best placed near the chicken coop, near property lines or both places.


Even the most docile of chickens will make some noise. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it won’t even compare to all of the barking dogs and squealing children. All the same, here are some things you can do to reduce the impact of chicken-noise on your neighbors.

No Roosters

I love sleep. I wouldn’t want to awoken at dawn by my own rooster and I can’t imagine how annoyed I’d be if that rooster belonged to my neighbor! Most backyard flocks exist for egg production – skip the rooster. You don’t need him. (Also many ordinances forbid roosters in urban/suburban settings).

Wind Chimes

Be careful. Depending on the sound of the chime, this could be just as or more annoying as hearing your chickens clucking. If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, ask them in advance what they think about wind chimes.

Bring on the Birds

Not chickens – song birds. Here’s a list of ways to attract songbirds to your property. But keep in mind – some of these birdies start singing in the morning just as early as a rooster!


A Water Feature

If you’ve always wanted a pond with a mini waterfall, here’s your excuse. A well-designed waster feature may muffle chicken noises.

Melodious Plantings

According to Free-Range Chicken Gardens, the following plants will create a rustling sound in the wind that may help to muffle chicken noises: Bamboo, love-in-a-mist, maiden grass, quaking aspen and quaking grass.

Other Considerations

We’re fortunate to have great neighbors whom we talk with frequently. If you also have great relationships with your neighbors, let them know that you’re getting/you have chickens. Talk with them about your plans to keep chickens in a way that is respectful of the views and smells and sounds coming from your property. If your plan will take time to implement (as portions of ours will) it’s also important to share that with your neighbors. At a minimum, they’ll appreciate knowing that you have their interests in mind.

Picking a chicken breed that is docile and quiet is also a good move for suburban chicken owners. Click here and here for resources to help you pick the right breed.

Also, the appearance of your coop is important to your neighbors’ perception of chicken keeping. You’ll need to get creative, get resourceful or cough up some cash, but it’s in your long-term best interest to make sure your coop isn’t an eyesore. Other Mr. Rogersish things to do would be sharing eggs and teaching neighbor kids about the chickens (with their parents’ permission).

Being a good neighbor is an important part of urban/suburban chicken keeping. If you put these tips into practice, you’ll be doing your part to minimize complaints and concerns so that your neighbors can see the true value of a backyard flock rather than focusing on stereotypes or issues that might make them miss the good stuff.

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Pastured Poultry in Paddocks

Though the iconic mental picture most of us get when it comes to raising chickens is the standard coop and run, there are many methods for raising chickens. Here’s a quick overview of your options:

  1. Coop and Run. A dwelling for the chickens with an attached, enclosed cage allowing the birds some outdoor space.
  2. Chicken Tractor. A small but moveable pen which is rotated around a pasture, usually every week.
  3. Truly Free Range. Allowing birds to find their own food, water and shelter on your property.
  4. Pastured Poultry in Pens. Similar to a chicken tractor but much larger and moved more often (i.e., twice daily).
  5. Pastured Poultry in Paddocks. Chickens rotate through several paddocks planted with food chickens can self-harvest.

About the Options

coop and run showing no vegetation

Typical run. Look mom – no grass!

Each of these methods have their pros and cons. To be completely transparent, I’m not here to tell you about all the pluses of each option – if you want to know the pros, you’ll want to do some extra research.I’m here to talk to you about the option we’re using: Pastured poultry in paddocks. However, to adequately tell you why I believe #5 is the best option, I have to talk a bit about the challenges of the first four so you’ll understand how using paddocks addresses the limitations of those other options. Brace yourself – the negativity is about to get a little deep for a paragraph or two here.

The Coop and Run method is first. The problem here mostly be summed up on one word I repeatedly tell my seven-year-old not to say at the dinner table: Poop. In a Coop and Run system, lots and lots of poop piles up in one location. The result is a stinky mess and a flock that lives (walks, sits, eats, drinks) in pathogens from their own feces. (Doesn’t that sound appetizing?) Even when chickens have access to the outdoors (the Run) there’s still a messy accumulation of poop. Also, the chickens completely obliterate any green vegetation that used to exist in the pen. So in essence, these birds live in a poop hole and a mud pit. This is not good. #drops the mic

chicken tractor

Typical chicken tractor

With all of that accumulation of yuck, at some point you’re going to have to clean it up. Which means either a) you’re constantly cleaning up after chickens or b) you hardly ever clean up after chickens but they live in filth. And as Paul Wheaton points out, when you do clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne for at least a little while.

Next let’s talk about Chicken Tractors. This is an improvement over the Coop and Run method because there is less accumulation of poo in one area. However, the tractor sizes tend to be on the small size (just because you can put birds in an area that small doesn’t mean you should). Also, the effectiveness of the method depends heavily on how often the tractor is moved. Here’s what Mr. Wheaton has to say about it:

“A few people will move a chicken tractor once or twice per day, such that the chickens will consume about 30% of what is growing in a spot before moving on.  This is an improvement over what most people will do which is to leave the chicken tractor in one spot until all vegetation is gone.  Or worse, beyond that point. Consider that in general, 40% of what grows on the ground is probably good for chickens to eat.  30% is slightly toxic and the rest is very toxic. If left in one spot for more than a few hours, the chickens end up eating their own poop that has fallen on their ‘food’.”

free range chickens in pear tree

Free-range chickens need a home

Our next option is truly free range chickens – as in no coop, no pen, no tractor, no nothing. The challenge here is that we’ve taken on the responsibility to care for these animals but left them vulnerable to predators and possibly lack of available food (depends on what your land is like). In addition, eggs will be laid all over the place and you’ll have no idea how old they are. Aaaand this romantic idea of letting chickens run free like they do in the wild will loose its appeal quickly when your patio furniture and car and lawn mower and dog house and back lawn and swing set and swimming pool are all slathered in chicken droppings.

Onward to Pastured Poultry in Pens. This is similar to a chicken tractor only the pen is larger and moved more often (2 times a day). Less waste accumulates in one spot, and (if you’re really on top of things) the chickens don’t decimate the ground cover before they move. The challenge here is that making it work requires you to move the pen twice day. I don’t even like to answer the phone twice a day, let alone move a big chicken pen around my yard.

Pastured Poultry in Paddocks

Now with all that negativity behind us (where did that sarcastic girl come from?!) let’s sweeten things up a bit! After much reading I have become convinced that using paddocks is the best way to raise chickens.

Click here to read the rest of this article, including the reasons paddocks are superior and tips on using them effectively.


Caring for Baby Chicks

Chickens may be “easy to care for” but baby chicks are fragile. Follow these tips to give you little peeps the best chance at a healthy adult life.

Before the Chicks Arrive – Brooder Setup

Baby chicks need a warm, safe, clean place to live during the first 4-6 weeks of their life. That warm, safe, clean place is called a brooder and it can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

The brooder can be as simple as a cardboard box or as complex as a wood and wire box built for the occasion. The container should be able to keep bedding (i.e., pine shavings), chicken poo, chicken feed and, well, chickens, enclosed at all times while still allowing air flow. Our brooder was initially a large plastic Rubbermaid tub. As our chickens grew we graduated to a large cardboard box and eventually a large dog crate with cardboard inserts to keep the bedding inside.

plastic tub chick brooder cardboard box chick brooder dog crate chick brooder

Temperature is critical during the first few weeks so you’ll want a heat lamp to keep those chickees warm! During the first week the temperature inside the brooder should be 95*. Every week after that you lower the temperature by 5* (move the lamp higher) until eventually you settle around 70* and turn the lamp off. To be able to accurately determine the temperature you’ll also want to include a thermometer. I placed my indoor/outdoor thermometer inside the brooder – tells me the brooder temp and (remotely) tells me the greenhouse temp.


Chicks also need something to eat (typically commercial chick feed) and something to drink (whiskey water). Becuase they’re messy creatures, it’s your job to make sure their food and water don’t get (overly) contaminated with poo. Ergo, these puppies come in handy:


Pardon the mess… these were photographed right before being cleaned.

The other thing you’ll need in your brooder is bedding. The bedding absorbs chicken waste. I’ve heard rumors that pine shavings are bad for chickens because they give off some manner of harmful emission. Unfortunately I didn’t learn that until after I had already filled my brooder with pine shavings. I did more reading (especially in the forums at and the overwhelming majority of chicken owners said they had been using pine shavings for a long time with no signs of impact on the chickens. All the same, after we ran out of wood chips I used timothy hay. I have to say, the wood chips definitely did a better job of absorbing moisture and smells. Plus the with the way our final brooder was setup (dog crate with cardboard sides) there were small cracks where the bedding would fall out onto the floor when the chickens scratched in it. Long story short, I ended up with chicken bedding on my floor. Not. Happy. I’m going back to wood chips. (On a side note, resist the urge to use shredded newspaper. Apparently it is very slippery under the little chickees feet and can lead to abnormalities in foot development.)

pine shaving bedding brooder

In this picture you can see that the bottom of the brooder box is covered in pine shavings. This type of bedding did an excellent job absorbing moisture and odor.

timothy hay bedding in brooder

In this picture the brooder has timothy hay for bedding. Not nearly as effective as the pine shavings.

timothy hay bedding in brooder

When the chickens scratch they are constantly causing the hay to fall out onto the floor. Huge mess! That’s why there are blankets on the floor. Have I mentioned how happy I am that it’s time for these girls to go outside??

Bringing the Chicks Home

Now that your brooder is setup and the temperature is just right, you’re ready to bring some babies home! If you ordered chicks to be delivered through a hatchery, they’ll arrive a little stressed. The chicks are packaged in a way that they’re collective body heat keeps them warm, but as soon as you open the packaging, getting them into an appropriately warm environment is critical. Also keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for one or two chicks to die during delivery because of the stress. Keep that in mind if you have little ones who are helping you get the chicks setup. (Knowing that this is common, hatcheries will often send you a couple of extra ‘insurance’ chicks.)

If you’re picking your chicks up, you’ll want to keep them warm in transport. Our six chicks came home in a cardboard box from Tractor Supply Company that looked a little like a happy meal with ventilation holes. (Perhaps we should name one nugget?) The ride from TSC to our farm is about 5 minutes so I just made sure the temp in the car was comfortable.

Whether you bring them or the mailman does, the first thing you want to do is encourage your chicks to take a drink of water. Gently pick them up and dip their beaks into the water container until they drink.

Now is a good time to take note of how the chicks behave. If they huddle together under the light, they are probably too cold and you’ll need to lower the heat lamp. If they scatter to the edges of the brooder, they are probably too hot. Having a thermometer in the brooder takes some of the guess work out of this part.

Another thing to check for is “pasting up.” This is a condition where a stressed chick gets a buildup of feces on their vent (where their poo comes out). You want to check your chicks often for pasting up. (I checked mine a couple of times a day during the first week they were with us – their second week of life – and since none of them ever had a problem, I stopped checking after that.) If one of your chicks has a problem with pasting up, guess what you get to do? Clean it. Grab a damp, warm towel and wipe away the problem. Sounds gross, but think of all the street cred you’ll gain in the backyard chicken community…

Ongoing Chick Care

In addition to the things mentioned above, remember that you need to adjust the heat lamp every week so that the temperature drops by 5 degrees. This process is essentially “hardening them off” just like you would do with a plant that has been living indoors and is now ready to live outside. You’ll also want to change the chicks’ bedding at least once a week or more often if it gets especially nasty in there. After the chicks are 2-3 weeks old, they can take field trips to the outdoors so long as the temperature is warm. Keep a close eye on them to protect them from family pets and predators like hawks or racoons. Our chickens ventured outside twice before they moved to the coop – once at four weeks old and once at five weeks old. Both occasions were on warm (60*) sunny days and lasted for about 30-40 minutes. Marley helped us to keep a watchful shepherd eye on them both times.

marley shepherd chickens

Although Marley looks like a lab, he is part Australian Shepherd. We see the shepherd in him coming out when he interacts with our chickens and our bunny.

When your chicks are four to five weeks old, they’re probably ready to be called chickens. They’re also ready to move to their permanent outdoor home. Because our chickens are old enough to get the heck out of my spare bedroom already be outside now, they’ve moved to their new home in the backyard (more on that later this week!). Though daytime temps are up in the 50?s and 60?s, our April nights still dip down to nearly freezing. For that reason, I plan to keep the heat lamp on at night for another two weeks or so. I’m being careful to keep it clipped to a spot where the hens can benefit from the warmth without danger of touching its hot surface.

A Note on Food

I ran into conflicting opinions about what to feed my baby chickens. Many hard-core permaculture peeps felt it was important to reject commercial starter feed. (After all, our grandparents or great-grandparents probably didn’t rely on medicated commercial chick feed to get their flock off to a good start.) The idea is that commercial “starter feed” has everything a baby chick needs, namely proteins that are easy for little chick stomachs to digest. You can buy medicated or unmedicated feed. The medication – as well as an available vaccine – are intended as a preventative measure against coccidiosis, a disease caused by an intestinal parasite. On YouTube I saw several videos where chicken owners have chosen to give their chicks yogurt as “insurance” against intestinal issues. For easy to understand info on coccidiosis, medicated starter feed and vaccinations, I recommend this article at Urban Farm Online: Hatching the Facts on Medicated Chick Starter Feeds for Layers. We opted for non-medicated starter feed and have given our chicks a few doses of yogurt. I have no idea whether or not they have been vaccinated. We’ll plan to feed our chickens starter feed for the first two to three months.

Chick starter feed chick starter feed

Chickens also need grit. Grit is a substance (usually small stones) that chickens use in their crop (the first part of a chicken’s digestive system) to help grind their food. (Look ma, no teeth!) Whether or not you need to feed your chickens grit depends on their diet. I suggest doing some research before you decide what to do. Here’s a good place to start: Chicken Grit; Grit for Baby and Adult Chickens. I still haven’t made a plan for the kind of grit we’ll provide our chickens.

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