Category Archives: Q&A

The Egg-Cellent Guide to Chicken Breeds


A Chicken Poll

What’s the crowing about?

Roosters come in a multitude of breeds including the Golden Laced Wyandotte which is the rooster pictured on a certain breakfast cereal box. Growing up to 8 1/2 pounds the rooster is one of the most handsome of all breeds. The Black Jersey Giant is a prized show-bird weighing in at 11 pounds; standing out from the crowd, his black feathers have a green sheen and he has greenish-blue legs. Both these large breeds have good lungs for crowing at length and are extremely protective of their harem of hens. Acting as “look-outs” you will find these breeds frequently up trees scanning the horizon for danger.


  • A capon is a rooster that has been castrated. The rooster’s reproductive organs are mainly internal although a short organ is produced from his body for mating purposes only. Once these organs are removed through surgical procedure, the capon will develop a buff, meatier appearance; the meat will not be stringy and tough like a regular slender rooster, but melt-in-the-mouth tender dark and white meat. The capon loses his aggressions and territorial instincts that he once possessed and acts more like a hen; he also loses his need to crow. The capon’s dark and white meat is considered a delicacy to connoisseurs of fine meats.

Why Crow?

  • A rooster crows because he has an internal clock that helps him anticipate sunrise. Like all birds, roosters sing – or crow – in a daily cycle. Almost all animals have daily cycles of activity known as circadian rhythms that roughly follow the cycle of day and night. Roosters anticipate sunrise to get a head start on their daily hunt for food and defense of territory.

    But if one rooster in the neighbor has an internal clock that’s set a little early, he can stimulate other roosters to crow early, too. The rooster’s sunrise song is actually a way of establishing his territory. When a rooster crows, he’s sending a signal to other roosters that if they trespass, they’re asking for a fight.

    A rooster will often crow from a vantage point above his territory so he can make others more aware of his presence and so that his songs travel farther. Even though roosters are the most famous crooners of the chicken world, hens aren’t exactly silent, either. When a hen spots a hawk, she’ll let out a harsh scream to send her chicks into hiding. But if she sees a less-threatening human, she might just cackle.


  • Bantam roosters as well as standard roosters crow as loud as the other despite their small size. Rooster’s start crowing at around five months of age and crow regularly until they die of natural causes or get put in the crock pot, which is the only way to cook them tender enough to eat.

Keeping Guinea Fowl – Getting Started

We thought it would be helpful to give you a background to keeping guinea fowl, and to address a lot of the frequently asked questions about guinea fowl.

The meat of a young guinea is tender and of especially fine flavor, resembling that of wild game, and therefore has been substituted for game birds such as grouse, partridge, quail and pheasant Guinea fowl has a taste similar to other game birds and has many nutritional qualities that make it a worthwhile addition to the diet. It is second only to turkey in calories, having 134 Kcal (Calories) per 100 grams (turkey has 109 Kcal). The meat is lean and is rich in essential fatty acids.

Why raise guinea fowl? There are many reasons. The guinea has been used in protecting the farm flock from intruders because of its loud, harsh, cry and its pugnacious disposition. Since one of the main sources of food for wild guineas is insects, they have gained popularity for use in reducing insect populations in gardens and around the home, especially because, unlike chickens, they do not scratch the dirt much and do very little damage to the garden. Recently, guineas have been used to reduce the deer tick population, associated with Lyme disease. Other people raise them for their unique ornamental value.

File:Numida meleagris -Serengeti National Park, Tanzania-8 (1).jpgThere are three principle varieties of helmeted guinea fowl reared in the United States at this time, the Pearl, White and Lavender. The head and neck are bare, but there may be some wattles. The wattles on the male guinea are much larger than on the female. The Pearl is the most popular variety and the one most people recognize. The Pearl has purplish-gray plumage regularly dotted or ” pearled” with white spots and its feathers are often used for ornamental purposes. The next most common variety is the White Guinea (also called African White). The White Guinea has pure-white feathers and its skin is lighter than the other two varieties. These birds are not albino and are the only solid white bird that hatches solid white and not yellow. Lavender guineas are similar to the Pearl, but with plumage that is light gray or lavender dotted with white.

Basic Management of Guinea Fowl

If you already have other poultry, you will soon discover that guineas are not chickens. They are much more active than chickens and not as easily tamed. They seem to retain some of their wild behavior and will remind you of this whenever they get spooked.

Guineas require a dry environment with plenty of room. Guinea fowls are extremely good runners and use this method, rather than flying, to escape predators. Since most people raise guineas with the intention of letting them run loose after reaching adulthood, space is usually not a problem. If you are confining your birds for any length of time, give them as much room as possible outside and a minimum of 2-3 square feet per bird inside. The more room they have, the less likely they will become overly stressed. Guineas tolerate weather extremes fairly well after they are fully feathered and have reached adult size.

Guineas begin to fly at a very early age and can be confined only in covered pens. It is not unusual to find adults roosting 20-30 feet above the ground complaining about everything they see. They are very strong fliers and the birds will often fly 400-500 feet at a time when moving around the farm, especially if startled.

The laying season will vary depending on your latitude and local weather patterns. The Pearl and Purple usually have the longest laying season and the lighter colors have the shortest.

Managing Adults

If you are purchasing guineas for tick and insect control then you are better off purchasing adult guineas as they require little care and do very well on their own. Clean water and a regular chicken laying mash is basically all you need to rear them. They enjoy a little scratch feed mixed in with their feed and scattered on the ground. If your birds are allowed to roam freely they will eat very little during the summer months. If you keep their feed restricted during the summer months, then they will spend more time eating insects.

Feeding Guineas

Keets need a 24% – 26% protein ration such as turkey starter or gamebird feed. It is recommend using an unmedicated feed to avoid potential problems with keets getting over-medicated. Reduce the protein to about 18% – 20% for the fifth through eighth weeks. After that they will do well on regular laying mash that is usually 16% protein. If you can’t find feed with different amounts of protein, mix the higher protein feed with laying mash to get the proper protein mix. The guineas’ natural diet consists of a high protein mix of seeds and insects. If your birds have a large area to roam they will usually get enough to eat on their own, but you can train the birds to stay closer to home by providing supplemental feed in a regular location. Guineas need a higher protein feed than chickens, but do quite well on regular poultry mash or crumbles. It is recommended that they be given only mash or crumbles instead of pelleted feed. They will not eat much supplemental feed if they are finding plenty to eat on their own, but it has been found that they really like wheat, milo, and millet and will clean up every kernel. However, only give whole or cracked grains as a treat or supplement, but not too much. The protein content is too low and the fat content too high to be much value. They don’t care for the larger grains and will ignore whole corn kernels.

Make sure they have access to clean water. Give keets warm water only! They don’t tolerate cold water well.

Sexing Guineas

One of the most-often asked questions about guineas is how to tell the hens from the cocks. Young guineas cannot be sight-sexed like other poultry or fowl. The hens and cocks look exactly the same except for some of the newer colors where the hens are darker, as both keets and adults. The only precise way to tell the sexes apart is to listen for the two-syllable call the hen makes. This sound has been described as sounding like “buckwheat, buckwheat”, “put-rock, put-rock” or “qua-track, qua-track”. This is the only sound that the hen makes that the rooster doesn’t. The young birds start making these sounds at 6-8 weeks, but some hens do not start calling till much later.


I Believe I Can Fly

This is very cool, so I just had to share it with you.

Microlight pilot Christian Moullec went to extraordinary lengths in order to film birds in flight from up close. He hand-reared a brood of Barnacle Geese who now see him as their mother and follow him in flight.

The BBC One series Earthflight has filmed birds across the continents of the world using a variety of innovative techniques.  This is just one of them.

Such a wonderful series!

From Cities to Suburbs, Raising Backyard Chickens is All the Rage

Boots crusted over with a layer of dried dirt, Matthew Wilson holds one of his Barred Rock hens as he walks through his garden. “Bitey developed more slowly than the others,” he says as he strokes her comb as if tending to his most fragile child. Bitey, so named because it often mistook his children’s toes for worms, has the characteristic black and white stripes of the breed, known for its high egg production, meaty body, and docile personality.

Matthew Wilson is standing in the middle of his large backyard in the suburban city of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where he raises egg-laying hens. Photo courtesy of Matthew Wilson

His other Barred Rock hens are actively scavenging the remains of his garden, a growth of foot-high spindly Swiss chard and kale stems, the leaflessness a result of the voracious appetites of his hens. He feeds them food scraps such as old bread, tomatoes, grapes, and spent grains that he himself collects from a local brewery but they still overwhelm his garden vegetables. Yet, he shrugs off the loss of his garden: “We get it all back. It all shows up in the egg yolks. The yolks are a dark, rich, orange color.” Wilson points to a photograph that his friend snapped comparing a store-bought, yellow-yolked egg next to one of his dark orange-yolked eggs and the differences are obvious. He raves, “My egg shells are visibly different than store-bought eggs. Store-bought eggs are all very uniform, because the odd-shaped or odd-colored ones are thrown out. Mine are gloriously random.”

There’s nothing like fresh eggs. Photo courtesy of Matthew Wilson

Wilson is passionate about raising egg-laying hens and he can talk at length about different breeds of chickens, how they work together to trap sparrows, and how he monitors their egg-laying throughout the season. But Wilson is no farmer. He is standing in the middle of his large backyard in the suburban city of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a suburb in the greater Cleveland metropolitan area of three million, and works full-time, but not in anything remotely related to farming. Remarkably, Wilson is a software engineer. Concern for their food supply is increasingly the reason that people in urban or suburban neighborhoods are now raising backyard or urban chickens.

In 2010, more than 500 million eggs were recalled when two large egg producers were linked to salmonella-related illnesses in 1,500 people. Wilson and his wife, Lindsey Wilson, were concerned about factory farming practices and routinely shop at their local farmer’s market even before they owned chickens. Wilson explains that his job as a software engineer parallels his passion for gardening and chicken-keeping. “A lot of us [engineers] are interested in understanding food stuff. I think it comes from the fact that being a computer programmer, in order to build anything, you really have to understand what we call the “whole stack.” A lot of us are interested in the fact that our food supply is so awful that if we really want to be healthy, we really have to start thinking downward.” Another chicken raiser, Melissa Bencivengo of North Olmsted, also cites her family’s health as the primary reason to raise chickens. A mom to two young daughters and also an engineer, Bencivengo watched her friend’s daughter start puberty at age 9 and decided that she wanted more control of her food supply. “My grandparents had a farm and they had cows, horses, chickens, and turkeys. So, I said you know what, chicken farming is something that I know that I can do.”

From suburban towns to urban centers, chicken coops are appearing everywhere in residential backyards. Cleveland has allowed chickens in residential backyards with some restrictions since 2009. Toledo requires a health inspection for backyard chickens but allowed them for several years. Wilson repeatedly wrote to the Cleveland Heights City Council asking them to approve backyard chickens and was elated when the City Council finally passed a series of green zoning ordinances in May 2012.  Despite this lag in approving urban chickens, the Cleveland Heights green zoning ordinances in 2012 was so comprehensive that it allowed conditional use permits for everything from renewable energy generators, rain water barrels, front-yard gardens, and backyard chicken coops in residential districts. To get a conditional use permit for chickens, a Cleveland Heights resident must submit an application that includes detailed descriptions and scale drawings of the project and appear before the planning commission. Once approved, a conditional permit allows up to four egg-laying hens for the resident’s own use.

From suburban towns to urban centers, chicken coops are appearing everywhere in residential backyards. Photo courtesy of Kara O’Donnell, City of Cleveland Heights

Cleveland Heights City Planner Kara O’Donnell says the trend in her city is that “younger families, with younger children, or younger singles” apply for the chicken permits and the Wilsons are a prime example. Wilson thinks it is worth the effort to teach his kids the relationship between raising chickens and their food supply. Only a couple hours of work per week are required to feed and water the hens, which lay an average of 12-18 eggs per week, and clean the coop. Wilson tasked his oldest son, Charlie, age 7, to guard the chickens from hawks and collect eggs daily, which Charlie describes as “actually very fun.” Lindsey Wilson shares why she raises chickens: “I wanted [my kids] to know how to take care of the animals. That they require us to take care of them.” Bencivengo is also teaching her kids something similar: “I want my kids to understand that food comes from somewhere other than the grocery store, in a package.”

The chicken ordinance has been the most popular of all the Cleveland Heights sustainable ordinances. From June to November 2012, one to three people per month applied to raise chickens on their property and Cleveland Heights approved each of these applications. The popularity of the chicken ordinance has been reflected in the range of property types to which the permits are applied. Cleveland Heights has approved permits for small, efficiently-used backyards and even large properties in the prestigious Chestnut Hills neighborhood.

O’Donnell says that Cleveland Heights has been successful at keeping neighbors of the chicken owners happy through the conditions set in the permitting process. Only one complaint has been lodged against any chicken keeper and this offense involved owners that had accidentally bought roosters, which are not allowed because they are noisy and potentially aggressive. The roosters were safely re-homed and the neighbors were satisfied. Lindsey Wilson initially worried about her neighbors’ reactions to their new chickens. She says, “We thought that we had to hide them from our neighbors but everybody just loves to watch them and [the neighbors] said really nice things for Matt at the Planning Commission meeting. They’re actually pretty quiet.”

The experience of Cleveland Heights mirrors the rising trend in chicken keeping across the country. Since 2009, Meyer Hatchery, an Ohio-based, nation-wide supplier of live poultry, has seen the doubling of the number of small chicken orders, which are usually between 3-14 live chicks and placed by urban or suburban residents. Jess Brushaber, Marketing and Advertising Director of Meyer Hatchery, says, “We have seen a significant increase in backyard chicken keeping which we attribute to folks wanting to live more sustainably. With cities making it legal to own a few backyard hens, jumping into the hobby is relatively inexpensive and easy.”

In fact, the Cleveland Heights chicken ordinance is clear and straightforward. A resident is required to keep the chickens in the backyard; the chicken coop and run has to be 10 feet from the house and property lines; and the chickens and the yard have to be kept clean and sanitary. Even with these regulations, Wilson would like to see Cleveland Heights focus more on animal welfare and training for new chicken keepers. He says that the number of allowable birds is important but so is the space per bird and an educated owner who knows how to maintain them.

Matthew Wilson thinks it is worth the effort to teach his kids the relationship between raising chickens and their food supply. Photo courtesy of Kara O’Donnell, City of Cleveland Heights

Wilson taught himself the skills to raise urban chickens through sources like Backyard Poultry Magazine, community websites such as and, and by learning from friends with chicken experience. Wilson’s free-range chickens and chicken coop are largely odor-free and he invites people to take a whiff of his chicken coop to judge for themselves. He uses aerobic decomposition of his chicken manure by mixing it with straw and pine shavings to create rich compost for his garden. The compost smells vaguely vinegary but only from a distance of a couple feet. Lindsey Wilson says that she was initially against the idea when Matt mentioned raising chickens. “I initially thought they are dirty and they probably smell. I had had no past history with chickens. [But] I’ve really fallen in love with them. It’s kinda cute to watch them follow [Matt] around.”

Wilson shares a story about Lindsey Wilson’s grandparents when they lived on the West Side of Cleveland. Lindsey’s grandfather was attending an important meeting when her grandmother called. She asked that he come to the phone immediately because it was a family emergency. In truth, her grandmother had called her grandfather because she wanted to share some exciting news with him. She told him that one of their chickens had laid their first egg for them! Wilson smiles as he can relate to the wonder and excitement over each new egg. He says of his chickens, “So far it’s been nothing but good things. They’re wonderful. They’re an asset.”


Keeping Poultry – A review of some books, manuals and guides

After wading through many books on keeping chickens and other poultry, I wanted to share with you a few of the books that have been on my kitchen table for the last few years.  I like the books to be clear, concise and if possible, entertaining!  Oh and good, clear photography is always a winner too!

Chicken Haynes

The pitch:

This book, the latest innovative “Haynes Manual“, will provide a complete and easy-to-understand reference for the growing band of people wishing to keep their own chickens for both food and pleasure. Pitched at the novice but also containing plenty to interest the experienced chicken-keeper, the book will contain no-nonsense advice, tips, facts and step-by step sequences, as well as plenty of relevant photographs and diagrams. As more people keep chickens nowadays than at any time since the Second World War, this book is a timely addition to the “Haynes” range.

Our thoughts:

This is a great book for anyone thinking about, or already owning chickens. It’s packed with great pictures of everything you need to know about, from things like scaly leg and red mite for the novice to keeping and showing for the more experienced keepers.  There are clear and concise sections on diet, care, housing, breeding and illness along with many more sections on how to care for your chickens.  It can sometimes feel as if the book is geared more towards the keeper who has a large number of hens, and not so much your back garden keeper. However, the detail is very good without being over complicated. There are also list of daily, weekly, monthly checklists as well as a chicken calendar giving you a month by month account of what to expect!

Chickens an essential guideThe pitch:

In Chickens, poultry breeder Suzie Baldwin offers a practical guide to everything both the beginner and more experienced hen owner needs to know, from whether to buy chicks or hens, what varieties to chose, how to tell if you’re buying a healthy chicken and how to ensure it stays that way, to how many chickens you should keep, and what kind of coop is best. She also answers all the questions commonly posed by first-time owners, from whether you need to have a cockerel, whether chickens ever fly away and how quickly they will start laying, to how to prevent them being attacked by foxes and what to do when they become unwell.

Our thoughts:

This is a great book for anyone thinking of raising chickens, as it will take you gently by the hand and tell you everything you need to know to start you adventure in raising chickens.  Packed with beautiful photos and easy to understand text, it would prove an invaluable resource you will turn to again and again.  It covers everything from setting up your garden to what to do when they are ill and things to consider when going on holiday. The authors personal stories are a lovely addition as they really explain her points well and make you realise that she really does know what she is talking about.

DummiesThe pitch:

Practical how–to advice for keeping chickens   “For me, raising chickens, for eggs and meat, has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of our family farm. I am a great admirer of “chicken whisperer” Pammy Riggs, and with her two co–authors she has produced an admirably thorough guide to enjoying the pleasures and avoiding the pitfalls of keeping chickens. Get the book, and take the feathery plunge!” – Hugh Fearnley–Whittingstall    Keeping Chickens For Dummies provides you with an introduction to all aspects of keeping chickens, from constructing a hutch to the correct feeding regime. It offers expert advice straight from the River Cottage ‘Chicken Whisperer′, so whether you′re looking to raise chickens for eggs, meat, or just the entertainment value and fun –  Keeping Chickens For Dummies is the perfect place to start. Keeping Chickens For Dummies: Shows you how to keep chickens in different conditions Offers guidance on choosing and purchasing chickens Gives great step–by–step advice on constructing the right housing Provides expert advice on how to feed and care for your chickens.

Our thoughts:

This is an excellent, comprehensive and very readable book. It is clearly laid out and very accessible. It’s an invaluable resource for anyone starting to keep chickens and will help you avoid any of the pit falls that it’s easy to stumble into when first starting out.  It’s also packed with enough insightful information to be a valuable bible for the seasoned pro!  Beware though, that there are US and UK editions, each specific to chicken keeping in that country!  Let this guide by your chicken bible.  From the basics of chicken keeping, egg laying, housing, skin issues, to housing an all round great guide.

Practical guideThe pitch:

This comprehensive and practical guide provides all the information that you need in order to start keeping poultry. A buyer’s guide shows you what features to look for in healthy poultry as well as the best sources from which to buy them. Essential information is provided on feeding, hygiene, treating ailments, and good poultry husbandry. The second half of the book is a beautifully illustrated guide to poultry breeds. It is divided into sections covering foundation breeds and man made breeds with each subdivided according to type of poultry. A final chapter looks at popular goose, duck and turkey breeds. If you are interested in keeping a few hens in the back garden, selling eggs for profit, breeding birds for sale or exhibiting pure breeds, this authoritative guide, written by a leading expert and international poultry judge, is the perfect book for you.

Our thoughts:

We love this book, because it gives a great overview of keeping different varieties of poultry, not just chickens!   It’s a bit like having an expert standing next to you all the time, offering tips and reassurance.  But beware, because it’s covering so many different varieties of poultry, it doesn’t go into as much detail about specific breeds.  If you want that kind of information, you’d be best to go for a species specific book