Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What to do with the roos?

What to do with the boys?

Serama rooster

Many chicken keepers have faced the surprise extra boy that comes in a box of mail-order chicks. What do you do with him when he gets noisy at 4 am (and the rest of the day!)? What do you do when he terrorizes you, your dog, the neighbor’s kids, or your toddler?

There is a natural surplus of male chickens. Fifty percent of the chickens that hatch are male, but chickens do not pair bond. One rooster has a harem of 4 to 8 hens. So what happens with the extra boys? They naturally fight to the death or are killed by predators. On small-scale farms, roosters become Sunday dinner. However, many people find these options to be distasteful.

An increasing number of roosters are turning up at Chicago Animal Care and Control and rescue organizations. The chicken-keeping community needs to remember that rescues and animal control folks are people, too. They do great services for our city, and many spend their own time and money on these birds. Consider giving a donation, volunteering, adopting, or acting as a foster home. Contact Chicago chicken rescue organization to see how you can help. Roo Crew’s FB page: and Chicago Chicken Rescue’s website:

It’s really difficult to rehome roosters, so to avoid overwhelming rescues with roosters and respect their time and efforts, here are a few tips.

If you’re an urban chicken owner, think ahead to the question of “What if I get a rooster?” Help us keep down the rooster population in urban areas:

  • Purchase sexed or sex-linked chicks only! Sexed chicks are almost 100% guaranteed to be hens.
  • Do not purchase straight-run chicks. Fifty percent will be male. If you do purchase straight run, plan out what you are going to do with the boys. Half of them will most likely be roosters. You can figure out sex at around 3 months, if not before.
  • DO NOT HATCH CHICKS unless you know what you are going to do with the boys. Fifty percent of the hatch will be male, and farmers will not want the roosters.
    • If you’re a teacher and want to give your students an experience with embryology, think about a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry.
    • Do not take and hatch eggs from wildlife, such as ducks or geese. It is illegal to take eggs from native birds. They will imprint on humans and will not be able to live in the wild.
    • If you must hatch chicks, get your eggs from a source that will take back ALL of the chicks that hatch. Make sure you have a solution in place BEFORE setting eggs.
  • This option is not for everyone, but you can take roosters to a licensed slaughtering facilityand process them quickly and conveniently for meat. If you are amenable to this option, you can go from live bird to dressed bird for about $4. Some people then donate the meat to a soup kitchen or give it to a neighbor. Some chicken keepers view the birds as livestock rather than companion animals.  
  • If you do have a rooster, please do not release him! Chickens are not wildlife. They cannot survive without humans. Find a more humane alternative. Contact farms in rural areas (perhaps those that have stands at farmers markets). Check with other chicken owners to see if they would like a rooster. Ask feed stores if they can resell him.
  • Keep him. Roosters make a lovely, protective addition to a flock. If you can get past the crowing, the rooster will keep a protective eye on your girls. And there is no harm in eating fertilized (unincubated) eggs!

Thanks, everyone! Let’s remember the rescue organizations and lend a hand where we’re able. 

Community Compost Collection Events

You are all welcome to drop off yard/garden/kitchen waste at any of our upcoming Community Compost Collection Events: 
Households are invited to drop off their yard, garden, and kitchen waste to be composted and pick up finished compost to use to improve your garden soil.

Events are being held

Help us reach our goal of collecting 5 tons of compostable material at each event. Bring your grass clippings, leaves, landscape waste, and kitchen scraps: eggshells, vegetable skins, and stems are welcome but please no products containing oil, dressings, dairy, meat or bones. No branches over 2” in diameter. This event is BYOB— Bring Your Own Bucket to take home finished compost.

Social distancing and face coverings required to participate in these FREE events. Finished compost and other free surprise giveaways are first come first served.

If you have questions about our Community Compost Collection events, please contact Sarah at 217-300-8636 or

Upcoming Chicken Classes: Learn to Raise and House Your Hens Right!

I will be teaching a series of chicken classes online for the Chicago Rebuilding Exchange, starting with “Basic Backyard Chicken Keeping” on May 12. If you have questions about coop design or construction, come to my “Chicken Coop Basics” class on May 19! I will also be offering an encore of my popular new class “Bird Brains: Flock Psychology” on May 26. Then, just in time for the hot weather, come to “Summer Chicken Care” on June 2 and learn how to keep your flock cool during the dog days of summer. Register at the links below!

Basic Backyard Chicken Keeping (Virtual)May 12, 6-8 pm
Learn the basics of raising backyard chickens.

Chicken Coop Basics: (Virtual) – May 19, 6-8 pm
Bring your questions and learn the essential components of a chicken coop, important construction tips, and different coop styles. Use what you learn to construct your own coop or evaluate an existing design.

Bird Brains: Flock Psychology (Virtual) – May 26, 6:00 – 6:45 pm
Find out more about what goes on inside a chicken’s head and how it can help you understand your birds.

Summer Chicken Care (Virtual) – June 2, 6:00 – 6:45 pm

Heat and humidity can be challenging for cold-hardy chicken breeds. Find out how to care for your hens during the dog days of summer.

Jennifer Murtoff of Home to Roost LLC helps city folks raise chickens in the Chicagoland area.
Photo by Liz McCrory,

REHOMED! Hens looking for home

Update: Kim has a home for the chickens!

Contact Kim: 773-746-2285, kimambriz AT

Someone dumped three hens in the backyard of my client Kim in Avondale (Chicago).

Someone dumped three hens in my yard today and they need a home. I already have three girls and we don’t have the space to add three more. They are very sweet, ate from my hand, seem healthy, easy to herd into a chicken tractor, etc. I have no idea how old they are. 
Why would someone do that??!!
Kim (in Avondale)

Reminder: Chicken Coop Basics, Online with Chicago Botanic Garden on April 27!

UPDATE 4/22/21: Unfortunately, this class has been cancelled. Please see the Classes & Events page for future classes with Home to Roost!

For those of you who have questions about chicken coop design or construction, I am teaching an online class, Chicken Coop Basics, for the Chicago Botanic Garden on April 27! Bring your questions and learn the essential components of a coop, important construction tips, and different coop styles. Use what you learn to construct your own coop or evaluate an existing design. Register now for this class at the link below.

Chicken Coop Basics: Online — April 27, 6-8 pm

Please note that all registrations must be submitted online 2 days before your class starts.

Photo courtesy Melissa Goodridge

Medicated vs. Non-Medicated Chick Feed

As if there weren’t enough variations of chick feed on the market, there is one more option to consider: medicated or nonmedicated? Medicated chick feeds help boost chicks’ immunity to one organism: coccidia.

Coccidia are a parasitic protozoan widely found in the soil, and its oocysts, which are similar to eggs, often find their way into a chick’s digestive tract. Here the intestinal parasites can cause a disease called coccidiosis.

Symptoms include bloody droppings, poor appetite, and lack of normal growth. Chicks may fluff up their feathers and appear hunched over. Coccidiosis spreads quickly from bird to bird and is also associated with a high rate of death.

Most medicated chick feeds contain amprolium, a medication that helps limit the number of coccidia in a chick’s digestive system, allowing the chick to develop immunity to the parasite. Medicated feeds with amprolium do not contain antibiotics and are not intended for other diseases.

Also, medicated feeds are designed to prevent cases of coccidiosis, not to cure existing infections: By the time chicks actually contract the disease, medicated feed will not help them. If your birds do get sick, they should be treated with a water-based coccidiostat (like Corid), carefully following instructions on the package. Be careful not to overmedicate with coccidiostats because they can cause severe vitamin deficiencies in your birds.

Vaccine for Coccidiosis

Many chicks receive a coccidiosis vaccine at hatcheries. Find out if your chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis. If so, there is no need to give them medicated feed.

Track Eggs with the Flockstar app

For those real chicken nerds out there, you can now track egg stats on your phone.

Create a profile for each of your chickens, including photos, hatch date, and breed. Then Use the Flockstar app to record when (and from whom) you get your eggs! The app will convert your data to average number of eggs per day, total laid, and other information. You can include photos and notes and also log when you’ve got a broken egg.

You can read more about the app online or download it from the App Store or Google Play.

How to Feed Your New Chicks

Winter is finally over here in the Midwest, and it’s that time of year when our thoughts naturally turn to those little balls of yellow fuzz arriving at feed stores everywhere. For those of you raising chicks, here are some tips for choosing the right chick feed to sustain the new additions to your flock.

Chick Feeds

Chicks require their own special feed, different from the layer feed typically eaten by mature laying hens. However, not all chick feeds are the same. Some companies provide separate starter feeds and grower feeds, designed for chicks at various stages of development. But others offer a combined starter-grower feed.

As with any feed, follow the instructions on the label. If you feed starter, eventually you will switch your chicks to grower feed. But if you are using a combined starter-grower feed, you can keep feeding them the same feed until they are ready to switch to a layer ration.

NOTE: Any feed that is labeled as chick starter or grower (or starter-grower) will contain the correct amount of calcium, protein, and other nutrients to meet your growing chick’s needs. For instance, chick starter-grower feed is 20% protein, compared to 16% to 18% in layer feeds. It is important to provide this specially formulated feed. It will support healthy growth, and layer feed can kill chicks.

Other Added Ingredients in Chick Feed

  • Probiotics and Yeast Cultures: Chicks are born without gut microflora (gut bacteria and other important micro-organisms necessary for digestive system health). If your chicks are hand raised (rather than hen raised), they will benefit from supplemental microflora in their feed. See my recent post on this subject: Gut Health: It’s Not Just for Humans Anymore.
  • Medicated Feed: Some chick feed is labeled Medicated Chick Feed. For more information, see my post Medicated vs. Non-Medicated Chick Feed.

Feeding and Watering Tips

If your chicks come through the mail from a hatchery, you may have to dip their beaks in the water dish so they know how to drink. Gently put their beak in a teaspoon of water or in a shallow dish of water. Then watch to make sure their throats move, indicating they’ve swallowed the water.

Once your chicks have learned to drink, it is time for solid food:

Chicks may not catch on right away that the crumbles you are spreading in the brooder are food. Simply tap your finger on the feed, showing the chicks where the food is. You are imitating a mother hen, who uses her beak to guide her chicks to the tasty morsels.

Make sure your chicks always have ready access to their feed. Chicks need constant access to food to support their growth!

Use chick feeders designed especially for them: a shallow dish with a lid, with circular holes cut in the top. The lid helps keep droppings and bedding out of the feed. It also prevents the chicks from attempting to dust themselves or walk through the feed. Keep feeding dishes and water dishes clean.

Feeder with holes in the lid, designed for chicks. Note the shallow water dish (left).

Your chicks should always have access to fresh, clean water in a shallow dish. This prevents them from getting wet, which can lead to health problems. Be prepared to clean the water dishes several times a day to ensure clean water for your flock.

Chicks and Treats

I’m pretty conservative on feeding treats, especially to chicks. If you absolutely want to give them treats, wait until they are around 6 weeks old and introduce live mealworms or crickets, grapes, tomatoes, or fresh kitchen scraps. Make sure the foods are small enough to prevent them from choking. Offer them these foods for only 15 minutes per day, and be sure to clear out what they don’t eat. About 90% of their diet should be formulated feed, to ensure they get the nutrients they need. Remember what your mother said about too many treats! It applies to chicks as well. If you feed your chicks treats, such as scratch grains, you should also provide them with some fine grit (usually made from finely ground granite) in a separate feeder. This will help them digest their food.

Remember, chicks grow up fast: By the time your new birds are 16 weeks old, they can graduate to a layer diet.

Home to Roost Classes with Chicago Botanic Garden Start April 20!

I will be teaching three online classes for the Chicago Botanic Garden this spring, including my Basic Chicken Keeping Class, my Coop Class, and a new class for 2021: Duck Keeping 101! (UPDATE 4/15/21: Unfortunately, Duck Keeping has been canceled due to circumstances beyond our control. )

Register now for these classes at the links below. Please note that all registrations must be submitted online 2 days before your class starts.

Basic Chicken Keeping Concepts: Online — April 20, 6-8 pm
Considering getting chickens, or already have your own birds? Learn tips and tricks on how to raise chicks, care for adult birds, prevent common problems, and keep your neighbors happy.

Chicken Coop Basics: Online — April 27, 6-8 pm
Discover all you need to know about building a safe and comfortable home for your hens. Learn the basic needs of backyard birds, the essential components of a coop, important construction tips, and different coop styles. Use what you learn to construct your own coop or evaluate an existing design.

Special Offer

While supplies last, we are pleased to offer a free copy of GRIT Backyard Chickens magazine to everyone who signs up for a class!

GRIT Backyard Chickens magazine provides helpful information on topics such as choosing the right chicken breed, nutrition, preventing frostbite, and shoring up your coop against predators. The latest issue includes several articles authored by Home to Roost: Reasons to keep backyard chickens, the importance of gut health, and how to boost egg production.

Sign up for a chicken class presented by Home to Roost and Chicago Botanic Garden and get a free copy of GRIT Backyard Chickens Magazine!

Gut Health: It’s Not Just for Humans Anymore

We have all seen the ads for probiotic supplements, designed to support the “good bacteria” in human digestive systems. As it turns out, gut health is also important for chickens. A healthy gut, teeming with good bacteria and other micro-organisms, helps the birds absorb nutrients from their food and contributes to the development of a chicken’s immune system. In fact, commercial chicken farmers are turning to probiotics, rather than antibiotics, to maintain a healthy flock.

Probiotics, Yeast, and Other Microflora

Chicks are born without gut bacteria. They usually get their gut bacteria from their mother, because they (accidentally!) ingest some of her droppings and absorb the good bacteria, yeast, and other beneficial microorganisms (called microflora). These tiny organisms aid in digestion and protect the gut from harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli.

However, chicks that are raised by themselves in an incubator, with no mother hen present, miss this early opportunity to colonize their digestive systems with healthy micro-organisms.

So how can chicken keepers ensure their hand-raised (rather than hen-raised) chicks get the microflora they need to develop healthy digestive systems? There are a number of chicken feeds on the market that contain probiotics, yeast, and other fungal components. Check the feed label for yeast culture and other fungal components, as well as probiotics with scientific names such as Lactobacillus acidophilus.


You’ve also probably seen ads that tout the importance of prebiotics for humans. Prebiotics are the nutritious foodstuffs that support the growth of probiotics in your gut. And, yes, you guessed it, prebiotics are also important for chickens! Fortunately, most chickens love to eat the foods that are considered prebiotic: berries, flaxseed, dandelion greens, wheat bran, lentils, and other favorite chicken treats.

For more information about choosing feeds that contain beneficial microflora, read this illuminating blog post on the Nutrena Poultry blog “Scoop from the Coop.”