From urban rooftops to suburban culs-de-sac, the backyard chicken craze seems to only be growing—nowadays, you can buy chicken harnesses on Amazon and hen-sized sweaters on Etsy. There are plenty of luxe chicken coops to be had, too—even Williams-Sonoma is selling its own version.
Some truly discerning chicken owners are building their own custom coops that are as much garden decoration as they are hen houses. When interior designer Mary MacElree and her partner decided to start raising chickens on their 44-acre suburban Philadelphia property, Red Rose Farm, they knew they didn't want something run-of-the-mill. So they reached out to Hillbrook Collections, a local company that specializes in high-end garden sheds and playhouses, to create a pair of structures for their flock to call home. (Why a pair? "For symmetry!" the MacElree proclaims.)
With everything from climate control to ultra-secure fencing to keep predators out, these chicken coops have it all! Check out our video tour—and read on for 10 surprising things the designer told us about raising backyard chickens.
10 Things You Didn't Know About Raising Chickens
1) There is such a thing as pecking order.
Every flock has its own rigid social hierarchy. Higher-ranking birds are fiercely protective of their status—if another chicken gets out of line, they'll literally peck at it to the point of creating bald spots.
2) You'll need fencing everywhere.
Predators are endlessly crafty, meaning that a chicken wire fence around your coops won't cut it—you'll also need to make sure it extends a good foot or two below ground to keep out burrowing animals, as well as overhead to ward off airborne threats.
3) Climate control is key.
Baby chicks need to be kept in a warm environment, so if you're planning to keep them outside, invest in a heater. Adult chickens can also overheat in the hot summer months, which is why MacElree had fans installed in her coops.
4) Adults and chicks should be kept separate.
Full-grown chickens will sometimes attack younger chicks (there's that pesky pecking order again!) if kept together, so it's best to let chickens mature before introducing them to the rest of the flock.
5) They love table scraps!
Chickens are omnivores that will eat pretty much anything, so feel free to feed them table scraps—they especially love salmon, says MacElree.
6) ...But certain foods are off-limits.
On the other hand, just because they will eat anything doesn't mean they should. Off-limits foods include avocados, uncooked beans and and onions.
7) Be prepared for some gross stuff.
From shoveling poop (a single hen can produce around 90 pounds per year!) to dealing with hemorrhoids (you'll want to keep some Preparation H on hand—seriously), keeping chickens healthy requires some dirty work.
8) Hens don't lay year-round.
A chicken's laying season usually begins in the spring and extends into early fall, depending on the climate.
9) You don't need a rooster.
Hens will produce eggs even if there's no rooster around; they just won't be fertilized.
10) Chickens can recognize human faces.
Up to 100 different ones, apparently.
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