Chicks & Poultry

Safe Chick Handling

Live baby poultry can carry Salmonella and still look healthy, but can spread the germs to people. Children can be exposed toSalmonella by holding, cuddling, or kissing the birds and by touching things where the bird lives, such as cages or feed and water bowls. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths.

How do people get Salmonella infections from live baby poultry?

Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Additionally, the germs can be found on the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle the birds or work or play where they live and roam.

How do people get infected?

People become infected with Salmonella when they put their hands or other things that have been in contact with feces in or around their mouth. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. It is important to wash hands immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam, because the germs on your hands can easily spread to other people or things.

How do I reduce the risk of a Salmonella infection from live baby poultry?


  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live baby poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
    • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
  • Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
  • Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live baby poultry.
  • Don’t let live baby poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Don’t give live baby poultry as gifts to young children.


  • Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • Don’t snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live baby poultry.
  • Don’t let live baby poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Don’t give live baby poultry as gifts to young children.

Here’s an Overview of our Featured Chicken Breeds for Spring 2015

(More Breeds Available too! Check stores for timing and availability)

Easter Eggers

The Easter Eggers are a crossbred that can vary in their look and produce blue or green eggs.  True Ameraucana and Araucana are more rare breeds and not as common as the Easter Egger you’ll typically find.  The color of true Ameraucana egg shells vary from pale blue to medium blue. Most Wilco locations carry the green Easter Eggers.  Not only do they produce fun and colorful eggs, but some use them for their meat and claim it has a taste similar to quail.

Barred Plymouth Rock

The Barred Standard Plymouth Rock Chicken is a great back yard poultry for production and kid friendly. They were recognized by the American Standard of Perfection as a distinct breed in 1874.  They are part of the Plymouth Rock Chicken family and an excellent winter/summer brown egg layer.

Black Sex Link

Black Sex-Links are produced using a Barred Rock as the mother and Rhode Island Red Males. Both sexes hatch out black, but the males have a white dot on their heads. Pullets feather out black with some red in neck feathers. Males feather out with the Barred Rock pattern along with a few red feathers. Black Sex-Links are often referred to as Rock Reds. They are planned crosses, which are hardier and more productive than their parents’ respective breeds. The Sex Link Hybrid is the result of crossing two purebred standard breeds. This hybrid makes for very vigorous chicks, rugged brown egg laying hens and good cockerel fryers. Black Sex Links lay brown eggs.

Black Australorps

Black Australorps are one of the most popular producers of large brown eggs and they are known for persistency of lay even in hot weather. The green sheen of the solid black plumage Black Australorp Chicken presents a truly beautiful sight, particularly when the sun is reflecting off the plumage. The Black Australorp is docile and quiet. Hens are very hardy and can be expected to weigh about 5.2 pounds when mature. The skin is pinkish white. Black Australorps can be expected to lay 200+ brown eggs per year.

Buff Orpington

Buff Orpingtons have rich golden buff plumage.They are a heavy dual purpose fowl for the production of both meat and eggs. Wilco recommends raising Buff Orpingtons for heritage poultry meat. Buff Orpingtons are large, stately birds of quiet disposition and are easy to dress for the table, white skinned, plump, and juicy, a beautiful eating bird. Buff Orpingtons heavy, full plumage make them excellent winter layers, shelling out brown eggs right through cold weather.

Cuckoo Marans

Cuckoo Marans chickens originated in the mid 1800s in the French town of Marans. The English imported marans and selected for non-feathered legs, so you can tell whether your marans are of English stock or of French stock by looking for leg feathers.  (Most American birds are English-type marans.)  Either way, marans share the European trait of white (pink) skin, which makes for a different-looking carcass than that of traditional American meat breeds. Marans were probably originally bred to be good farmyard birds and are now considered a dual purpose breed due to their moderate heaviness.  Cuckoo marans originated in marshland and they’re supposed to be able to handle damp and wet better than some other varieties. Modern cuckoo marans lay anywhere from 160 to 210 eggs per year, which is not so hot if you’re raising the chickens just for their eggs.  Although marans are famous for laying “chocolate eggs”, many individuals lay ordinary brown eggs instead.

Golden Laced Wyandotte

The Golden Laced Wyandotte chickens are a docile bird with clean legs, mostly black laced golden feathers and black tail; Red rose comb, earlobes, and wattles. They were admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1888 and originated in Wisconsin in 1880.They will on occasion go broody and they make excellent mothers. They work well in confinement or free range.

Gold Sex Links

Gold Sex Link Chickens are bred such that one can easily tell the gender of the birds immediately after hatching. This is very useful for flock owners who want to maintain a specific rooster to hen ratio at all times. Gold Sex Link chickens are a cross breed utilizing the Rhode Island White Female and the Rhode Island Red male. The result is a hardy and robust dual purpose breed with superior egg laying capabilities as well as substantial size for meat. Gold Sex Link chicks are the go-to choice for many commercial egg laying operations for their substantial production as well as their ease of breeding and sexing. One can easily sex or determine of the chicks -Male Gold Sex Link Chicks will be completely white. Female Gold Sex Link Chicks will be white with streaks of red or gold.

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Reds are our most popular brown egg layer chickens because they are great year round layers! They also serve as great dual purpose birds. RIR’s were named the official state bird of Rhode Island in 1954. Production Rhode Island Reds are a great dual purpose chicken breed for both meat and eggs. They lay about 260 large brown eggs each year which is very good for a backyard flock. They usually start laying after they are 6 months old. This breed has yellow skin and dark colored pin feathers on the skin when processed. Rhode Island Reds very seldom go broody.

Silver Laced Wyandotte

The Silver Laced Wyandotte Chicken is a beautiful dual purpose bird- perfect for any backyard flock. These birds can be purchased as day old chicks that will grow into healthy pet chickens. These birds are dual purpose, meaning they can be used for egg laying or for meat production. If used for egg laying, expect 200 or more eggs a year. Wyandotte eggs are brown in color and large in size. The temperament of the Silver Laced Wyandotte Chicken varies as it grows. Most of these birds are mild mannered, but they can tend toward dominance if put in certain situations. The Silver Laced Wyandotte Chicken also stands chicken coop confinement well, if needed. Especially cold hardy, they are great for cold climates like the northern United States. They’ll perform well even in snowy climates since their combs aren’t prone to frostbite.

Winter Laying

Chickens need between 14 and 16 hours of light each day to lay. You can start augmenting natural light when day length decreases to approach 15 hours, which in most parts of the US occurs in September. Continue this lighting program until day length approaches 15 hours per day. To keep your hens laying eggs consitently through the winter months, install a hanging light fixture with a 25 to 40 watt bulb set on a timer in the henhouse. Some folks install heat lamps for this purpose, but this can run the risk of making the henhouse too hot. Set the timer to turn on two hours before dawn or two hours after sunset (the timing can be adjusted to your specific schedule, but best results have been seen by adding light to the morning part of the day) The key is the 14 to 16 hours of light. Small-wattage bulbs in the henhouse can make a big difference in the frequency and number of eggs laid throughout the winter months. Artificial winter lighting for chickens is generally a good thing, but here is one caveat. Extending natural daylight appears to play around with chickens’ internal clocks. They wake up before the sun comes up, and they stay awake in their henhouse long after the sun has set.

For convenience sake, many people leave lights on al the time. Constant lighting has its down side, besides being wasteful- it encourages hens to spend more time indoors during the day stirring up litter, dust, scratching in nests, and otherwise engaging in mischief. It also doesn’t give hens the 6 to 8 hours per 24 of darkness they need for rest to maintain their immune system. Another mistake is to install fluorescent lighting in the henhouse in an effort to reduce costs. Although fluourescent tubes are cheaper to run than incandescent bulbs, they’re more expensive to install, touchier to operate in the dusty henhouse environment, and more difficult to regulate. To adjust the light intensity of fluorescent lights, you have to change the entire fixture; with incandescent lights you just switch the bulb to a different wattage. However, in the face of ban-the-bulb realities, should you wind up using fluorescent fixtures, be sure to use warm-wavelength lights (that produce an orange or reddish light), since cool-wavelength lights (like those that offices use) do not stimulate the hens’ reproductive cycle.

henhouse Light Height chart

Extreme Weather Care

What’s the optimal temperature for a henhouse in winter? That depends on how cold it is and what kind of chickens you have. Heavy breeds need a heat lamp when temperatures are at or below the freezing point. Bantam breeds need a heat lamp when outside temperatures dip into the 40′s. Use a 25 to 40 watt light bulb or the heat lamp from your chick brooder to warm the henhouse. Affix the light or lamp away from straw and not directly over the hens’ perch. The heat from these bulbs will raise the temperature in a 3′x5′x5′ henhouse ten degrees over the course of several hours. Put the light or lamp on a timer so that it comes on around midnight and turns off when the sun comes up (adjust as weather patterns dictate).

In Summer, keep an eye on your chickens to make sure they are not too hot. Provide them with plenty of water. A heavy breed of hen can drink more than a quart of water each day during warm weather. Make ample shade available during the hottest part of the day. The henhouse can become an oven when the thermostat hits 90 degrees F. Don’t let your chickens roast on the roost! Ensure the henhouse is adequatelly ventilated. Open its doors and windows to let any stray breezes drift through. If the day is hot and still, install a small portable fan in the coop by attaching it to the plug outlet used by the henhouse heating lamp in winter.


Like any other bird, your chickens will molt each year. Chickens start molting as early as midsummer, and the molt may continue until late fall. During their molt, chickens lose old feathers and new feathers, called pinfeathers, sprout out like porcupine spines. Some chickens molt so slowly and gradually that you barely notice. Others throw off all their feathers at once and are half naked for a couple of months. Molting is stressful for a chicken. Just imagine if you spend your entire life covered in soft feathers, then suddenly lost them all and became covered in hard-shelled spikes instead. You’d probably be uncomfortable too! Chickens aren’t real happy when they molt. In face, they get downright crabby. Sometimes they become skittish, moody, and aggressive. And they lay considerably fewer eggs. Make sure your chickens get plenty of good, nutritious feed during the molt. This will help them maintain their strength and vigor. A vigorless hen is a sorrowful sight.

What Will The Eggs Look Like?

Poultry is so varied in color, temperament, adornments, and egg size and color. Here’s a photo of some poultry eggs and what they look like.

assorted eggs from common chicken breeds


Q: Do you need roosters for hens to lay eggs? No. This is one of the most common misconceptions about chickens. Hens will lay eggs just as well in the absence of roosters. If roosters are present, however, the eggs may be fertilized!

Q: How often do chickens lay eggs? That depends on three main factors:

(1)    The breed of chicken. Some chickens are bred for meat production and lay few eggs; some are bred for egg production and can lay as often as once a day; some are bred as “dual purpose” and are good for both egg-laying and meat, although not optimal for either.

(2)    The hen’s age. Hens start to lay at 4-5 months of age, and lay best during their first year. Each year after that their production decreases.

(3)    The season. In the winter (with fewer daylight hours), egg production drastically decreases. High laying season is summer. A healthy, young hen bred for egg-laying can lay almost an egg a day!

Q: Will owning pet chickens put me in violation of town ordinance? Maybe. Some municipalities allow residents to keep poultry and some don’t. The best thing to do is check with your local zoning and health boards. Many cities now allow up to 3 chickens kept on your property, but no roosters.

Q: How much care do pet chickens require? They’re much easier than dogs: no walking, no twice-daily feeding, no baths, no grooming. With the proper housing they’re a very low-maintenance pet: Daily: a “checking on”, egg collection, and closing the coop if you’ve let them out. As necessary: fill feed and water containers. Monthly: change bedding and remove that free fertilizer (poo) so it can be put to good use! Twice a year: a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the coop.

Q: Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs? No, the color of the egg has no effect on how healthy it is. However, how chickens are kept DOES have an effect on how healthy the eggs are! See the next question for more on this topic.

Q: Will the eggs my pet chickens lay taste better than store-bought? Without a doubt. The chickens in your backyard will lay eggs unlike any you’ve tried before. A good rule of thumb: the more orange the egg yolk, the more healthy and better-tasting the egg is. Plus, research shows that if you allow your chickens to roam your yard freely (which we highly recommend you do if possible) your eggs will be higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol, among other health benefits.

Q: Will I save money by having chickens? No more so than a gardener would growing tomatoes. If you’re currently buying cage-free organic eggs, you may be able to break even by having your own chickens. There are lots of great reasons to have your own chickens, but saving money is not one of them.

Q: Can chickens fly? Sort of. Smaller (lighter) breeds and “bantams” — which are the same as “standard” breeds but about 1/4 the size — can fly 25-50 feet and will roost in trees if allowed to. Heavier breeds have much more limited flight.

Q: Do chickens really “come home to roost”? Yes! Chickens will come back to the same place to sleep every night — so you can let your chickens roam your yard during the day and when it gets dark they will return to their coop to catch up on their beauty rest. (A “roost” is a pole they perch on, which they much prefer to sleeping on the ground.)

Q: How noisy are chickens? Roosters are VERY noisy, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t just crow in the morning. They crow all day long.  Hens are much quieter — you basically won’t hear them until they’ve just laid an egg, or if they’re threatened.

Q: Is there really such a thing as a “pecking order”? Yes. This is a very real phenomenon. All chicken flocks have a well-defined pecking order. It’s their way of preventing mayhem. The lucky chicken at the top of the pecking order basically gets to push everyone around. She gets first access to food, water, best roosting spots and so on. If she doesn’t like what anyone else is doing she has full pecking rights. She gets to tell any other chicken to bug off. The poor baby at the bottom of the pecking order is in the exact opposite situation: everyone in the flock can peck her, and she has last rights to food and other resources. The #2 chicken can only be bullied by the #1 chicken and can bully everyone else in turn, and so on and so on. Pecking order is established at a very early age and usually remains unchallenged until death.

Q: Can I have just one chicken? You shouldn’t. Chickens are social creatures and they will not do well alone. We advise a minimum of two.