Martha's Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens at Home

martha holding chicken outside coup
Photo: Johnny Miller

Martha keeps more than 200 chickens at her Bedford farm, including Cream Legbars, famous for their pretty pale-blue eggs; and Cuckoo Marans, which lay dark chocolate–colored ones. She invites us into their coops and shares advice—gleaned from five decades of experience—on raising a happy, healthy, and productive flock.

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martha holding chicken outside coup
Johnny Miller

My daughter, Alexis, was just a year old when we bought a weekend place on 50 acres in Middlefield, Massachusetts. The converted one-room schoolhouse had no electricity or running water. We used kerosene lamps and candles for light, and lugged five-gallon buckets from a nearby stream. I grew fruits and vegetables in the rich soil, and our modest flower gardens bloomed from the last frost to the first. We were serious about trying to live simply and healthfully, forgoing the modern luxuries of our New York City apartment.

It was there that I first raised chickens. We converted a homemade plywood playhouse into a secure habitat for our first flock of laying hens, and had a neighbor take care of them when we were gone. They provided us with all the eggs we needed, and the fun of raising the birds and learning about different breeds hooked me forever.

Later, at Turkey Hill, our first suburban house, in Connecticut, we built a lovely spot for about 50 fowl. When I moved to Bedford, New York, I designed a more elaborate area, with four coops and several large, covered outside yards that have winter access to the vegetable gardens. I also in installed all-weather water containers and electric heaters, and increased my flock to more than 200 hens and some roosters. I even added guinea fowl and geese to the mix.

If you're interested in keeping chickens, keep in mind that each bird will need at least two square feet of ace in the coop, and plenty of room (at least 10 square feet each) to roam freely outside. It's also important to buy healthy ones from reputable breeders. I got many of mine from My Pet Chicken, in Monroe, Connecticut. Poultry shows and country fairs are an easy way to meet experts, look at different kinds, and select the be ones for your needs. There are so many rewards from raising these birds. You get delicious eggs, and the joy of caring for them is great for you and your family. I highly recommend it.

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The Daily Dozen

chickens on shelves through white doors
Johnny Miller

Martha's hens lay eggs throughout the year; the color of their shells varies by the chickens' breed. Her coops provide lots of landing spots.

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Make a Good Home

chickens standing on bars in coup
Johnny Miller

Martha built nesting boxes in all of her coops; she stuffs them with fresh wood shavings so her hens have a comfortable place to lay eggs. The coops get cleaned thoroughly every week.

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Let Them Roam

black chicken outside of coup
Johnny Miller

The spacious outdoor area was constructed to have a variety of natural perches. To protect her birds from predators like foxes, hawks, and raccoons, Martha fenced it with wire mesh and spread netting overhead.

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Give Easy Access

chickens wandering around coup with straw on floor
Johnny Miller

Feeders filled with organic pellets fortified with protein and calcium (to help produce flavorful eggs) hang six inches off the ground.

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Always Offer a Cool Drink

little chickens drinking out of water dish
Johnny Miller

Chickens can get dehydrated quickly, so Martha makes sure their water troughs and dispensers are refilled several times a day.

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Provide Plenty of Produce

baby chicken by pile of food
Johnny Miller

They also eat fruit and vegetable scraps from Living's test kitchen and Martha's own kitchen, and wheatgrass grown in the greenhouse.

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Martha's Favorite Chickens

chicken sitting on log
Johnny Miller

One of Martha's favorite chicken breeds is the Cream Legbar, seen here.

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Martha's Favorite Chickens

baby chicken walking on ledge
Johnny Miller

She also likes the heritage Barred Plymouth Rock, seen here.

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Martha's Favorite Chickens

red headed colorful chicken by log
Johnny Miller

This type of chicken, the Barnyard Frizzle mix, is another Martha loves to raise.

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Martha's Favorite Chickens

martha's blue copper chicken
Johnny Miller

This pretty hen is a Blue Copper.

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Martha's Favorite Chickens

chickens walking around coup
Johnny Miller

Martha also raises Olive Egger chickens, seen here.

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Martha's Favorite Chickens

red chicken running on log by fence
Johnny Miller

Last but not least, you'll find Frizzle Naked Neck chickens in Martha's coop.

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