Chickens of the Mist

misting chickens
Chickens of the Mist, or: How I Learned to Make an Evaporative Cooler on a Hot June Day

In Ferndale/Detroit, yesterday and today are hitting temperatures in the high 90’s with around 70% humidity.  The heat is oppressive, to say the least.  I’ve been staying indoors in the cool air conditioned climate as much as possible, but the chickens don’t have that luxury.  The temperature sensor in the coop read a whopping 100 degrees at noon yesterday, and the ladies were hanging out below it, panting hard and keeping their wings away from their bodies.  Buff orpingtons like these were bred in England, and are cold hardy- which means they’re absolutely not designed for this sort of stifling weather.  Luckily, this should be the last day like this for a while, but if we continue to encounter temps like this, I have a plan.

chicken mister setup
I’ve been filling large bottles with water and freezing them solid; we placed one in front of the box fan and angled my hose set to “mist” so that the water hits the frozen jug and the cooled vapor gets blown at the coop run.

We made a simple evaporative cooler for the girls that seems to have helped in a major way.  I’ve been filling large bottles and jugs with water and freezing them solid- it makes your freezer run more efficiently to have them in there, and I’ve got them on hand to place in the coop run for the chickens to hang out nearby (not that they do, but even having it in the vicinity seems to help).  To make it, we place a box fan a short distance away from the run, placed the frozen jug in front of it, and angled my hose set to ‘mist’ so that the water hits the frozen jug and gets blown toward the run.  The cooled vapor travels into the shadey area under the coop, where the chickens like to hang out- I can FEEL that it’s cooler down there than it is in the surrounding yard.

chicken mist setup
another shot showing the mist created by the evaporative cooler

Best of all, the chickens don’t seem to notice it too much, and just hang out under the coop as they usually do.  Yesterday, during intial setup, we discovered that they would NOT hang out in the shade under the coop with the fan directly against the runs fencing- it was just too new and scarey for them, and despite the heat they were standing in direct sunlight away from the fan.  Once we moved it away and behind some plant life, they went right back into the shade.   Care also needs to be taken to not spray too much water into the area you want them to hang out in- they’ll avoid having the water hit them.

In addition to the evaportive cooler, I added some “Sav-a-chick” to a giant metal waterer and placed it down in the run (rather than inside the coop itself).  It’s basically gatorade for chickens, helping to keep them hydrated while they’re panting and losing water through their heavy breathing (this is primarily how they cool down).  They each drink roughly .5 liters of water in the summer; you want to keep them stocked with water at all times, and keep the water cool (ie. not out in the sun).  Drinking cool water will decrease their core body temperature, and having the “chicken koolaid” mix in there will reduce their need to drink, avoiding any potential “water toxicity” issues (unlikely to happen, but possible).

I also put out a shallow dish of water that they could stomp around in, but they’re avoiding it like the plague.

We’re also being mindful of what they eat right now- greens and cool fruit are a better choice, and care should be taken to avoid cracked corn and corn products, as those will raise their core body temperature (so keep it handy for winter!).

In the event that they show signs of not being able to handle the heat even with these precautions, I’ve got a tent set up in my basement that I’ll move them into.  I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that, since I’m sure the change of scenery would stress them out only slightly less than the extreme heat.


Coverage of Ferndale’s First Legal Coop- Ferndale 115


Ferndale’s First (Legal) Chicken Coop

(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, May 15th, 2012 edition)

Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl seem happy.  The six week old Buff Orpingtons strut around their sandy front yard, playing like sister chickens do: nudging, pecking, cuddling, running, rolling around in the sand and darting back up the wooden ramp to their luxury penthouse, aka Ferndale’s first legal chicken coop.

Laura Mikulski was the organizer of the Ferndale backyard chicken movement.  After meeting other suburban families that keep backyard chickens, Mikulski wanted to bring the option to Ferndale.  She researched backyard chickens and lobbied City Council to pass an ordinance allowing them.

After several months of research and consideration, theFerndale City Council approved an ordinance that allows individuals to have a chicken coop on their property as long as they follow certain rules.  Homeowners are limited to three hens. Roosters are not allowed.

The requirements of the ordinance are:

“As structured the ordinance would allow for the raising and keeping of three (3) hen chickens and no roosters. Residents would be required to receive an annual permit which would expire on December 31st of each year. Any applicant receiving a permit is required to schedule an inspection within 30 days of the permit issuance, if violations are noted at the inspection the applicant has 15 additional days to resolve the identified issues. Chickens are required to be kept in the rear yard, structures (coops) must be designed to prevent accessibility to vermin, feed must be secured in enclosed containers and compliance with the Michigan Department of Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals (GAMPS) must be maintained.”

Mikulski believes in following the law, so she waited until the process was complete. She and boyfriend Ben Wojdyla then made the plans.  With approximately $500 plus many reclaimed items, the chicken family’s new home took about two months to build

The entire coop area is surrounded with wire mesh that is tight enough to keep out rats and other predators.  The coop is topped with polycarbonate sheeting reclaimed from another project.  There is a door so people can enter, but there is also access to tend the chickens from the outside: a lever allows them to open and close the door at the top of the ramp to the chicken’s house, and a long top-opening door lets them access any eggs that may have been laid in the nesting area.  The door has a magnetic top so it will stay open while they harvest the eggs.  To best utilize the space and help provide a layer of shade to the roof of the coop, Mikulski and Wojdyla created a strawberry bed on top.

The doors to the chicks’ house are stained glass cabinet doors, and the siding is made of slats reclaimed from pallets.  Everything is decorated to match the home and garage, an aesthetic fit with the rest of the backyard’s landscaped splendor.

On May 15th the couple had their inspection.  “Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound,” Mikulski said in her blog  “He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

“The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.”

Her advice to people who want to build a coop: “Draw the plan first, but be flexible in building. Consider drainage and ventilation- chickens need to be dry. Build everything at a height that is comfortable for you to work in/with. Be mindful of cleaning issues and form a plan that allows you to clean with ease.”

Finding the chickens wasn’t hard, Mikulski just looked on Craigslist.  When she got them back in February she kept them in inside the house until the coop was complete.  “When they’re done growing they’re going to be big birds,” she said, noting that she specifically sought out Buff Orpington chicks because of their mild-manner and their heftiness once grown.

“The ladies won’t lay eggs for a while, and when they start it might take a while before the eggs come out fully developed.  Sometimes they come out without a shell.  Sometimes they’re just tiny.  Sometimes there could be ‘fart eggs,’ which are eggs without a yolk inside.”  Once they girls do mature though, they will likely lay about one egg per day.

“I just love being able to come out here and watch them.  It’s so peaceful.  The littlest things make them so happy,” Mikulski said.  Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl enjoy eating seed and leafy veggies. They also love rolling around in the sand and dirt.  They even get along well with the family dog Hurley.  “He’s never seemed bothered by them in the least,” Mikulski said.

For much more information on backyard chickens, check out

For official City of Ferndale ordinance information and more, go to

   For stories of how this all came to be, check out:

Chicken Coop Site Map & Structural Plan

As part of our ordinance, we had to submit a site map and structural drawing for the chicken coop.  Ben put his engineering background to good use and put together these:

Site Map/ Site Plan

Click for full size version. Site map/site plan: shows property lines and positions of all permanent structures. Basically a copy of my “platt map”, which I received when I purchased my home- you can get a copy from the city offices. Obviously we had to add the location/dimensions of the coop.

Structural Drawing

Click for full size version. Structural drawing: shows the dimensions of the coop from overhead, the side, and the front. Also a detailed drawing of the footer we used, and materials listing. Everything must be drawing to scale.

Please be aware that everything must be to scale when submitting to the city of Ferndale, just like you’d have with a building plan for a home or garage.  It’s not too difficult, but is certainly intimidating if you’ve never done it before.

MYTH: Chickens stink!

they may give you the stink eye, but they don’t actually stink

The fear of odor problems caused by backyard chickens is unwarranted. Chickens themselves do not smell- only their feces that have the potential to stink, which is also true of feces from dogs, cats, or any other animal that leaves waste in the yard. But unlike dogs and cats, who leave waste on the lawns of their neighbors or in public places, chicken waste in an urban setting is confined to the coop & run, due to ordinances disallowing them to free range.

It’s also important to realize that the maximum number of chickens a city allows is just four. Four small hens weigh less than 20 pounds collectively, and generate less waste than one average dog.  (In Ferndale, we currently only allow 3 hens.)

Furthermore, chicken manure is a highly valued fertilizer that can be used in the garden, whereas waste from dogs and cats cannot because of the parasites and human diseases it can harbor. According to Dr. Hermes, OSU Extension Poultry Specialist, “Once added to the compost or tilled into the soil, the odor-causing compounds are no longer able to cause objectionable odors.” This statement is an exact quote taken from his letter in support of chickens in Salem, OR.

The reason people fear an odor problem is because their only experience with chickens (if they have any at all), is a farm or commercial poultry operation. In these situations, chickens are viewed as a commodity and are raised with the intention of profit from meat or egg production. Under those circumstances, hundreds, if not thousands, of chickens are often kept in crowded conditions with poor ventilation or regular cleaning. As a result, ammonia can build up and these facilities can stink. In contrast, people who want to raise hens as pets in the city are not looking to make a profit: they want eggs laid by healthy, happy chickens that they treat like pets. A few small birds housed at least 10’ from adjacent dwellings and in close proximity to the owner’s home, are extremely unlikely to create an odor problem for neighbors.

Composting chicken manure is a wonderful bonus to keeping chickens- the high nitrogen content of their manure breaks down high carbon items quickly and efficiently (sometimes almost too quickly, see blog:  Adding the manure to compost eliminates any smell associated with the manure.

Additionally, there are steps urban chicken keepers can take to reduce the chances of odors even further:  use a deep litter method of bedding, or use sand.  I prefer the sand method in my run, where the chickens spend most of their day- it wicks moisture away, eliminating odor and the attraction of flies, drying out the manure in the same way cat litter does.  I clean the run and coop once per day, throwing the waste into my composter; the only thing you can smell in my chicken run is their pine bedding and the flowers in the surrounding garden.  With proper practices, no small scale chicken coop should EVER smell strongly enough that neighbors would notice.

MYTH: Chickens are noisy.

Only roosters crow loudly, not hens. Hens never crow and are generally quiet animals, with the exception of announcing the arrival of a freshly hatched egg. This sound is short-lived, never occurs at night, lasts only a few minutes and takes place once every 24 to 36 hours. Some hens are more vocal than others, depending on the breed, but there is no comparing the sound of a cackling hen to dogs that can bark all night long, power tools, lawn mowers, motorcycles, car alarms, trains, and the myriad of other loud noises frequently heard in the neighborhood.

chickens are *definitely* quieter than dogs

Please note that the 70dB is the potential level of sound energy, but that it would be a rare sound measured very close to the chicken (2ft). The inverse distance law predicts that at ten times the distance (20ft), the sound pressure would drop a tenth, equivalent to a decibel drop of 20dB. That means that for a chicken making a 70dB sound in it’s outdoor enclosure, their neighbor will experience it as 50dB’s- roughly equivalent to a quiet conversation at home. Noise is even further reduced if the chicken makes a sound within their laying coop rather than the outdoor enclosure.

I invite you to watch and listen to my 3 pullets at 9 weeks old- they’re just getting their “big girl” voices, and you can hear a sample of a “bawk” in the video below.  Bonus: they look hilarious.

Chicks on a sunny day.

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer.

I’ve been worrying about this for a while- it seems silly right?  Worrying about chickens getting too hot in Michigan.  I get asked a ton of questions about keeping chickens through our cold winters, but nobody ever thinks to ask if they’ll be ok in 90+ degree weather with high humidity.  Chickens’ bodies perform best below about 75 degrees F; over 90F they can start to have real problems, especially heavier breeds.  They can suffer heat stress and stop laying eggs, and on the extreme end of the scale they can die. We had an incident when the chicks had only been here for a week- it was early March, they were tiny and living in a brooder box under a heat lamp, and our weird Michigan weather zoomed up to the high 80’s.  I came home from work and found the little chicks panting and laying down in the brooder box, wings outspread.  I’m pretty sure that scarred me, and I’ve been paranoid about temperature extremes ever since.

Luckily, the blog I linked to above has some great tips for keeping chickens cool in the summer heat.  I’ve reprinted their tips below in bold, with my take on how it’ll work for me:

  1. Provide shade: the girls like to hang out under their coop even now, digging shallow holes and taking dust baths.  In the summer, I’m assuming this will be where they spend a lot of their time- if I feel like they’re not getting enough shade, I may just throw a tarp over the top of the run to provide a little extra protection from the sun.
  2. Keep them supplied with cold water: it should be pretty easy to toss a few ice cubes into their waterer, and since I usually keep it in the coop it’ll be shaded.
  3. Provide dirt bath areas: the girls have already created some good spots for dust bathing, in the shadow of their coop.  I have a hard time imagining any scenario where a chicken didn’t have a place for dust bathing, unless they had a wire or concrete floor in their run.
  4. Add electrolytes to their water: I picked up several packs of these from Tractor Supply when I was getting supplies before getting the chicks- we still haven’t used them, so when it gets hot I’ll definitely add them to the water.
  5. Turn off lights in the coop: no problem here, since we don’t have a light in the coop.
  6. Increase the ventilation in the coop: we have two vents in the ceiling with adjustable vent flaps that can direct air in or keep it out, and a large screened back window.  In the summer, we’ll definitely keep the back window shutter open, adjust the vent flaps to direct air in, and there’s the possibility of leaving the front leaded glass doors open (I don’t like that idea, because even though we’re confident that the run is predator proof, I’d rather not take any chances).
  7. Place reflective foil on the roof of the coop in the morning: kinda the premise behind those car dashboard visors.  We likely won’t use this due to the green roof, but it’s a smart tip to keep in mind with other coops.
  8. Give them a shallow pan of water: like a bird bath! In general I want to keep these chickens completely dry, but if they opt to splash around in some water, I won’t stop them.
  9. Install a fan in the coop: I’ve been considering this, but with my set up I’m not sure how I could make it work.  The fans would need to be on the side of the coop, and I certainly wouldn’t want them there in the winter; I’d need to install them and then board them up when it got too cold out.  If there’s a way I can do this without destroying the aesthetic of the coop and/or compromising the structures ability to keep them warm and dry in the winter, I’ll consider it.
  10. Give them cold/frozen fruits and vegetables: watermelon seems like it would be a great choice for this.  I’ll definitely be doing this one.
  11. Don’t feed them cracked corn: I’ll save the cracked corn for cold weather, since it brings up their body temp.
  12. Dig a shallow pit and lightly mist it with water: I can see doing this in extreme situations, making the hole deeper than it would normally be from their dust bathing.
  13. Freeze water bottles or milk jugs with ice: kinda like air conditioning for the chickens! I bet they’d wind up scared of it, like they are of most new things. Still, in an extreme situation, this seems like it would help immensely.
  14. Leave them alone: keeping their stress levels low is the name of the game, and something I try to do regularly anyway.  The only time these girls really get ruffled up is when my bf’s dog circles the coop run, breathing heavily.
  15. Put sprinklers on the coop roof: I can’t do this with my setup, but I do wonder if watering the green roof wil help.
  16. Decrease the litter in the coop: we only have maybe an inch and a half of pine shavings in the coop at present, and the litter gets cleaned daily, so this may not help much.  The theory is that deep litter acts like a compost pile, generating heat- so, if you’re a deep litter coop, you’ll want to take this advice to keep the heat level down.
  17. Mist them with cool water: I’m pretty sure the chickens would freak out if I did this, so chances are I won’t.

Armed with these tips, I’m hoping I won’t have a repeat of our “too hot” incident- I’ll still keep my eyes peeled for signs of heat stress throughout summer.


-panting, with beak open

-laying around with wings outstretched

-no interest in eating

-slow to respond to stimuli, unresponsive


We’re legal!

Yesterday, the city inspector walked into the backyard saying “This should only take about 2 seconds, I’ve seen the paperwork you submitted”.

who wouldn’t approve this thing?

Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound.  He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.

The chickens aren’t very impressed with this latest turn of events, but they did run off with the building inspection sticker we received.

very exciting!
if it’s in my hands, it might be food, right?
see that beak? somebody snatched the approved sticker from my hand a second later.

After all is said and done, the chickens are happy, I’m happy, and my neighbors are happy.  Everyone seems to like the coop, and they get a kick out of the girls antics- or lack thereof, since the ladies have been lounging a lot in their beachy coop.

The 3 stooges.

The countdown begins.

Just over 24 hours until the coop gets inspected!  I’m nervous and excited.

We put some finishing touches on the coop over the weekend- lots of paint, installing the brackets for the polycarbonate roof, installing a door handle, etc.  There are still some more things I’d like to do, but I’ll wait until after we get approval from the city inspector.

The coop is ready for inspection!

The green roof is prepped with dirt, and waiting for strawberries to be planted.  Can you believe I haven’t been able to find strawberries at any of the nurseries this year?  I had to break down and order some online.

Nice mix of garden and potting soil

We also put a latch on the inside of the run door, after in incident where the chickens were spooked and bumped into the door.  The door only stayed open for a second, but that’s long enough that if there was a dog running around the coop, they might have the opportunity to race inside.  Obviously I can’t let that happen, so my failsafe is now installed, for use when I’m in the run.

latch on the inside of the run door

We put some hanging planters from Ikea in the run, just for a decorative touch.  I absolutely love it- the hint of extra greenery really adds to the overall appearance.

the chickens don’t really care about hanging planters

We painted everything to match the house and garage, so the coop seems to “belong” there.

the coop and the garage look good together
another view of the garage and coop

The lever for the chicken door is on the outside- in the future, we’re hoping to install an automated or remoted controlled door.

the rod sticking out with the black handle is the push/pull door control

Door hardware matches on the run door and the nesting box lid.  We also added a magnet to the window cover on the back of the coop, so that the window can stay open.

black handle and hinges on the door
black handle on the nesting box, magnet keeping the window cover open

All in all, it was a ton of work this weekend.  Painting the trim in the places where the 1/2 hardware cloth is attached was a pain, and took a long time to get all the nooks and cranies filled.  I also went over all the “vulnerable points” after hearing something walking around the garage one night when I went to close the girls in- we used horseshoe nails to ensure that the hardware cloth is attached in every place that a predator might seek access, mainly as reinforcement to the staples we had previously used.  The pavers seen around the coop are in their position temporaily, as I’ll be leveling them and making some paths through the garden in the future.  At the end of the day Sunday, we were exhausted and ready to just sit down and admire the finished product.

Hurley likes to think she helped.
Hurley helps by watching the chickens enjoy their pretty new coop. Good job Hurley!

To all the people who said they wouldn’t want to live next to someone with backyard hens- is this what you pictured?

We’re #1!!

dramatic chickens!

The girls are feeling pretty dramatic after finding out that we’re the 1st to submit our coop paperwork to the city. Apparently lots of people have gotten the packet, but nobody had turned it in… until now. The clerks at the city offices were wonderful and helpful, and even gave me the contact information of someone asking about chickens. Hopefully I can call them later to give them all the info they need to make a decision to get some hens!

Coop inspection is scheduled for 3:30pm Tuesday the 15th, next week. Time to put the finishing touches on the coop and get ready to wow our city officials.

What a hard life!

The girls are enjoying a nice warm day, perched on the edge of their coop window.  I’m pretty jealous of them.

Like big globs of honey.

Today is the big day- we’re turning in the building permit and fees associated for the coop license.  Keep you fingers crossed- I’m hoping the inspector will be able to come out in the next few days to check it out and give his blessing.


Chicks dig dirt.

The chicks are enjoying a nice dust bath in the shade on this steamy spring day.

These girls are the fat orange cats of the chicken world, and as such are already getting a little spoiled.  They come running at the sight of me in the backyard, not out of affection, but because I usually have a delicious treat.  Lately it’s been dandelion greens, broccoli leaves, strawberries, and a tiny piece of ham.  I think they nearly lost their little chicken minds over that piece of ham.


Snagging a bite.
Once Big Bossy gets a bite, everyone moves in for some, now that they know it’s safe.

The girls are getting bigger every day, and looking more and more like real chickens.  I think I may have even heard a cluck last night as I was closing them into their coop.

Looking proper.
Big Bossy eyes the camera.
Green eyed dinosaurs.
Chickens have inscrutable faces- the only way to tell if they’re angry is body language, since their faces have a permanent frown.

Ferndale Chicken Coop Paperwork: where to get it, how to fill it out

The city has put together a nice bundle of paperwork for the backyard coop permitting/inspection process.  I’ve taken pics of the sheets from the bundle for any prospective chicken owner to peruse before putting together their coop:

The building permit needs to be filled out, much like you would if you were building a shed.

In addition to filling out the building permit and chicken coop application, they require a basic site plan indicating that the location of the coop meets the dimensional requirements and a plan for the coop’s construction demonstrating that the material requirements are being met.   The fee for the permit is $35 annually, and is paid when you submit your application to the city.  You can schedule your coop inspection at the same time.  The permit and application are available at City Hall, which is also where you turn in the completed paperwork.

Putting together my site plan tonight, and should be able to turn in the completed paperwork tomorrow.  Can’t wait to have everything done and legal!



Dogs living with chickens? It can work!

The only thing I was worried about with keeping backyard hens was my dog’s reaction.

Hurley is fast, and has the highest prey drive I’ve ever seen in a dog.  I’ve watched this dog snatch low flying birds out of the air, and found countless headless carcasses in my backyard.  I stopped feeding birds in the backyard for this very reason.

Before letting these chicks out into their run on a trial basis, Hurley managed to snatch a fledgling sparrow.  I yelled, she dropped it, and it hopped away while she looked ashamed.  With that fresh in my mind, I was incredibly nervous about the prospect of her reaction to seeing large, tasty looking birds hopping around on the ground right in front of her (albeit separated by a fence).

Looks like all my worrying was unfounded.

Hurley is very dignified.
Vigilant as always.
She still has to look at them from time to time- they make fascinating noises!
Satisfied that they're not up to anything worthwhile, Hurley goes back to watching the yard.
Hurley is way more interested in what I'm up to.
And now she's bored enough that she's just going to lay down in the dirt. Nice.

I’m counting myself lucky.  I think these birds spent enough time in the house and around me that they’re exempt from the normal backyard prey menu.

A whole pack of paperwork: getting things permitted.

Paperwork was picked up from the city offices this morning, and after a brief glance everything seems pretty straightforward.  We’re in compliance with all the rules, now we just need to draw up the dimensions and submit the application along with the $35 license fee.

The girls are strolling around their run during the daytime, and being brought inside like spoiled pets at night.  What?  it’s getting down into the low 30’s at night right now, and I’d be a hot mess if I inadvertently harmed them by leaving them out in the cold while they’re still so young.  The good news is that the chicks are learning that the cat carrier is their best friend, and they walk right in with a little shooing when I come out at dusk.

Little Girl still has some of her head fluff hanging on, despite looking like a mini adult everywhere else. So cute!  I love that she looks like a painting in this picture below.  Part of me will miss having these little girls in the house, despite being relieved that I won’t have to clean up the wood shavings they kick out of their brooder box.


Chicks are growing, and need to be in the coop

fuzzy head chicks

They grow so fast!!

Here they are the day after I brought them home.

fuzzy head chicks
Look at those little fuzzy heads!
mini adult chicks (pullets)

They’re quickly getting too big for the brooder, and I’m eager to get them outside.  Little known fact:  chickens wake up earlier than yours truly, and immediately want to be fed and run around.  I’m all for that when I’m not sleeping less than a foot away from them.

Chicks acquired, coop nearing completion!

Coop with attached pergola
Coop with attached pergola
Coop with attached pergola over the run

Lots of stuff happening in preparation for the permit and inspection!!

The chicks were acquired March 18th, and have been staying in my house in a brooder box.  I didn’t get them at the tiny fluffball stage- they had a few “big girl” feathers, and were likely about 3 weeks old.  They’re growing FAST, which means that I need to get them out of the brooder box and into the coop as soon as possible.  It’s been a madhouse trying to get everything built and installed, but the end is in sight and we should have it ready for the chicks this weekend.

Now, the difficult part: trying to figure out who I need to contact at the city for the permitting process, and what forms (if any) need to be filled out.

Per the ordinance that was passed, “Completed applications shall be submitted to the community and economic development department along with the fee which shall be determined by city council resolution. Application shall be made to the community and economic development department and shall include any drawings or other information required by the department.”.  I looked on the Ferndale city website, and couldn’t find any application.  I feel weird about filling out  a building permit application, or writing my own- but if it’s necessary, I will.  I’d also like to know what the exact requirements are for drawings/information that I need to submit- can I just list out the dimensions, or do I need to mock up a drawing of the coop?  So many questions, and no time to go down to city hall.  Hopefully they respond to my email today, so I can get started on any paperwork and drop it off this week.

Ordinance Wording

Chair Roediger referred to the State of Michigan’s Generally Accepted Agriculture and
Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals indicating that 6 square feet of space per chicken constitutes humane stocking density.
The consensus of the Commission was that staff garner input from other communities that permit chickens. It was generally agreed that permitting and neighbor approvals are
unnecessary. Maximum number of chickens is proposed at three in conformance to the current maximum number of permitted cats and dogs. Zoning requirements include restricting the keeping of chickens to single family residential units(R-1 district) and requiring setbacks of 10’ from any residential structure on an adjacent property and 5’ from the property line.
The revised ordinance should reference permanent materials, adequate ventilation and
maximum size limitation for coop construction. Coop construction and location should be in compliance with existing accessory structure requirements in Sec. 9-2 of the zoning ordinance. It was the further noted that the State’s Generally Accepted Management Practices be consulted to draft the provisions for managing food and the handling of dead animals.

Sec. 5-8. Keeping of Chickens.

(1) Any person residing in R-1 or R-2 residential zoned district property, in a single family detached structure, obtaining a permit from the city, may keep not more than three (3) hen chickens in the city for personal use only and not for any business or commercial use. Completed applications shall be submitted to the community and economic development department along with the fee which shall be determined by city council resolution.
Application shall be made to the community and economic development department and
shall include any drawings or other information required by the department. The
department shall issue a permit where the application is in compliance with all
requirements, regulations and ordinances of the city. Approved permit holders shall-
schedule an inspection within thirty (30) days of permit issuance. Failure to schedule an
inspection shall- result in an automatic revocation of the permit. If an inspection
identifies noncompliance with any of the requirements set forth in (3), the permit holder
shall have fifteen (15) days to achieve compliance with the requirements or the
department may revoke the permit or seek prosecution of the violation under Chapter 26-19 of the Ferndale Code. Permits shall be valid for up to one (1) year, shall be nontransferable, site-specific and shall expire on December 31st of each year. A person who wishes to continue keeping chickens shall obtain a new permit prior to expiration of the previous permit. Application for a new permit shall be pursuant to the procedures and requirements applicable at the time a person applies for a new permit.

(3) A person residing in R-1 or R-2 residential zoned district property, in a single family
detached structure who keeps hen chickens shall comply with all of the following
a. Keep no more than three (3) hen chickens at any time.
b. Roosters or male chickens and any other type of fowl or poultry are prohibited.
c. Slaughtering of any chickens at the property is prohibited.
d. Chickens shall be maintained in a fully enclosed structure or a fenced enclosure
and shall be kept in the enclosed structure or fenced enclosure at all times. Fenced
enclosures are subject to all fence provisions and restrictions in the Ferndale
Code. An enclosed structure shall be constructed of permanent materials and shall
be properly maintained in accordance with the property maintenance code
adopted by the city in Section 6-16 of the Ferndale Code, as amended.
e. Chickens shall not be kept in any location on the property other than in the
backyard. For purposes of this section, “backyard” means that portion of a lot
enclosed by the property’s rear lot line and the side lot lines to the points where
the side lot lines intersect with an imaginary line established by the rear of the
single-family or two-family structure and extending to the side lot lines.

f. No enclosed structure shall be located within any side or rear yard setback area.

An enclosed structure or fenced enclosure shall not be located closer than ten (10)
feet to any residential structure on adjacent property.
g. All structures and enclosures for the keeping of chickens shall be constructed and
maintained so as to prevent rats, mice, or other rodents or vermin from being
harbored underneath or within the walls of the structure or enclosure.
h. All feed and other items associated with the keeping of chickens likely to attract
rats, mice, or other rodents or vermin shall be secured and protected in sealed
i. Chickens shall be kept in compliance with the Michigan Department of
Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the
Care of Farm Animals, as it relates to Laying Chickens, as amended, except as
otherwise provided in this ordinance.
j. Any violation of any of these provisions may be prosecuted as provided in
Chapter 26-19.


Finally, after years of talking about it, it’s done.  I have to commend Ferndale city council for taking time to understand the issue and really listening to the community and facts concerning the keeping of urban hens.  It’s been a long time coming, and I’m really glad that I can finally move forward with building a coop and getting my laying hens.

Also, if I never have to say the word “rats” again, I’ll be a really happy camper.

Winter Care for Chickens

taken from wikimedia, author addshore

I’ve had several people ask about housing and caring for hens in winter, and it’s best to start thinking about it now while the weather still allows for easy modification of the coop.

People are often shocked to find out that coops in Michigan don’t need to be heated. They do, however, require adequate ventilation- in cold temps, the breath & waste from chickens create a damp environment in ventilation restricted coops, which can lead to condensation, frostbite, and ammonia buildup.

A good example of a coop suitable for Michigan’s winters is located here:

Robert Plamondon has a thorough write up regarding proper winter care on his website:

Coverage in the Oakland Press!

FERNDALE – Allowing chickens in residential backyards in cities such as Hazel Park and Madison Heights hasn’t raised much of a squawk, and Ferndale may be next with a new fowl-friendly law.

The city Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing Sept. 14 on a revised ordinance that will permit residents to keep up to three chickens, but no roosters.

The issue in Ferndale has been marinating since earlier this year when Laura Mikulski and some other residents began pressing city officials to allow chickens and change an existing ordinance that requires chickens be kept at least 150 feet from the nearest neighbor’s property.

Given the size of residential lots in Ferndale, the current ordinance effectively bans chickens in 90 percent of city neighborhoods.

Coverage by the Macomb Daily!

Current laws already address noise, smell

Allowing chickens in residential backyards in cities such as Hazel Park and Madison Heights hasn’t raised much of a squawk, and Ferndale may be next with a new fowl-friendly law.

The city Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing Sept. 14 on a revised ordinance that will permit residents to keep up to three chickens, but no roosters.

The issue in Ferndale has been marinating since earlier this year when Laura Mikulski and some other residents began pressing city officials to allow chickens and change an existing ordinance that requires chickens be kept at least 150 feet from the nearest neighbor’s property.
Given the size of residential lots in Ferndale, the current ordinance effectively bans chickens in 90 percent of city neighborhoods.

But that prohibition may soon head south.

City officials said they have been talking with their counterparts in other communities where chickens are allowed as they consider whether to allow them in Ferndale.

“I’ve spoken with Ypsilanti and Madison Heights,” said Derek Delacourt, Community and Economic Development director in Ferndale. “Each community had between 10 and 20 permits pulled (to keep chickens) and they have had few, if any, complaints.”

Ferndale is considering an ordinance that will reduce its current distance limits on chickens from nearby property owners and introduce requirements for coops to be kept in rear yards. Concerns about cleanliness, odor and attracting vermin are covered mostly by existing city laws.

Backyard chicken advocates say the birds are a natural, low-cost way to have fresh eggs and fertilizer for gardens. Keeping chickens in urban areas is a somewhat popular trend and over the past several years has cropped up in New York, San Francisco and cities in between.

USA Weekend: It’s easy to raise your own backyard chickens.|topnews|text|Frontpage

Raising chickens is the natural next step for anyone growing her own fruit and vegetables. And the popularity of “homesteading” like this has a lot to do with the economy: Raising your own food is almost always cheaper than buying it at the store.

Plus, chickens make great pets, says Patricia Foreman, author of City Chicks and co-host of the Chicken Whisperer Talk Show on “They’re not the dirty, stupid, prickly birds they’re reputed to be.” To work on their image, Foreman has what she calls “chicken ambassadors” (named Oprah Henfrey and Attila the Hen, by the way), which she brings to schools and nursing homes to spread the good word about chicken rearing.

Here are some of her tips:
Get six to eight hens.

At their peak, each chicken will produce an egg a day. After just a couple of years, production will decrease, but they’re still useful: They act as insect regulators, eating ticks and fleas. They also can help keep waste out of landfills, as they will eat (and enjoy) your kitchen scraps.
Have a good coop.

Be sure they have a coop structure in which they will be protected from nocturnal predators. The design can vary, but it should have a roof, a branch or 2-by-4 for roosting, and a “run,” where the chickens have space to roam.
Get advice.

Local poultry club members can tell you good breeds for your area.
Check the laws.

In many municipalities, hens are OK, but roosters are not; in others, no chickens are allowed.

Commission meeting Sept 14th!!

The revised ordinance will be discussed at the next Planning Commission meeting 7 p.m. Sept. 14 at City Hall. This meeting is considered a public hearing. It is not a public forum, but time will be allowed to discuss the chicken ordinance. If approved by the Planning Commission, it will then go to City Council.

Raising hens at home? Eggcellent!

Many are rearing poultry to join the slow-food movement; others do it because they can all but guarantee food safety in the wake of the 2010 salmonella outbreak. But beyond the threat of disease, home-grown eggs are just plain healthier: A 2007 study by Mother Earth News confirmed that pasture-raised hens who are free to forage for bugs, worms, grass, and leaves produce eggs with four to six times the vitamin D and a third less cholesterol as their mass-market counterparts.

Read more here:

Did you see us in the Woodward Talk?

“I’d like to … ensure that most every resident in Ferndale who is interested in owning a backyard flock could legally do so,” Mikulski wrote via email. “I’d also like to see Ferndale adopt ordinance language that would define proper keeping practices to ensure that we don’t develop nuisance issues.”

Read more here:

Another write up in the Ferndale Patch!

On Thursday, Mikulski started a petition drive to gather supporters for those who also want to be able to legally raise chickens in their backyards.

Mikulski said after an April 15 story by Ferndale Patch about Ferndale residents keeping chickens, she started receiving an outpouring of support (as well as numerous media inquiries). But there had been no real way to quantify that. Thus the petition was born.

“The main goal is to not just be able to track support but to also show council that Ferndale wants chickens,” she said.

Another write up concerning our efforts in the Ferndale 115!

Laura Mikulski’s crusade continues. On April 19 we brought you news of a young Ferndalian hoping to raise chickens in her backyard. . She and supporters researched how other cities handled urban chickens, and has put together a website to educate people – and City Council – about the subject. ( Now she is asking interested residents to sign an online petition asking for a change in the ordinance which would allow coops to be built near homes. (
“I was incredibly surprised by how quickly the news spread and very pleased that the vast majority of people who’ve talked to me are supportive,” ” Mikulski said. “Recently WXYZ came to my street looking for me, but I was still at work- so, instead they went door to door speaking to my neighbors, and ultimately interviewed a gentleman on my block that had had issues with pests when he kept chickens before.
‘It created a great dialogue between my neighbors and myself, which allowed me to explain how to avoid pest issues, that roosters aren’t necessary for eggs, and the benefits inherent in keeping a few hens. My neighbors nearest to me were very supportive of the idea, and one neighbor even thinks he’ll likely have a few laying hens when the ordinance passes.”
Mikulski said that she started the online petition to help gauge community support, and to show city leaders that there is an interest in changing the ordinance. The ordinance does not ban chickens – only stipulates that a chicken coop cannot be within 150 feet of a neighbor’s residence. gives examples of how other cities have crafted chicken coop regulations. For example, Ann Arbor’s ordinance allows one up to 40 feet away, and Ypsilanti’s calls for 20 feet. The site also addresses common concerns such as smell, noise and safety.
Though she does not yet keep chickens herself, Mikulski is getting to know more families in Ferndale that do. “I’ve connected with a handful of people keeping backyard flocks, but surprisingly have found many more people who don’t currently have chickens who think it’s a wonderful idea. Most of them don’t even necessarily want a flock of their own- but they still see the value it would bring to others and the community as a whole,” she said.
City Council is currently considering the information provided. Those who want to find out more about the issue or get involved can contact Mikulski at

To sign the petition, go to

To read about a family in Ferndale and their experience keeping chickens, check out our previous story –

Backyard Chickens: Make our eating life easier

Backyard Chickens: Make our eating life easier.

“There is nothing easier than grabbing a warm egg from the laying box, cracking it open, and taking two minutes to cook it. Eggs can go on top of toast, oatmeal, salad, hamburgers, polenta, pasta, rice, etc. – they are key ingredients in lots of baking recipes. After the initial investment, eggs are an accessible cheap protein. They are always there in the back garden waiting to be collected and eaten.”

Hello world!

I bought my home on Hazelhurst in September of 2006, choosing to live in Ferndale largely due to the quality of the community. As an avid organic gardener and compost tea brewer, I’ve thrilled to see my neighbors revive or create backyard gardens these past few years. Their efforts are indicative of a growing movement to eat locally, not only to save money, but to reconnect to our food sources, ensuring the nutritional quality of the produce we consume as well as decreasing the resources needed to get it to our table. Our community increasingly shows an appreciation for a naturally healthy lifestyle coupled with a strong DIY spirit- the perfect combination to embrace an ordinance making backyard urban chicken keeping accessible.

Back in June of 2008 I started looking into our city ordinances concerning the keeping and maintenance of chickens. Through research, I came to the conclusion that while Ferndale doesn’t prohibit ownership, it has effectively denied the opportunity to most of our residents by way of an unreasonable poultry housing distance requirement. I’ve posted the section below:

Sec. 12-116. Keeping, housing fowl.

It shall be unlawful to keep, house or maintain fowl within a distance of 150 feet of any building or part of a building used by any person or persons for habitation other than that of the person (including members of his household) so keeping, housing or maintaining fowl. It shall also be unlawful to maintain pigeons, seagulls or other wild fowl so as to create an unsanitary condition or odor. Violation of this section constitutes a misdemeanor and is declared a public nuisance subject to abatement as provided in section 12-112.

(Ord. No. 899, Pt. VII, 10-12-98)

To quote an email response from Jay Singh, Ferndale City Assessor on 9/30/2009:
“From my rough memory I would say the average lot size in Ferndale is 40 feet by 110 feet.” (not yet independently verfied by plat map averages)

If our ordinance disallows the keep, housing, or maintenance of fowl within 150 feet of an occupied residential dwelling, then Ferndale may as well reword the ordinance to expressly ban domestic fowl.

Instead, I’d like to see Ferndale repeal Ordinance 899 and take a more progressive approach, much like Ann Arbor did in 2008 and Ypsilanti did earlier this year. See below:

Ypsilanti Ordinance No. 1100 (adopted 7/21/2009)

-keeping of up to 4 hens
-coop/enclosures must be at least 20 feet from any residential structure not owned by the permitee unless written permission is granted from the owner of the affected residential structure.
-any keeping of roosters
-slaughter of hens
-violation of noise ordinances
-keeping chickens in any other area besides the backyard


Ann Arbor Ordinance No. 08-19 Chapter 107 Animals (adopted 6/2/2008)
-up to 4 hens
-coop/enclosures must be at least 40 feet from any residential structure not owned by the permitee unless written permission is granted from the owner of the affected residential structure.
-any keeping of roosters
-slaughter of hens
-violation of noise ordinances
-keeping chickens in any other area besides the backyard


These are just two examples of local communities enabling their citizens to make a move toward a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Across the country, urban chicken farming is encouraged in cities such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Austin, Portland and Seattle. These communities are allowed to enjoy the nutritional benefits fresh, non-commercial eggs confer, the economic advantages of decreasing their bottom line grocery expense, as well the invaluable appreciation of food sources in an increasingly industrialized society. The repeal of the prohibitively restrictive portion of Ord. 899 would demonstrate a great commitment to the green movement and health & welfare of Ferndale citizenry, further distinguishing our city as a destination for innovative and ecologically minded individuals.

Please take a moment to peruse the sites I’ve listed below for more information:

Please read: