Here a Chick, There a Chick
Chickens (and Their Eggs) Are Finding a Place Backyard
Many Loathe the beginning of the work week, but not Will Morrow. “Mondays are always an exciting day,” he says. As manager and Poultry Program Head of the Emmitsburg-based Whitmore Farm, Monday is hatching day for dozens of baby chicks. “It’s like being in the delivery room. …No matter how many times you see it, there is still something that makes you feel like a kid again when you see these little baby chicks hatching out of their eggs and shells. It truly is a miracle of life, and to witness that on a regular basis is quite special.”
The farm’s chickens produce hundreds of eggs a day but only the ones with the best shape, size and color are chosen for hatchings which occur from March until August. “We put a lot of time and effort going through our flocks and culling out the inferior birds and only retaining the best examples of the breed to use in our breeding program,” Morrow says. The chickens that don’t meet breeding standards are put into a production flock to be used to lay eggs for consumption.
The standout eggs are kept for five days and then placed in a 100-degree incubator for 19 days. On Fridays, the eggs are placed in a 100 degree hatcher, where new chicks will emerge from their eggs on Mondays. After being vaccinated, the chicks go into a 90-degree brooder to be kept until they are given to their new owners. The farm has been quite busy recently, as more and more people choose to buy chicks to raise.
Orders come in from all across the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska, because people want their own birds to get the freshest eggs straight from the source. After buying land and building a house in Woodsboro several years ago, Paula New and her husband decided to get chickens to help decrease the worms and bugs in the grass that their cattle eat. The chickens “help us,” she says. “They help our cattle. They are amazing animals. … They have personalities. Some are more friendly than others. You can pick them up and hold them like a cat. They just sit there and fall asleep in your arms. Other ones won’t even let you get close to them, but they have a purpose. They have a job and they know what it is and they do it well.”
The family has 18 hens of different breeds and just recently bought more chicks from Whitmore Farm. “I have a lot of different varieties and with that comes a lot of different colors in the eggs which I like,” New says. Near the end of winter, her hens produce around five to eight eggs a day but production increases in warmer temperatures. Her 8-year old son will no longer eat store bought eggs because he can tell the difference. New often gives eggs the family doesn’t use to her in-laws and neighbors. “It’s little things like that that make us happy—to make other people happy with different color eggs.”
Sara Boyle and her husband decided to raise chickens on their Westminster property after discussing how to arrange more of their food supply themselves. With 15 adult chickens, 25 meat chickens and 30 new chicks just purchased, the family gets about a dozen eggs a day from the various breeds. “We know exactly what goes into our eggs because we choose what feed the chickens get,” she says. “We actually eat almost all the eggs that we get and then occasionally have enough to give to a neighbor or a friend.”
Boyle’s children have become much more interested in eating eggs because they are raising chickens. “Our egg basket has blue and green and white and light brown and dark brown,” Boyle says. “It’s kind of fun.” Her son has allergies, so he can’t have a dog or cat, but he still has the pet connection thanks to the chickens. The family has done some taste tests between their home-grown and store-bought eggs. “Usually the color gives it away because the yolk is much darker,” she says. “The flavor is a little better.”
The Boyles have had their chickens for less than a year but are happy with their decision to raise them. “Chickens are a lot easier to keep than most people realize,” she says. “They are much quieter and much easier. I think if people just had a chance to try it, more people would do it.” Before you run off to go get some chicks, be sure to check whether your city or town allows them. The City of Frederick prohibits livestock unless you live on land zoned for agriculture purposes.
The county’s ordinance allows for chickens but states their pens must be at least 50 feet away from property lines and nuisances such as noise and odor must not disturb neighbors. Town and municipal laws vary across the county as well. Whitmore Farm offers four different breeds for sale: Ameraucana, Delaware, Marans and Welsummer. “By only focusing on four breeds, we can really put a lot of time and attention into those breeds and raise lots of numbers of them to select only the very best,” Morrow says. Orders, which can be done by mail or pick-up, are filled by the order they come in. Some people request chicks as far as six months in advance.
Chicks have three main needs: clean water kept in a shallow container, food tailored specifically for them and warmth. “Chickens are a lot easier than people realize,” Morrow says. “Anyone that’s had any kind of pet, whether it be a cat or a dog or a parakeet or something, is going to be able to raise chicks.” For those hankering for fresh eggs, be prepared for a wait. Heritage breeds mature slower than modern commercial hybrids so lay time does not start until five to six months old. “If you buy your chicks in the spring, you’re not going to get your first egg until the fall but it’s a really wonderful experience to raise an animal from a baby up until adulthood,” Morrow says. “I think you get a lot of pleasure out of that experience while you are waiting for your first eggs to come along.”