Raising Heritage Chickens in the North

Here’s something worth considering. If you’re thinking of getting a flock of chickens, consider getting a heritage breed.

Do some research as to your weather conditions, how harsh your winter is and how much natural vegetation you have in season. Then get some heritage breed chickens! They know how to forage and they’re used to being outdoors.

If you live in a northern climate and have room to let your chickens free range (and you should, no matter what size yard you have) then look into Icelandic chickens. They’re great layers, fantastic at finding their own food and are excellent at being broody.


laying hens foraging for food

Our chickens are a Red Sex Link….great layers, not so great at being broody. I think its been bred out of them, although we do have one that will make an excellent mother.


busy henhouse

She does a great job of keeping our eggs from freezing during winter. Since our layers tend to lay in one box, Beatrice gets in there and keeps all the eggs warm until we go down and collect them.

We have trained these girls to hunt and peck for their food. Not that it does much good in the middle of winter, but we know that as soon as the snow melts, these girls will be paying their own way again.


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Chicken Questions and Answers

Want to start raising chickens? Wondering how to get started? Here are a few questions and answers to get things going. Chickens are a fantastic addition to your backyard or homestead. If your city doesn’t yet allow backyard chickens, consider getting involved in the growing movement to change council’s mind. While I can understand urban areas not allowing roosters, I am a proponent of allowing a certain number of hens per household.


chickens, chicks, meat birds, country living in a cariboo valley


“How do you get chicks used to you so they won’t run or get scared when you come around?”

When chicks are brand new, enter the brooder area slowly and softly. What we actually do is start humming or talking in a low voice outside the brooder room. This helps alert the chicks that you are close by. When you go in the room, do it gently. Don’t go rushing in freaking them out! Have your feed can in your hand and give it a few shakes. Very soon, they will relate that sound to “Oh, good, here comes the food!” Very soon you will find that they will start coming to you.

Remember, they are like little babies. We don’t go around freaking out little babies, so don’t do it to little chicks either.


“When you put them into your garden area, what keeps them from eating all your good plants?”

You can’t. The ONLY time our chickens are allowed in the garden is after the veggies are harvested. Some people say to keep the chickens out until the veggie plants are well established, then they won’t hurt the plants. I am a skeptic when it comes to this. I have seen my hens get into my flowerbeds, and before I know it, there are uprooted plants lying on top of the soil.

What we do is build temporary fencing using T posts and wire fencing. It’s easy to set up, easy to move and easy to remove. All you need is a few T posts and wire. Run it up to a building or a fence post, etc., so you can reduce the number of T posts needed. Check out this post for more information on temporary fencing.

I like to give my girls a large amount of room to run around and forage for plants and bugs. However, I want to keep them away from my flower beds and veggie gardens. So, we give them as much free range as possible, but with limitations….hmmm, kinda like raising teenagers!




“I want them to free range, but how do I get them back into the hen house?”

I bet 98% of chickens will return to their hen house on their own, once dusk comes. Chickens don’t like being out in the dark! They want to feel safe at home, locked in their pen, away from predators. If you have trouble getting them to come home, shake that ol’ feed can for them, while calling them. “Here, chicka, chicka, shake shake shake” goes a long ways!

Also, if you bring home grown chickens, take them out of the carrying cage INSIDE the coop. Then leave them locked inside the coop for a few days. This will reinforce to them that the coop is home. After a few days, open up a door to their outside run. Leave that door open so they are free to go in and out. Don’t let them out of the run for several more days. This will further reinforce to them that the coop and run are home.


“How do I catch one of my chickens if I need to?” 

If you need to get hold of one of your chickens for any reason, wait till dark. Once they are in their coop, you simply pick them up off their roost. When it happened here for the first time, I groaned thinking about all the other times I had tried to pin one down. If you need to catch one for emergency purposes, a fish net works great. Works on piglets too! I’m unsure whether it works on teenagers.


“What will keep them from flying away or into the neighbors yards?”

A good pair of scissors does a lot. Cut the flight feathers off ONE side only. This prevents them from flying and if they do get off the ground, they will go in circles, ha! A 42 inch fence should hold them in, IF the flight feathers are cut off. If they are not cut, I think they could get over that height of fence.

Got more chickens questions? Just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.