Raising chickens can be a fun family hobby

Carol Hoyt of Hoyt Family Vineyards loves her little flock, but she's the first to tell you they're a big responsibility.

"Just know that they are messy. They will dig holes, scurry up dirt and nest in areas," said Hoyt.

Like most who decide to raise chickens, Hoyt loves the eggs. The birds also provide fertilizer for the grapes.

"I love my chickens, but I don't kiss them good night," said Kasey Perry, manager of the Malibu Feed Bin.

Perry owns 30 chickens herself, but says these birds are livestock, not your best friends, and there's a lot to know before you pick a chick.

Don't go barefoot in the coop. And wash your hands after handling them. Cross-contamination can make you very sick.

Then think about size. "First we ask how much space are you willing to dedicate to it," said Perry.

In Los Angeles County, your coop needs to be 20 feet from your residence, 35 feet from your neighbor. Experts suggest 10 square feet of yard for exercise, plus four more for the henhouse.

"A lot of people come in wanting apartment pets and we really strongly don't recommend chickens," said Perry.

Make sure you have a covered coop to protect the birds from predators. Consider chicken wire or concrete flooring as rodents may pop up and can carry mites.

And since you can't potty-train chickens, ground cover is important.

"If you've noticed, we only have sand. Sand and rocks do not retain moisture," said Terranea Resort executive chef Bernard Ibarra.

Ibarra said sand acts like kitty litter. Scoop the poop daily, change the sand yearly. He said wood shavings and other cover absorb bacteria which can lead to disease.

"The best way to determine the health of your chickens is keeping everything clean," reminded Perry.

The chickens eat organic seed but they love dragon fruit and other fruits like watermelon.

"They love lettuce. They think that's a game," said Perry. Her parents' feed store stocks all kinds of things that chickens love including grubs.

Your chickens should lay eggs after six months and stop producing after a few years.
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