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Jeff Semler: Workshop geared to help those raising chickens

August 13, 2012|By Jeff Semler
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

 When you hear the word poultry, what comes to mind? The dictionary defines poultry as a category of domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of eggs, or meat and/or feathers.

And when you hear the word chicken, you probably have yet another perception. Chickens are one of those animals that folks either love or hate.

Yet, recently there has been a country-wide resurgence of backyard chickens.

While for many this seems new, it is actually back to the future.

In Colonial America, almost every household, whether urban or rural, had a chicken house in the backyard. They served as a source for fresh eggs for the breakfast table and as a main course for the dinner table. In addition, they served as disposal for kitchen scraps.

Of course. there was also the dark side of chicken keeping, which was cockfighting. The brutal “sport” found popularity and was particularly prevalent in Colonial New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Today, cockfighting is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But I digress.


The recent growth in popularity of chicken keeping has pitted neighbor against neighbor in some situations, but in other places, not so much. Did you know that you can keep chickens in your backyard if you live in Brooklyn, but not if you live in Boonsboro?

While a person can raise chickens for a number of reasons, most folks like the idea of producing some of their own food and chickens are fun and easy to raise. If properly fed and cared for, the biggest threat to your chickens is probably the neighbor’s dog.

They require a small amount of space, and when properly cared for, they do not attract vermin, nor do they smell. Quite to the contrary, they will eat many common pests.

Which brings me to one of my pet peeves; I remember seeing a box of eggs in the store once that said “fresh eggs from our free range vegetarian chickens.” That is a contradiction in terms; chickens are by choice omnivores and if they are free range they are eating “meat” whether that meat is in the form of beetles, grubs or worms.

The other complaint I often hear about chickens is they are noisy. Again, if there is not a rooster present, then there will be little to no noise.

So if you think you would like to raise a backyard flock or you already are but have questions, then we have a deal for you.

The Extension office will hold a Backyard/Pasture Poultry Workshop Tuesday, Aug. 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center on Keedysville Road. 

Registration is required, to help the staff plan for handouts and refreshments. RSVP to the Extension Office at 301-791-1304 or send an email to

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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