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Caterina Flatau holds Twila in her backyard. (photos by Susan Kahn)
Caterina Flatau holds Twila in her backyard. (photos by Susan Kahn)

Mother hen

Cooped up during the pandemic, she turned to chickens


Upstate physical therapist Caterina Flatau, DPT, grew up watching “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie,” television programs that depicted life during the Great Depression and late 1800s, respectively. “I always loved that simplicity,” she says.

She thought about raising chickens. The pandemic created the perfect time to embark on such a project.

Flatau bought a coop and brown wooden henhouse with a green roof and put it beneath trees in her backyard in Fayetteville. Her husband, Ralph, enlarged the coop. A red E, two G’s and an S decorate the side of the henhouse. They doubled the coop wire in spots for more security. The wire extends into the ground to discourage predators from digging under.

Flatau estimates spending 10 to 15 minutes per day caring for the chickens, giving them fresh water and feed, cleaning their living space and collecting their eggs. All four of her remaining chickens -- one was killed by a neighborhood husky in late spring -- are named Twila, after Flatau’s favorite character on “Schitt’s Creek,” a television series that helped her laugh during the stress of the pandemic. Among them, they produce three or four eggs per day.

Around midday, she lets the chickens out of their coop. They roam the yard, eating bugs and grass. She finds it relaxing to watch them wander. They mostly stay together. On hot afternoons, they huddle in the shade against the house. They have their favorite spots.

“They’re such a joy,” Flatau says.

But in July, she found a new home for the chickens where they could continue their free ranges lives. “I have new neighbors with new dogs, and I want the dogs to live their best lives enjoying the space,” she said, “but I also want my girls to be safe.”

11 things she learned about chickens

  • Baby chicks need to be kept indoors until they are several weeks old, and some breeds don’t start laying eggs for months.
  • Chickens can live up to 15 years.
  • Each chicken has its own personality.
  • They make a loud clucking noise when they lay an egg, usually in the morning.
  • Frozen corn kernels make a nice treat on a hot day.
  • Predators are a continual threat; It’s not “if” you’ll lose a bird, but “when.”
  • If your chickens become ill or injured, you’ll need a veterinarian who cares for chickens. Not all do.
  • Chickens require occasional bathing, using dish soap and thick gloves in a utility sink.
  • Fresh, unwashed eggs do not need to be refrigerated for up to two weeks because they are covered with a protective layer of protein from the hen’s body that seals the otherwise porous shell. Once that “egg bloom” is washed away, the eggs must be refrigerated. In general, hold off washing fresh eggs until just before you eat them. A wash consists of a rinse and rub under warm water.
  • Chicken poop makes great fertilizer, but only after it has composted for a year.
  • Check whether your municipality allows backyard chickens before following in Flatau’s footsteps. She says to sample the backyard chicken lifestyle, consider renting chickens
    for a season first.

(A word from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Do not snuggle or kiss your chickens. Even clean, healthy chickens can carry salmonella germs, which spread easily to anything in the areas where poultry live and roam.)

This article appears in the spring 2023 issue of Upstate Health magazine.