Q&A with Kathy Shea Mormino, author of The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens

By Shelley Pierce | April 15, 2018
Image by The Quarto Group
by Shelley Pierce
April 15, 2018

 Internationally known as The Chicken Chick, Kathy Shea Mormino brings an informative style and fresh perspective on raising backyard chickens to millions of fans around the world. Kathy has become the trusted voice in backyard chicken-keeping, frequently sought out by media outlets and publications, including The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press, for her perspective on chickens. She appears on local and national television, radio, and podcasts, and is featured on Discovery’s Destination America reality show Coop Dreams, as well as P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home. Read on to learn more about her new book The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens and enter below to win one of two copies from Quarto Publishing Group. 

1. How did you get into raising chickens and why is it appealing to you?

My neighbor kept chickens and asked me to collect eggs one summer while they were away on vacation. I was immediately intrigued and found myself visiting their chickens several times throughout each day.  I was fascinated by the birds and the possibility of collecting fresh eggs from my own backyard. With my neighbor’s encouragement and a borrowed chicken care book, I embarked upon a year’s worth of planning for my own flock.

I enjoy my chickens for the same reasons I enjoy having a dog- except my chickens make breakfast for me!

2. In order to have happy healthy hens you need to “think like a chicken”.  How does your book help the reader to do that?  What features of this book will readers find most helpful?

As backyard chicken keepers, if we understand why chickens engage in certain behaviors and that many of them relate to survival, we can anticipate reactions to specific situations, avoid predictable challenges, and solve common problems as they arise.

For example, if you know that chickens use their beaks to explore their world in the same way we humans use our hands, you will understand that it’s very important for chickens to have adequate personal space within a flock to avoid problem picking behaviors. Imagine your friend has a ball of lint on the back of their black sweater; if they are sitting at a table five feet away from you, you’re not as likely to notice it as you would be if you’re standing in a small elevator next to your friend and five other people. On the elevator, you’re more likely to pick the lint off your friend’s shoulder. A chicken that notices a speck of something on a flockmate’s back will remove a foreign object in the same way, except their beaks are sharp and the attempt could result in a feather being plucked out and possibly a small skin injury. A minor injury will draw further attention and more curious picking, which can result in a life-threatening situation for the bird.

I have dedicated a chapter of my book to common behaviors like picking that can be managed quite easily by understanding what motivates these interesting birds and thinking like a chicken!

I think that the simplicity of my book is its most helpful aspect.  The book helps the chicken keeper learn how to provide the basic necessities to keep their hens healthy and happy.  These are: providing them with a completely balanced commercial feed, giving them fresh water in clean containers every day, and maintaining proper biosecurity in your flock.


3. Tell us about some fascinating facts about chickens that our readers would be surprised to know.

I find it fascinating that chickens have very few taste buds. Humans have approximately 9,000 taste buds, horses and cows have approximately 25,000, while adult chickens have approximately 250. This is important information when considering their diet. We all enjoy treating our pets with snacks and treats, but chickens are extremely sensitive to omissions in their diet and don’t appreciate subtle flavors anyway, so offering them treats isn’t appreciated in the way we like to think. Adding snacks and treats to a chicken’s diet in excess causes decreased egg production and negatively impacts their health.

With so few tastebuds and with no teeth, foods spend virtually no time in a chicken’s mouth, so for the sake of their health, it’s best to resist the inclination to think that “my chickens love treats.” They will run to greet us as enthusiastically if we are carrying layer pellets in a bucket as they will if there are blueberries in it!


4. What are some of the most important questions a person should ask themselves or things they should consider when trying to decide if chickens are for them?

In considering whether chickens are right for you, two important factors are whether they can be kept legally on your property and whether you have the resources to care for them properly.

Do not assume that you can keep chickens legally even if your neighbors keep them as they may be running afoul of the law knowingly or unknowingly.

Chickens require daily attention, which can make it difficult to leave home for extended periods of time. If you travel frequently, chickens are probably not the right pet for you.

Chickens can be a significant financial investment; while the cost of baby chicks is negligible, equipment and supplies add up quickly and of course, there is the ongoing cost of chicken feed.

It’s a good idea to invest some time into understanding the commitment involved in chicken care before taking the leap into flock ownership.


5. What are some things you wish you had known before you got chickens?

When purchasing female chicks, understand that vent sexing is only 90 percent accurate. Have a plan for roosters that cannot be kept.

A hen does not necessarily lay an egg every day. Many factors contribute to the rate of egg production, some you can influence, others, you can’t.

Chicken wire is intended to keep chickens contained to an area, not to keep predators away from your chickens. Use hardware cloth/welded wire to keep chickens safe from harm.

Chicken scratch is not chicken feed, think of it as candy and only offer it rarely, if ever.

Win one of two copies of “The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens“!

To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Sunday, April 22, 2018 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

Why are you interested in chickens?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See rules for more information.)

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