Dysfunctional Family Chickens

January 10, 2020

Written by Ken Wornick

Backed by 20+ vintages and many dozens of wines produced, Ken is a Sonoma-based wine consultant and founder of Sonocaia Estate Vineyeards, Dysfunctional Family Winery and Hydeout Sonoma.

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Here at the Hydeout, we have many projects going on around the property.The latest addition being a chicken coop! Many friends in Sonoma have backyard chicken coops and we thought it would be great to join in on the fun. Raising chickens on property is part of a growing movement to reconnect to nature and grow your own food. Everyone willingly shares knowledge and experience, and eggs. Our growing brand of Dysfunctional Family products will soon include free-range eggs, a project we’re calling Dysfunctional Family Chickens.

Enjoy this pictorial essay on everything (almost) you need to know about raising backyard chickens:

Cynthia checking out the conditions in the coop

To start, you need a coop. It can be very modest. Or you can start with a roomier model like we built here. Cynthia is checking in on things. To the left are the ‘nesting boxes’ where the chickens lay their eggs, to the right are the ‘roosts’ where the chickens sleep well above the ground at night (as is their preferred habit), and in the background is the ‘run’ where the chickens hang out in the morning until we open the door to free range around the ranch all day until sunset.


We started with 5 small very shy birds. They grew very quickly, from this…


to this…

Chickens in the vineyard

Hilariously, 3 of the 5 chickens turned out to be roosters. Note red ‘combs and wattles’ and perky tail feathers. Even the professional hatcheries have some difficulty determining the sex when they are young chicks. More hens will be added when the weather warms up a bit.

Most backyard coop experts recommend one rooster for every 8-10 laying hens. This general rule keeps the flock in calm order, and the rooster keeps an eye out for predators too. More than one rooster and those boys will constantly fight for dominance and argue over control of every hen, wearing themselves and the hens out.


To start, chickens of course need water and food. This device is a simple automatic water device – connected to a garden hose. It hangs slightly off the ground and auto-releases water into the channel as needed.


And this is a very simple multi-day automatic feeder – the feed is fed into the top manually, and is slowly is fed out at the lower rim as chickens consume the feed.

What do chickens eat? Generally, chickens will happily live on the grass and weeds and bugs around your house. But for high quality eggs and good chicken health, there are some helpful supplemental options too:


This standard Hunt and Behrens “laying mixture” is a blend of 16% crude protein, 2% fat, and 20% fiber and ash. This is their primary daily feed in the first 5 months. This feed costs roughly $17 for 50 pounds and will last roughly a month to 6 weeks for 5 growing chickens.


Our Dysfunctional Family Chickens, just like us, love a yummy treat. This is a corn-and-seed based “scratch.” It is lower in protein than feed, but the chickens go crazy for it, and once a week or so it is good entertainment for you and a party for them.

Meal worms

An ever bigger treat is mealworms, rather expensive and more of a luxury supplement than a necessity.


This is what the worms look like. The chickens simply freak out of them, and they are gone in an instant.

Poultry grit

Chickens have a ‘gizzard’ which is a strong muscle that helps grind up hard seeds and so forth (such as corn scratch). This insoluble granite-based gravel is added to their snacks to keep their gizzards full of small stone.


Closeup of granite-based grit.




Food cans

Chicken feed and supplements can attract rodents very quickly. That’s why it’s important to keep these products in closed metal cans and well secured. I label the tops so that if others are helping out around the ranch, they know were to find the various feeds.

Last, here are a few short fun videos to click on, showing the daily chicken activity:

Morning drink of water

Dinner time

Chicken scratch

Time lapse chickens

Time lapse neighborhood walk with Cynthia Wornick

Before I share news around town, a special chicken related call out to our friendly neighbors at the Boxcar Chicken and Biscuits on Fremont Drive in Sonoma (formerly the Fremont Diner, and recently renamed yet again as Lou’s Luncheonette). It’s still delicious food, and a fun place to hang out! 

Ken at Turtle Rock Tiburon

Winter day hike atop Turtle Rock in Marin County – one of the best close-in bouldering areas in the Bay Area.


Sonoma DYL workshop #1:  After just completing the 2 1/2 day “Designing Your Life” program – a book, workshop, and course from Prof’s. Burnett and Evans at Stanford Univ. The Stanford “Life Design Lab” applies design thinking to tackling the “wicked” problems of life and especially vocational wayfinding. It was a great productive workshop. Many of us who already have well-developed careers found new energy and expansive ideas arise from the program. And those searching for a transition to a new career also worked towards exciting new personal roadmaps.  Front row: Peter Ferris (co-coach), John Hornbaker, Jay Rooke    Back row: Ford Goodman, Holly Bennett, Kurtis Rissmiller, Sharon Knight, Beth Stelluto, Thomas Ward (co-coach), Ken Wornick, Bob Berg


Ken and Steve Bush at the hand dug 16′ well

My neighbor Steve Bush, a chicken expert in his own right, is over for a visit; here examining our hand-dug 16′ deep alternate agricultural water well – this well atomically turns on and sends water to our 5000 gallon irrigation tanks – until it dries out around June, then the deep water well takes over.

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  1. Bobby Locke

    This post makes me want to get some chickens… almost.

    • Dawn

      You’d better go find some more hens before the ones you have turn on your roosters. C’mon you know it could happen 🙂

      • Wade

        Great to see our girls have some friends next door. We have 6 that love to wander our farm on Hyde and poop everywhere. ? Looking forward to a great 2020 and hope to see you and the chicks soon.
        – Wade, Lisa, Phoenix, Porter, Liv, Lenore and Chicks

        • Ken Wornick

          Indeed, Hyde Road is making a name for itself in all things farming…eggs, wine, olive oil, honey!

      • Ken Wornick

        Excellent point. In the Me-Too era, those roosters better keep their amorous ideas to themselves.

    • Ken Wornick

      You can come visit anytime…

  2. Simon Blattner

    A man for all seasons! I love fried chicken.

    • Ken Wornick

      Perhaps you will find some fried chicken on your doorstep someday…

  3. Graham Smith

    Do the chickens have names? And it seems very cruel to make them sleep on the those narrow balance beams. I’d name them after Olympic gymnasts.

    • Ken Wornick

      One chicken has a name – nugget. But otherwise the chickens do not have names, not because we’re going to eat them, but just because their personalities are not yet fully formed.
      As to the balance beam, the truth is they prefer that kind of perch. Makes them feel as if they’re safely high up in a tree at night.

  4. Lori

    I love that you and Steve were browsing the mail order chicken catalog together. We’ve been so successful keeping our hens safe and healthy that I’ve now really come to appreciate the term, “she’s no spring chicken.” I think we’re dealing with a lot of menopause in our coop.

    • Ken Wornick

      Steve Bush is definitely a chicken whisperer!

  5. Ricomack

    It is great to see that new friends can be purchased from a catalogue (and can fill your heart with both warmth and cholesterol).

    • Ken Wornick

      Apparently the ‘new’ accepted wisdom is – eggs good, carbs bad. But we all remember ‘global freezing’ in Time magazine. So who knows?

  6. Susan Campbell

    This truly is fascinating Ken, thanks for all the great information! Very entertaining as well.

    • Ken Wornick

      Happy you enjoyed it. Appreciate the nice note.

  7. Evye Szanto

    Great read and very cute picture of Cynthia.

    • Ken Wornick

      Thank you. And by the way, they are very cold tolerant.

    • Ken Wornick

      Thank you. She will appreciate that…



  9. Karin Kascher

    One Wednesday, a Husband Took His Wife to the Doctor…

    ‘Oh, doctor’, he said, ‘my wife thinks she’s a chicken’. The doctor gasped, ‘That’s terrible. How long has she been like that?’
    The husband replied, ‘Three years’. The doctor was horrified, ‘Three years! Why didn’t you bring her to me sooner?’
    The husband said sheepishly, ‘Because we needed the eggs.’

    That cracked me up! I love how you’re always trying new things! Next it’ll be Bees!

    • Ken Wornick

      Cracked me up too. And…a great pun!

  10. Peter Ferris

    Thanks for the DYL shoutout Ken. What an August group!

    • Ken Wornick

      Peter – see you in March for round two!

  11. Martha Rosenblatt

    I love that you are always forging new paths. And not that you have spare time…just an amazing creative energy. I wanted chickens at one time, but knew I would worry about stalkers every minute….and would end up chick sitting all day, everyday.

    • Ken Wornick

      Martha, coming from you – a huge compliment. Hugs. Ken


    https://www.backyardchickens.com/ a great source for chicken info. When building a coup – if you can design a floor that drops open, makes for easy cleaning. Old-timers accomplished this by having wood floors – tongue and grove, and roosting racks made of wire and redwood frame that would lift during the day and made for easy shovelling. Drop out floors might accomplish the same. I have a few mounted vertically in the veggie garden for climbing vines. They look good and work great for beans and peas. Let me know if you want some.
    You might also consider a chicken tractor – https://www.backyardchickens.com/ for another set of birds, and move this around the outer parts of the ranch. This can open for free-range, however, you might lose a lot of birds in the wooded creek areas. So this design allows for the free-ranging without the risk.
    Last – chickendoors.com allows for auto open and shut doors and you gotta keep an eye on the birds because once a hunter figures out to wait for the door to open in the am, they will each day waiting on breakfast. Break the cycle by waiting in a nearby window with a scope… of just lock up the door for a few days.
    Roosters make great chicken soup…
    PS – that is a great looking chicken in that coup…

    • Ken Wornick

      Great helpful commentary to readers Nick. Indeed, backyardchickens.com is the place I bought the automatic chicken door. Comes with a mechanically operated door, a battery, a solar panel, and a light sensor. You can either program it as you wish or use the default mode where the door opens at daylight and closes at sunset. With the automatic door, and the automatic water and food dispensers, all the operator has to do is keep things neat and tidy.

  13. Fred Merrill

    My wife parents after hitch hiking to Napa from NY (1944) purchase a 30 acre property with only a chicken coop on it. They lived in the coop for seven years until they built their dream home. My wife was raised in the chicken coup for the seven years after they kicked out the chickens and moved them to a side coop. The chickens cooperated with the move and laid tons of eggs for the family. Love your chicken story!!

    • Ken Wornick

      What a great story. Thanks for sharing it. Amazing what people were willing to do in 1944. I am sure as a result your wife is quite the adventurer.


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