In Franklin County, N.Y., Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill and his staff recently hatched a plan that gives the traditional program of inmates caring for animals a new twist.
Last fall, at a morning staff meeting, they began to kick around the idea of adding a chicken coop and a flock of chicks to the jail compound as a way to provide structure and therapy to an inmate’s day, Mulverhill said.
“And it’s something for them to look forward to,” he said. The program is designed for about four participants, with female and male inmates likely divided between morning and evening shifts gathering and washing the eggs, feeding and watering the chickens, as well as cleaning the coops, delivering the eggs to the kitchen at the jail and making sure the chickens are secured in the nesting area at night.
The program will be a reward for cooperative inmates who volunteer for it at the jail, which typically has a population of about 95 to 115 inmates who are awaiting trial, sentencing or are serving up to a one-year sentence. Volunteers will also undergo medical and mental health screening before they’re selected.
The idea for the chicken program came up because one of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office employees raises chickens at home. “We’re not the kind to reinvent the wheel,” Mulverhill noted. “The undersheriff raises chickens, and we found out that a couple of jails around the country are doing this.”
After getting the blessing of the state health department, which said the jail could raise chickens as long as it was no more than 2,000 at a time, the next thing the Sheriff’s Office needed was a chicken coop.
“We had to get three bids and an Amish family said they could build it for $850,” said Mulverhill. Other bids came in around $1,200. The coop measures 8 ft. x 10 ft. with nesting boxes and doors. The coop sits outside the jail recreation yard but inside a fence that surrounds the perimeter of the jail.
Next, the chicken coop needed to be outfitted before the arrival of the chicks. That required pine shavings for bedding, heat lamps and a small corral in the coop so the chicks would stay together to stay warm when heat lamps aren’t used. It gets cold in Franklin County (Canada is its northern neighbor) and on a recent June morning, Mulverhill said temperatures were in the 40s. “The coop will hold in the heat as long as there’s no draft, and they produce their own heat,” he said. And for those cold winters? “We always have the heat lamps.” Water bowls and feeding trays rounded out the necessary accoutrements for the chicks’ chateau.
After the coop was properly outfitted, it came time to order the chicks. The Sheriff’s Office ordered 50 of them from Murray McMurray Hatchery out of Iowa: Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns, which will give the jail population both brown and white eggs. The chicks are delivered through the U.S. mail in large boxes with holes poked in the top, which is legal as long as the chicks are just a day old and can reach their destination within 72 hours of hatching.
Soon enough, “we got a call from the post office to come pick up our chicks,” Mulverhill said. The chicks cost the Sheriff’s Office $149.99. The jail will save $600 a year on eggs they usually purchase for inmates. Mulverhill estimates that the chicks will be ready to start laying eggs by the fall, at about 30 dozen eggs a month. Currently, the county pays $24.95 for 30 dozen eggs. The jail typically uses 60 dozen eggs a month.
Mulverhill’s advice for other counties considering adding a chicken program to their county jail? “Do your homework and make sure you have enough property.”
Finally, he noted: “We’re not doing this for budget reasons. Anytime you can get a program to get inmates to buy in, something that they can take away from when they leave here, you hope they’ll have better things to do when they get back on the street.”