Cluck Blog

Can you taste the difference between local free-range, farm-raised chickens and factory-raised birds from the supermarket?

Let’s find out. On October 11, CLUCK the Chicken Store will host a small-plate taste test to compare three kinds of meat chickens: Mass produced like you buy at the supermarket, locally raised free-range Rock-Cornish cross chickens, and locally raised free-range Freedom Rangers. You could be part of the exclusive group checking out the differences.

For those not familiar with chicken breeds, most supermarket chicken is the extremely fast-developing Rock-Cornish cross which are produced by the billions in factory farms.

For starters, we’ll compare the factory-raised supermarket chicken with pasture-raised or free range birds of the same breed. We’ll also taste the difference between Rock-Cornish cross chickens and free-range Freedom Rangers, which are bred to forage, and generally live a more old-fashioned chicken life. They grow slower and move around more than the sedentary Cornish cross. Both the free-range Cornish crosses and the Freedom Rangers have been raised by local farmers who use agricultural methods that allow their birds a life that would be familiar to our grandparents. These birds see the sunshine, scratch in the grass, dust bathe, catch bugs and live in small flocks with plenty of space.

The roast chickens will be prepared Nate Pranke, sous chef at Cow & Quince, the highly acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant in New Glarus. Participants will sample both white and dark meat from each of the three types of chicken, along with home-made coleslaw and bread. Chef Nate, whose culinary method is guided by a philosophy that equates good food with good health, will talk about the differences he sees in the three types of birds, and how home cooks can prepare them.

This event is sponsored by Nutrena Feeds and is the brainchild of Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s poultry specialist. This is the first time it has been done, so we can’t predict the results. But we are interested in the impact that a sustainable method of raising meat birds has on the quality of their lives, as well as the quality of what we put on our table. We hope you will join us from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11, at CLUCK for what is likely to be an informative, delicious afternoon. The event is free but it will be limited to 60 participants, so you must register in advance. Email to sign up.

Many of us keep chickens because we want to know where our food comes from, but Minnesota You-Tuber, Andy George, the founder of a new video series called "How to Make Everything," took the idea of local to an extreme. He literally made a chicken sandwich from scratch, growing all the ingredients himself.

It ultimately took him six months and $1,500 to make the final product using a thorough 16-step process that required him to grow a garden, harvest wheat and raise and slaughter a chicken.

Sooo. Was it any good? Watch the video and see.

We don't agree with all of the recommendations and suggestions in this release by the Humane Society of the US, but there's a lot of good advice here. Click the link for the full story.

Here's the start:
Backyard chickens can be wonderful companions. Interest in keeping them has grown as part of the local, sustainable, and organic food movements.

The HSUS supports measures that reduce animal suffering, and every family that gets their eggs from backyard hens is likely reducing or eliminating their purchase of eggs laid by hens that were confined to crowded cages on factory farms.

Chickens are energetic, inquisitive and friendly animals that are a joy to watch, but the decision to keep them should not be made lightly. Chickens require dedicated, consistent care and there are important issues to consider before acquiring a backyard flock.

After months of discussion, the DeForest village trustees will vote this week on whether to allow chickens in the village. According to the DeForest Times, a survey received more than 500 responses. Deane Baker, head of public works for the village, told the board July 21 that approximately 75 percent of respondents were favorable of allowing chickens in DeForest. Up to six chickens would be allowed per household with no fees or licensing!! The board will vote on the ordinance Sept. 15. Good for them.

Janesville continues to be scared of chickens. According to Gazettextra, the Plan Commission was willing to discuss chickens, but tabled a vote. The good news is that only one member was absolutely opposed to hens in town. A positive recommendation from the plan commission would be an improvement over the City Council rejection of a backyard chicken ordinance five years ago.

The proposal would allow people living in a single-family residence to construct a chicken coop or run in a backyard area to house up to six hens. There would be a $50 application fee and an annual license charge of $10 per chicken. That’s steep! Another of those sneaky requirements that seems to allow chickens, while making them impractically expensive for many people.

The plan commission was raised questions about the number of chickens allowed, an exit strategy for owners who want to get rid of them, how to provide education for prospective chicken owners, conflict with deed restrictions, city staff becoming overburdened with enforcement; and whether chickens belonged in cities.

Municipalities near Janesville that allow urban chickens includ Madison, Stoughton, Delavan, Whitewater, Darien, Jefferson, Fort Atkinson and Cambridge. A study by the city of Janesville found that six peer cities also allow them: Beloit, Green Bay, La Crosse, Oshkosh, Racine and Wauwatosa.

You can follow the chickens’ progress in Janesville here: href="">

Pewaukee is also talking chicken. The plan commission recently discussed amending the village's zoning code to allow chickens on residential properties.

According to a story in Lake Country Now, Village Planner Mary Censky said the town and city of Delafield, Hartland and the town of Waukesha have changed their laws to allow chicken-keeping in residentially zoned areas.The town of Mukwonago recently enacted an ordinance to permit backyard chickens on residential lots smaller than 3 acres.

Meanwhile, adamant arguments from the Waukegan animal control officer proved that it only takes one person with strong opinions to kill any chance of a chicken ordinance. The Chicago Tribune reported that animal warden Susan Elliott warned the City Council, "I won't be able to control something like this." She listed noise, predatory animals and the potential for neglect among the reasons for her opposition.

"People can say that they don't make a lot of noise — they make a lot of noise. And you don't have to have a rooster for those things to cluck really loud," said Elliott, adding that she was also worried about potential winter-related issues.

We get a lot of questions about movable chicken coops, tractors and pull-pens. We guess a lot of people have watched the movie Food, Inc. and have been impressed by Joel Salatin’s movable poultry machines. If you’re one of those who has an itch to put your hens on wheels, we encourage you to check out the September-October issue of Chickens magazine.

We just received our copies at CLUCK and found the 13-page section on movable coops interesting and useful. It includes plans for building your own tractor and some dos and don’ts to keep in mind. (The issue isn’t on their website yet, just in hard copy.) Next time you’re in Paoli, you can also check out a tractor at CLUCK that is very similar to the one described in Chicken magazine.

A couple of things to keep in mind: What you see in Joel Salatin’s tractor are broilers, not laying hens. A broiler will be in the freezer before a layer produces her first egg, so Joel doesn’t have to worry about things like snow, freezing water or nest boxes. And, speaking of snow, it should be pretty obvious that you will also need a winter coop for your chickens. A tractor or pull-pen is strictly a summer solution.

Let us know if you do build a tractor; we’d love to see how you do it.

Chickens won’t be crossing the road into North Aurora, Illinois, anytime soon. The village trustees decided not to take up the issue of allowing chickens.

The Chicago Tribune quoted trustee Laura Curtis as commenting that, "People who move to the suburbs have a reasonable expectation of not living next to livestock. I, personally, would be very upset if my neighbors brought in chickens."

However, chickens are welcome in neighboring communities. Batavia and Naperville allow up to eight hens, while St. Charles allows a maximum of six hens. Roosters are not welcome. Village Administrator Steve Bosco said the three cities reported few or no complaints about residential chicken coops.

The Tribune report said that several trustees also expressed concern that allowing chickens could open the door to larger farm animals.

We would be inclined to call BS on that one, except for the recent news from Pittsburgh, where the City Council has not only made chicken-keeping less punitive, but has also added pigmy goats to the list of permitted livestock.

Pittsburgh residents who wanted to keep chickens previously had to pay fees totaling $340 and run a permitting gauntlet that could take up to three months. Under the new ordinance, the cost is $70 (still too much, in our opinion), and the time to get a permit is only one day. As a result of the high cost and bureaucratic complexity, chicken advocates estimate that there probably are as many as 500 “renegade farmers” who are illegally keeping chickens.

Under the new ordinance, residents who live on lots at least 2,000 square feet can now get permits for up to five chickens or ducks, or two dehorned miniature goats. Residents on larger lots may be able to keep additional chickens or ducks. Those living on lots with more than 15,000 square feet can keep at least one extra goat, plus one more for each additional 5,000 square feet.

That’s all good, but we have to wonder why Pittsburgh and other cities and villages insist on throwing up such barriers to chicken ownership, even when they, in theory, allow it. Excessive permitting costs, like poll taxes, are a good way to keep participation down. So are requirements that give neighbors a veto. Minneapolis has recently changed its ordinance so it no longer requires prospective chicken-keepers to get written approval from 80 percent of their neighbors. Think about that. Could you get 80 percent of your neighbors to agree on anything, or would the grumpy 20 percent veto just about anything fun?

Then there are some of our neighboring communities here in Southern Wisconsin that make it difficult in other ways. New Glarus, for example, requires one nest box per hen, which increases the size and cost of a chicken coop for no conceivable benefit. Was it just ignorance, or was it the village board’s purpose to make chickens more expensive and complicated so most people would just give up on the idea? We also heard about another community that restricts ownership to two hens. So unless you live alone, your micro-flock won’t produce enough eggs for you to enjoy free-range eggs on a regular basis.

Chicken ordinances aren’t rocket science. Hundreds of communities have enacted workable models that have stood the test of time. In those communities, including Madison, the animal control officers, zoning officials and police report virtually no complaints or serious violations. No renegade farmers. No chicken underground. Now it just remains for other communities to duplicate their success.

Despite a positive result in a public opinion poll, the Brookfield common council has rejected chickens 10-3. The ordinance would have allowed up to four hens on any residential lot in the city larger than 1/3 of an acre. The limit is now 3 acres.

According to Brookfield Now, Alder Gary Mahkorn was the voice for all the traditional (discredited) objections to backyard chickens. He cited a potential salmonella outbreak, the potential of neighbors feeling intruded upon by chickens next door and the work that more chickens could create for the city's inspection services department.

Alder Lisa Mellone nailed the point on the head. "I just don't feel that Brookfield is really the community for this." She may have a point there. Brookfield just isn't ready to join the movement toward sustainable food and awareness of where food comes from.

From Mother Earth News, here are five questions to ask before you decide to get chickens. Generally, the information is good and helpful. The only one we question is the one on chicken health. We agree with all the recommendations, but the USDA has not found avian flu or similar diseases to be a problem with backyard flocks around the Midwest. In fact, the avian flu has affected primarily commercial flocks, often jumping from flock to flock despite stringent biosecurity measures.

Millions of chickens have been killed in an effort to suppress the flu, but it’s very unclear how many have actually died from avian flu, or whether they would have died at all. The reason for that is that commercial growers automatically kill all the birds in a flock if one bird gets avian flu.

There’s economic logic behind the killing. The taxpayers (that’s you and me) pay the growers for all the living birds they destroy; they get nothing for birds that die of the flu. The result is that we’ll never know if some portion – maybe even a large portion – of the birds would have been resistant or even immune.

So, far from being the cause or vectors of avian diseases, backyard chickens that are exposed to low levels of disease all the time, may point the way toward a way to handle poultry diseases without destroying millions of birds.

The Edgerton City Council has given preliminary approval to a chicken ordinance, according to a report by Channel3000 news. A final vote will come May 18. Good luck to all you Edgerton chicken lovers.


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