Cluck Blog

We are so excited this week because there's a big bare spot on the wall where one of our favorite paintings used to be.
Sunflower Barn, an oil painting on panel by Cynthia Quinn that has been one of our favorites in the store for many months is on its way to its new owner. We’re so jealous, but also happy.

It always was kind of a crazy vision to think we could sell fine art in a store that also sells chicken feed. Even really high quality chicken feed. We thank Cynthia and our other artists for believing in that vision along with us, although we have to admit the art sales have been kind of few and far between.

Fortunately, Cynthia has been a steadfast friend and partner of CLUCK the Chicken Store. She was a participant in our plein air painting day in the spring, and she designed our exclusive tea towels and our baby onesies that have been very popular.

Now we’re proud to announce that we will display a selection of Cynthia’s work – not just chickens – starting October 25 with an artist’s reception at the store. The focus of the work will be farm and pastoral scenes from Wisconsin's remarkable rural heritage. If you have seen Cynthia’s work at the Overture Center for the Arts, the Pyle Center, Olbrich Gardens, the Racine Art Museum, the DiRicci Gallery at Edgewood College, or the Steinhauer Trust Gallery at the UW Arboretum, you know she is accomplished at everything from landscapes to still life to animal -- and human -- portraits. The evening will also include a showing of paintings in a similar vein by Jan Norsetter at ZaZen Gallery next door. Twice as interesting, twice as lovely -- all on the same remarkable night.

If you love art, mark your calendar for October 25 and watch the CLUCK events page for more details as we get closer to the day.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get a click and a treat.

Amber Arnold WSJ photo.pngGiene Keyes with Feathers

We were very pleased to see the nice story and photos in the Wisconsin State Journal this week about the clicker training demonstration we had at CLUCK the Chicken Store on Sunday with Giene Keyes. Gayle Worland really captured the significance of operant conditioning training for dog owners as well as chicken keepers. You can see from Amber Arnold’s photos that the audience was fascinated. If you missed the story, you can see it here.

Giene is a professional trainer and maybe the rest of us can’t get quite the results she does, but it’s very cool to know that chickens can be trained – maybe even trained to poop on a paper towel or go into their coops on command. Those would be useful skills for any hen who has to make public appearances, as our Buff Orpingtons, Buffy and Zelda, sometimes do for book talks and such.

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CLUCK the Chicken Store was one year old on Sunday. We celebrated with a fabulous marble cake with raspberry frosting from the New Glarus Bakery after Giene Keyes once again amazed everyone by demonstrating clicker training with her chickens. We will post some video of that event soon.

Birthdays aren’t really about getting a year older. They’re about the people you meet and the things you learn in 12 months. CLUCK may be all about backyard chickens, but it is the chicken people we have met who have made the store experience so gratifying to us. Seriously, CLUCK couldn’t have happened without our friends and supporters. We hesitate to even try to name names because we’re sure to forget someone and that would be too sad.

We are proud that we have been able to mentor some customers who didn’t have chickens and now have become experienced chicken keepers. At the same time, we have learned volumes from the many visitors who know so much more about chickens than we do and who share their years of experience with us. We’re chicken enthusiasts, not chicken experts. We also want to thank the regular customers who stop in every few weeks for another bag of chicken feed or scratch grain. We feel like they and their chickens are part of our extended family.

CLUCK couldn’t happen without our employees, Barb and Courtney, who contribute so much energy and creativity. Many thanks to our bookkeeper, Bev, for teaching us all the stuff we didn’t know, and our IT department, otherwise known as Answer IT, for keeping us up and running. And Janette at Aurora Sky Design for creating our stylish and functional website.

We have to thank brother Tom Troller for the interior design of the store and Dana Dupler for the first-class restoration of what was a derelict building. We can’t count how many customers have told us they think the store is beautiful.

We couldn’t have done it without our many talented artists, especially Cynthia Quinn, who designed CLUCK’s own tea towels and baby onesies. It is great to be surrounded by beautiful works of art every day and we’re so happy that some of these paintings have sold and gone to appreciative new homes. It's a tough sell to present fine art in a feed store but we are cautiously optimistic that it will get easier over time. Speaking of works of art, let’s not forget our coop builders -- Jeff Jicinsky, Penny Lund, Chuck Ostrander and Noah Riniker. The coop garden, and our resident chickens -- Buffy, Zelda, Minnie and Paula -- have proven a great attraction in the last 12 months (even in the winter!).

We are also indebted to our many seminar presenters and subject matter experts who have shared their knowledge of poultry and local foods with us and our customers in the past year: Twain and Heather Lockhart, Dr. Stephanie Hirsbrunner, Giene Keyes, Terese Allen, Jake Tollakson, Melissa Leonard, Dr. Julia Naber, Ron Kean from UW-Extension, Erica Solis and Joel Helge, and Dr. Amanda Pike.

We also have been surprised and gratified by the enormous amount of support we have gotten from our fellow business-owners in Paoli, especially Theresa Abel and Tim O’Neill at the Artisan Gallery and Creamery Café, Richard Judd at Zazen Gallery, Cheri at Paoli Bread and Brat and Bill Hastings, who we think of as the unofficial “mayor” of Paoli. And, of course without the fine burgers and pizza from Paoli Pub and Grill, we would have starved to death in the last year! It's been fun, and we're delighted to be on to our second year.

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Giene Keyes with Feathers & Susan Troller

CLUCK the Chicken Store will welcome back Giene Keyes on Sunday, August 25, for a repeat of her clicker training for chickens demonstration. The folk who joined us for her previous demo in July came away pretty amazed that chickens could learn so quickly. They’re not dumb clucks.

We don’t expect to see Giene’s chickens learn any particularly useful skills. This is about the process, not necessarily the outcome. Last time, Giene showed us how Feathers could learn to distinguish among three different colored targets and would choose to peck the correct target 100% of the time to get a mealworm treat. That’s pretty astounding, but it’s not an especially practical skill.

But what’s really cool about clicker training is not what the chicken is learning, but what the trainer is learning. Clicker training with chickens was originally developed as a strategy for sharpening the skills of experienced dog and horse trainers. Chickens have really short attention spans and no desire to please, so a trainer who can get fast and precise enough to succeed with a chicken probably will look like a rock star when it comes to training most dogs. A lazy or imprecise trainer can probably still teach a dog a few tricks, but a chicken will just walk away.

Giene will be at CLUCK from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, which takes us past our normal closing time. The event is free, but space is limited and we already have quite a lot of people signed up so if you’re interested, please contact Susan at or call 608-848-1200 to reserve your spot.

Sunday is also the first anniversary of CLUCK the Chicken Store. We opened exactly one year ago, so happy birthday to us!

Maybe genetic scientists in England have more free time than American scientists. Whatever the reason, a few researchers at the University of Nottingham took a fancy to the fancy blue eggs produced by Araucanas - Ameraucanas or Easter-eggers as we are more likely to have around here - and came up with a surprising finding:

In a four-year research project just published in the journal, PLOS ONE, the team from the School of Biology at the University of Nottingham has identified the genetic mutation which first produced the blue egg in native South American chicken, the Mapuche fowl, and their European descendants, the Araucana, between 200 and 500 years ago. The results could inform future research into agricultural breeding techniques if demand for the blue egg continues to grow.

The scientists used the unique genetic resources conserved by heritage or 'fancy' poultry breeders to identify at fine resolution the exact location of the mutation in the genome in blue egg laying chicken. This work was followed by further genomic study which revealed the genetic cause of the blue coloured egg shell – surprisingly – an ancient harmless retrovirus in the domestic chicken.

The serious implication of their finding is that they couldn’t have done it without the efforts of heritage breeders over hundreds and even thousands of years to preserve ancient lines of Gallus domesticus. The next discovery may not be so inconsequential, but may lead to a health breakthrough for chickens, or even humans. If you have backyard heritage breeds, you play at least a small part in maintaining the diversity of this great gene pool just by collecting and sustaining your little flock.

Darwin was inspired in his evolutionary insights by pigeon breeders. Who knows if chicken breeders might also inspire a great thought or two?

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Jane Fyksen wrote a really nice story this week in Agri-View, the agricultural publication for South-Central Wisconsin. We get a lot of farmers and retired farmers in CLUCK the Chicken Store, and a surprising number of them still keep a few backyard chickens, so we were pleased to see such a positive story in Agri-View.

Here’s a short excerpt from Fyksen’s story:

CLUCK opened in August last year in Paoli, a quaint unincorporated community in Dane County. This former “no-blink” rural crossroads along the Sugar River has remade itself, and now features fine art and local foods and eclectic crafts in its historic buildings. It’s here that Troller last week greeted flocks of customers who cackled over the myriad of artwork and unusual gifts – all celebrating that historic farm icon, the chicken.

CLUCK caters to whimsy with everything from socks proudly adorned with poultry to organic-cotton baby onsies featuring a sweet little chick and the word, “hatching” underneath, aprons to chocolates, and of course, Ukrainian eggs. Troller even advises a customer how to tend to the “hen and chicks” (the plant kind) that he intends to take home.

CLUCK also is a mini “farm store” for the backyard poultry raiser, offering everything from the coop to how-to books, from waterers to 18-percent protein, pelleted, certified organic, no-soy feed, made at a mill in Westby.

What it really comes down to for us is that CLUCK offers a place for animal lovers of all kinds – not just urban and not just rural– to hang out and talk about chickens, horses, dogs or any other creature that tickles their fancy. Our focus happens to be on chickens, but we look at them as just another charming and amusing representative of that great world of kindred spirits we call animals.

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Of course, there's no such thing as a perfect chicken coop, just as there's no such thing as a perfect craft beer. It's a matter of personal taste. That said, we think the coop that arrived Friday night in our coop garden at CLUCK the Chicken Store is pretty close.

It's definitely designed for the back yard, not the farm. It's sized for four birds, but could accommodate six. It has hardware cloth top and bottom for maximum predator protection - no chicken wire here - and the house has nifty clean-out trays so it takes less than a minute to dump the old bedding in the compost and add new bedding. No scraping or scrubbing.

We get a lot of old-timers who come into the store who remember with deep disgust having to clean the family farm coop when they were children. Of course in those days they might have had a hundred birds and cleaned the coop a couple times a year. No kidding it was smelly and disgusting, but those days are gone.

This isn't a chicken tractor. You can't hitch it up to a tractor and drag it around, but it does have handles so you can move it around the yard in case you want to do that. The house and the cage even snap apart with a couple of clicks so you can remove the house from the cage. That makes it light enough for two people to move. And we think it's pretty enough that the neighbors will like it too. What do you think?

It's getting harder for our chickens to cross the road! The DOT closed highway PB for bridge construction this week and they didn't bother to mark any detours. If you're coming from Madison, we recommend staying on 18-151 to the Highway 69 exit (the next one after the M/PB exit) and following 69 to Paoli.
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When you come to the 4-way stop where PB goes south, turn left into Paoli.
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It doesn't actually take any longer; it's just a different route for most people. Hope to see you soon.

PB will reopen Oct. 1.

chicken training 2.pngClicker training at CLUCK the Chicken Store

Giene Keyes gave an absolutely inspirational demonstration last night on clicker training for chickens, or more properly, operant conditioning. She has promised to do a return engagement on August 25 so we can see what progress her birds have made in the next month. She’s working with young birds, so their learning curve should be quite steep. Giene showed us how Feathers could be taught to peck at the green target and ignore the purple and orange targets. As for us, we would just be happy if we could get them to go into the coop when we want them to and maybe not poop on the porch.

chicken training 1.pngGiene taught Feathers to peck a colored target

For most dog and horse trainers, like Giene, clicker training chickens is just an exercise – a way of getting better at a fundamental training skill. Chickens have very short attention spans, Giene explained, so you must be quick on the click to reinforce positive behaviors.

Giene and Susan.pngGiene and Susan with Feathers

Giene is the proprietor of Dog Face LLC and her main business is dog training, but she insisted that she had fun learning to train her birds. We are looking forward to seeing her on August 25.

Mary Eberle came into CLUCK the Chicken Store recently to tell us about an interesting summer day camp for kids focused on sustainable food and urban agriculture called Camp Green Star. The camp teaches urban kids about raising chickens, gardening, conserving water and energy, composting, and making their own butter and cheese.

The half-day camps run in one-week sessions from mid-July until mid-August. The camps are secular, but will be hosted by Madison Christian Community, 7118 Old Sauk Road. The cost is $150 per session, with a $10 discount for additional kids from the same family. Scholarships are available thanks to a $4,800 grant from The Farmer Profit Share Committee at Organic Valley / CROPP Cooperative.

Information is available at The camp is operated by First Step Renew, LLC, which also holds classes for adults on sustainable living topics.


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