Cluck Blog

cedar coop 2.png
CLUCK has donated this beautiful, all-cedar coop to Aly’s Honky Tonk Hustle to raise money for cancer research. If you need a coop, you could get a good deal on this one and contribute to a worthy cause at the same time.

This version of the Williams Sonoma coop was built by a local craftsman. It would be a great home for 4 bantams or 3 full-size chickens. It has 2 nest boxes, a winter/summer door, roof garden and removable vinyl floor for easy cleaning. It is a $1,250 value. You can see it at CLUCK for the next few days.

The event is Saturday, May 16.. The 5K race starts at 10:00 a.m. at McFarland High School, 5101 Farwell Street. The silent auction starts at 6 p.m., and the Honky Tonk After Party runs from 6:00 p.m. to midnight at the Madison Curling Club 4802 Marsh Road, McFarland.

Aly Wolff was a chicken-keeper and a beautiful, remarkable customer of CLUCK who died from cancer in 2013 at age 20. During her all-too-short life, she used her passion for people, animals and the natural world to make a difference. Aly’s legacy is one of joy. Even in the last weeks of her life, she was caring for her chicks, planning a garden and reminding us all to live life fully through her indomitable example.

In the months before she died, Aly set up a charity 5K Run/Walk and Honky Tonk after party, which her parents and friends are carrying on in her name. More than $240,000 has been raised since 2014 with all proceeds donated to The Aly Wolff Neuroendocrine Project at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, through The Aly Wolff Foundation, Inc.

SILENT AUCTION: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
FOOD: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
LIVE MUSIC from The Material Boys: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
MECHANICAL BULL: 6:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
LIVE MUSIC from 5th Gear: 8:00 p.m. – Midnight
MESSAGE from UW Carbone Cancer Center Director, Dr. Howard Bailey: 8:45 p.m.

H5N2 avian flu is getting more curious as time goes by. It was initially spread by migrating waterfowl, but recently producers have seen it spread from flock to flock, even in highly secure production facilities. Midwest producers have lost more than 21 million birds to the flu. Yet scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies are puzzled by the H5N2 virus' spread, even with heightened biosecurity measures, and the apparent lack of deaths in largely unprotected backyard flocks.

Dr. T.J. Myers, the USDA associate deputy administrator of veterinary services, recently told the Associated Press that no one is sure why there hasn't been a surge in infections of backyard flocks. The USDA has identified only 12 cases of home flock infections in seven states since the outbreak started five months ago.

Cases might not be reported, French said. Commercial operations have a financial incentive to immediately report illnesses because the government pays them for each live bird that must be destroyed. We didn’t know the taxpayers were paying for 21 million dead chickens, but we’re not surprised.

French said there might be another reason, too. Outdoor chickens could have been exposed over time to low pathogenic versions of bird flu and have developed stronger immunity. We wonder whether it might not be a good idea to let commercial flocks get a little immunity, too, along with some sunshine and green grass.

As the H5N2 avian flu sweeps through Wisconsin, we have had a flood of customers in the store who want to talk about it. They include experienced chicken keepers and the merely curious. And we’ve had conversations with WMTV-15 and Rob Schultz of the Wisconsin State Journal.

All of the talk so far has been about where H5N2 comes from (mostly migratory waterfowl) and how to keep your flock safe. But, as Rob Schultz’s story pointed out, the avian flu isn’t a health crisis for people, since it can’t be transmitted – or hasn’t been so far. And it’s not even a health crisis for poultry as a whole. But it has the potential to become an economic crisis for the farmers and producers who stand to lose hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens.

Which brings us pretty quickly to the Devil’s bargain of modern agriculture – the immense concentration of genetically nearly identical birds, cattle, hogs, grains and nearly every other thing we raise for food and our reliance on monoculture, factory farms, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and a constant flow of antibiotics - to supply our needs.

In that sense, the H5N2 flu is a reminder that, in the long run, backyard flocks aren’t the problem; they’re part of the solution.

Nobody is suggesting that backyard chickens are in any position to feed the nation. The USA consumes 9 billion chickens and 50 billion eggs each year. The vast majority are produced by about 30,000 farms operating under contract to approximately 40 major national poultry companies.

However, keeping backyard chickens does help show us a different path to food sustainability. The backyard poultry movement helps to enrich and maintain genetic diversity among chickens. Who knows when a gene from a heritage hen may come to the rescue of the entire poultry industry?

The second reason is that, once we become aware that the meat we eat comes from individual animals, not just a Styrofoam package in the supermarket, we quickly become more careful about what we eat and how much. Do we really need to consume 30 chickens (83.6 pounds) each year for every man, woman and child in the country? Maybe we could – and should – eat less meat.

We don’t need to explain the advantages of sustainable agriculture to our CLUCK blog readers. As the movie Food, Inc. graphically shows, we would be better off for many reason if we could reduce our reliance on factory farming.

But we do want to make the point that, when you read about the avian flu, or discuss it with your friends, the real significance of the news is not just about this isolated outbreak of a particular virus, nor is it just about taking biosecurity precautions. H5N2 is rather an alarm bell ringing at the center of our food system.

To misquote John Donne, it’s ringing for us. We should listen.

The Racine Journal Times reports that the Racine City Council on Monday voted 9-5 to allow single-family, owner-occupied households to keep up to four hens. Renters would not be allowed to keep birds. Residents may only keep chickens for domestic use, and could not slaughter the chickens, sell their eggs, or breed the animals for sale. They would also have to keep the chickens in a coop and/or pen approved by the Environmental Health Division. There is a $50 fee. The details are here.

Should you be worried about the H5N2 avian flu?

As of this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that Wisconsin has had three outbreaks of bird flu, including a flock of 40 birds in Juneau County. The flue is deadly to poultry, but not dangerous to humans, at least so far, so our attitude is: be careful, but not worried.

Biologists think the virus most likely spread has been spread by wild birds, including ducks, and they’re worried it could spread further this fall when wild ducks fly south for the winter. H5N2 avian influenza has turned up since December in poultry farms and wild birds in the Pacific and Central flyways. So far, the flu has been found in 11 states.

There’s not much any of us can do to isolate our backyard birds from their wild cousins and the diseases they may carry, but all of us can practice good bio-security in our own environments to make sure we are not inadvertently spreading a disease to our neighbors' flocks (or vice versa), and to make sure we aren’t bringing bacteria into our homes.
• We wash our hands after handling our chickens or picking eggs
• We keep our eggs in the bathroom or laundry room, not in the kitchen.
• When we wash our eggs, we do it in the bathroom sink, not the kitchen sink.
• Our barn shoes stay outside, or in the entryway, so we don’t bring anything into the house.
• And when we visit our friends’ flocks, we’re especially careful not to step anyplace we shouldn’t.

Sanitation is also the reason we don’t let people touch our chicks or chickens at the store. Since many of our customers are chicken keepers, we don’t want to take a chance that a virus will go from our flock to theirs, or the other way.

So for now, we're not worried. But if we get more information about N5H2, we will pass it along.

Is your city council still dithering about whether chickens belong in an urban area. Send them this story from the New York Post.
new yorkers.jpgPhoto by NY Post

This is the time of year when a lot of people are thinking about getting chickens and the time when hatcheries have the most varieties available. But what to get? There are hundreds of breeds, but most are either not cold-hardy enough to handle a Wisconsin winter or too fragile or flighty for beginning chicken keepers.

Everybody has a personal preference and the best chicken for your backyard flock might not be the same as your neighbor’s. But there are a few things to keep in mind before ordering your chicks. Here are some questions put together by a national chick supplier. You might want to ask other questions as well, but these make a good start. Check the original website for more.

1. Do you want to raise egg layers or meat birds? Poultry guides identify several breeds as dual-purpose, but my experience has been that the meat from dual-purpose birds is inferior to meat from broilers. Different chicken breeds lay different colors of eggs. If you have an egg color preference choose a breed of laying hen accordingly.
2. How much space do you have? Bantam breeds are mini birds; great for small spaces. They require a minimum of 1 sq. ft. indoor space, 4 sq. ft. outdoor space per bird with 6 ft. flight height. Standard size hens require a minimum 1.5 sq. ft. indoor space, 8 sq. ft. outdoor per bird with 3 ft. flight height.
3. How harsh is your climate? Cold hardy birds are bred to live comfortably in the chill of northern winters. Breeds with smaller combs are less likely to get frost bit. Some breeds have extra feathering as beards or on legs to help keep them cozy.
4. Are you interested in preserving a heritage breed? The Livestock Conservancy defines heritage breed as a historical livestock breed, rugged and naturally adapted to the local environment over time. For the most part these are animals that thrived before industrial agriculture. The conservancy maintains a conservation priority list for endangered poultry breeds on their website, .
5. Which breeds catch your eye? The best breed for your backyard is undoubtedly one you want to look at and interact with every day. My fascination with hatchery catalogs is in part because I love to look at full-color glossy pictures of all the beautiful bird breeds. I attend The Ohio State Fair for the sole purpose of checking out the poultry barn champions.

Whatever chick you pick, all chicks require heat at 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit in a bedding-filled brooder for the first two weeks of life. Decrease the brooder temp by 5 degrees each week thereafter. Special chick feed is formulated for quick growth and easy digestion. Fresh, clean water every day is critical.

Last but not least, make sure to wash your hands before and after handling chicks. Salmonella is spread by direct contact with animals that carry the bacteria. Good hygiene and biosecurity will keep your birds and your family healthy.em>

It’s spring, which means it’s chicken season, and several communities are thinking about taking that great big, scary leap and actually allowing chickens in their city limits, joining such places as New York, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Milwaukee and Madison.

The Racine Journal Times reports that an ordinance is on the City Council docket. The proposal was backed unanimously by the city Board of Health; it would allow single-family, owner-occupied households in the city to keep up to four hens, but no roosters. The last time city officials discussed the possibility of allowing chickens in 2010, officials ended up receiving about 250 signatures from residents opposed to the idea, and the Committee of the Whole ultimately voted to set it aside.

Meanwhile, a ten-year-old in Waunakee is asking her elders, “why not chickens?” Why does it take a child to ask an obvious question. The Waunakee Tribune reports that Gen Mallin has sent letters to her immediate neighbors in Meadowbrook informing them about her proposal, and they may soon see a homeowners association meeting on the topic. The Village of Waunakee has an ordinance prohibiting livestock,

On a more positive note, the City of Elgin has issued its first chicken permits under a one-year pilot program. The programs allow up to 15 residents to keep up to four hens -- no roosters -- in coops in the backyards of single-family homes.

Of course, in places like Hollywood, the celebrities can have all the chickens they want. We thought we’d pass along this photo report of celebrity chicken keepers for those interested in such things.

In case you missed Nicholas Kristof’s column in The New York Times, a new video taken by an undercover investigator for Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group, reveals that as many as 700,000 chickens die horrible, inhumane deaths each year in American slaughterhouses, mostly by scalding.

According to Kristof, Matt Rice, the director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, noted that federal rules on humane slaughter apply to cattle, hogs and sheep, but not to poultry — even though birds amount to 95 percent of farm animals killed each year in America.

Kristof tells the tale better than we can, so we will just leave you with a couple of paragraphs from his column and invite you to read the his column at

“Workers grab the birds and shove their legs upside down into metal shackles on a conveyor belt. The chickens are then carried upside down to an electrified bath that is meant to knock them unconscious. The conveyor belt then carries them — at a pace of more than two chickens per second — to a circular saw that cuts open their necks so that they bleed to death before they are scalded in hot water and their feathers plucked.

Even when the system works as intended, the birds sometimes have legs or wings broken as they are shackled, the investigator said. Some chickens aren’t completely knocked out by the electric current and can be seen struggling frantically. Others avoid the circular saw somehow. A backup worker is supposed to cut the throat of those missed by the saw, but any that get by him are scalded alive, the investigator said.

Jody Bearman at Cluck.jpg
Dr. Jody Bearman

We were reminded once again last weekend of how much we still have to learn about caring for chickens. Thanks to Dr. Jody Bearman for spending a couple of hours with us to explain how she uses both the science of Western medicine and the healing traditions of Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, homeopathy and other alternative treatments to help all kinds of animals, including chickens.

Listening to Jody was like drinking from the fire hose. She has years of experience and a treasure trove of information, but so much of her knowledge is new to us that it’s really hard to recount the particulars

Here’s a brief summary of the topics she covered:

  • Homeopathy is a medicine in which “like” treats “like”. It requires humans to carefully note changes in their animal’s behavior and bodily functions to treat correctly. Vaccine reactions, unusual behaviors, many acute diseases and some chronic diseases can be helped with homeopathy.
  • Acupuncture is the insertion of very thin sterile wires into points along energy channels in the body which releases blockages and helps energy to flow smoothly and comfortably, which relieves pain and increases function.
  • Chinese herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years to cure and keep healthy millions of animals and humans alike. Herbal formulas are used for all of the same diseases as acupuncture and also to prevent disease, such as influenza and kennel cough.

A couple of general lessons stood out.

You can’t really mix Chinese medicine and Western medicine because they are based on totally different understandings of health and wellness. Chinese medicine is all about the live force – chi – which exists both for the person or animal as a whole, and also resides in each specific organ. Organs such as the liver, kidneys, lungs, etc., are responsible for various conditions which might be found throughout the body, not just in one place. Enhancing chi and opening up the flow of chi is a central tenet of Chinese medicine.

Before using Chinese methods, it’s important to get a full diagnosis of the problem from the Chinese point of view. Don’t just mix and match Western medications and Chinese herbs, she warned. They might be working at cross-purposes.

Jody also emphasized the importance of mindfulness, both for animals and humans. Many illnesses can be traced to stress and mental imbalance, she said. Chickens don’t meditate, but you can help your chickens by meditating yourself so you approach them with a calm mind and help them stay calm.

If you are interested in using alternative medicine with your birds or other creatures, we invite you to contact Jody at Anshen Veterinary Acupuncture.


Subscribe to Cluck Blog