Cluck Blog

Like most backyard chicken keepers, we have clever (or maybe not so clever) names for all our chickens. And sometimes we feel like they even respond to their names when we call them. But probably not.

But what if chickens had names for themselves and their flock-mates in chicken-language? It turns out that parrots do.

large_parrotlets.JPG They know their names

In the attached video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mark Dantzker shows that parrots – or at least the Green-Rumped Parrotlet of Venezuela – not only have names, but they learn their own names and their parents’ individual names by about three weeks old. Soon after that, they learn the names of their nest-mates. Of course their names only sound like squawks to us, but they can distinguish them no problem and they use their own names and the names of other parrots to communicate all their lives.

Whether we are studying parrots, ravens or other birds, the more we learn about what we derisively call “bird brains,” the more we learn about their amazing capacities for learning, understanding and communication complex information about their environments and social organizations.

So who is to say that chickens don’t communicate a lot more than we think they do?

Oh, and one more interesting thing about parrots. We all know that pet parrots will mimic not only human words, but barking dogs, ringing telephones and all manner of environmental junk noise. In the wild, they only learn the language of parrots.

Jody Bearman_0.JPGDr. Jody Bearman

We are thrilled to welcome veterinarian Dr. Jody Bearman to CLUCK on Saturday, March 7, from 9. to 11 a.m. for an informal talk on using natural methods for keeping chickens healthy and happy.

Dr. Bearman will describe her experiences caring for a wide range of animals – including horses, chickens, cats, dogs and other small and large animals -- using both Western and Eastern health techniques and traditions. The founder of Anshen Veterinary practice in Madison, Dr. Bearman will discuss how elements of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and herbs, can be used to help your chickens (and other animals) heal and stay healthy. A Q&A session will follow her talk.

You must register in advance, and there is a $5 fee which will be donated to Heartland Farm Sanctuary. Email susan@cluckthechickenstore.com.

Dr. Bearman has an undergraduate degree in bacteriology from UW-Madison and a DVM from the University of Minnesota School of Veterinary Medicine. She is a Certified Veterinary Chinese Herbalist and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist from the Chi Institute for Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine where she also taught. She has more than 23 years of experience in traditional and Eastern veterinary medicine, including homeopathy, T-Touch, and tui-na(Chinese massage techniques). Last year she became certified in Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy at The Healing Oasis Wellness Center and is a member of the College of Animal Chiropractors.

Find out more about Dr. Bearman here: http://anshenvet.com/about/

aluminum roof coop.jpg
What do you get when architects design a chicken coop? Pretty much what you would expect: a very beautiful, very expensive building with some cool, thoughtful details. Oh, and a story in The New York Times.

In case you missed it, the story, titled The Eggs Are Happy, Too: Hamptons Chickens Get a Modern Coop by ARO Architects, ran in the Home & Garden section on Feb. 4.

Stephen Cassell, a partner in Architecture Research Office (ARO), New York, and his colleagues, created an aesthetically compelling coop that includes such high-end features as radiant floor heating, an aluminum roof with folded shingle edges that create patterns of shade and discrete easy-access doors to collect the eggs and empty the manure.

We have to say it’s beautiful and even looks mostly practical. And, if you own a "farm" house in the Hamptons, the cost, as they say, is no object.

Every week our email fills up with stories from all over the country about cities and villages that are confronting the radical notion that people might want to raise chickens in their back yards. Chickens!

The objections are always the same, but usually boil down to the idea that chickens “just don’t belong” in residential areas.

So it was refreshing to see that, when our neighbors to the north engage in a discussion about urban chickens, they ask how chicken-keeping can be encouraged and improved. They even tell chicken jokes. Here’s one told by South Minneapolis Council Member Andrew Johnson at the Minneapolis Chicken Summit:
Question: How do chickens like to bake cake?
Answer: From scratch

The summit, organized by the Minneapolis Homegrown Food Council, took up a lot of issues, including how to expand sustainable agriculture in the Twin Cities area by letting urban farms raise chickens. The whole story from Minnesota Public Radio is worth reading if you’re interested in where the next steps in chicken keeping will lead.

We thought it was worth noting that, despite what you might read in the media, instances of chicken abandonment or neglect are very rare. Janelle Dixon, CEO of the Animal Humane Society, which serves seven counties in the Metro area, said chickens accounted for only about 28 of 24,000 animals that were brought to their shelters last year.

Minneapolis Animal Care and Control officials said there were 266 permitted chicken coops in Minneapolis last year, up from only 35 in 2006. For comparison, Madison, with a population only 62% as large as Minneapolis, has about 200 permits.

blue lavender chicks.jpg
Our friend Ed Peck brought us four cute (x 10!) Blue English Orpington and Lavender English Orpington Chicks on Friday and they are now happily hopping around our brooder. That peep-peep-peep you hear when you come into the store is them.

Many of you know that we are big fans of the Blue and Lavender Orpingtons and we raise them ourselves. Our Lavender, Gracie, lived at the store last summer. They may not be quite as good at laying as the Buff Orpingtons, but they are just as friendly and even more beautiful.

Normally we don't sell chicks at the store, but in this case, we have Ed's Blue and Lavender chicks for sale in groups of four for $10 per chick. Ed has been raising Orpingtons at Birch Ridge Farm near Blue Mounds for a couple of years and has really made an effort to maintain the highest quality in his birds. We're not saying you should buy them, but you should come in and see them while they're still cute x 10.

Sarah cuts hops v1.jpg
Want to learn how to grow hops? Our friends at The Hop Garden are offering workshop in the next few weeks for both backyard growers and commercial hops growers. You will learn how and where to plant hops, how to fertilize and water, what kinds of structures work best for training the vines, plus harvesting and drying.

The backyard grower workshop is only $15 and includes a beer tasting! Great way to spend a winter Saturday morning. The workshops for backyard growers are February 7 and 28 at The Hop Garden, located just down the road a bit from CLUCK at N8668 highway D near Belleville. Highway D is the extension of Fish Hatchery Road for those who don’t usually drive this way. The seminars for commercial growers are $60. Get information about both at thehopgarden.net.

We don’t brew beer, but we have always thought it would be cool to grow hops, so when Rich Joseph from The Hop Garden asked if we wanted to sell hops plants, we jumped at the chance. Maybe we were just lucky or our location is just right, but our plants took off like a rocket and have provided a lush, thick canopy to shade our little flock of store chickens for the past two years. We sell second-year plants starting about as soon as the ground is ready for planting. We planted ours on Memorial Day a couple of years ago and by the 4th of July, the vines were 15 feet long.

Thanks to Rich for getting us started on the hops thing.

Fire spreads from chicken coop to Duluth home; damage estimated at $500,000+

UPDATE: We just learned that the Duluth ordinance requires a heat source in the coop. We understand that it gets cold in Duluth; it gets cold here too and most people do add some heat to the coop. But the Duluth ordinance is a dangerous example of ill-informed meddling by (we hope) well-intentioned bureaucrats and politicians who think they are doing chickens a favor.

We often come across equally ignorant requirements in municipal ordinancees, such as requiring one nest box per hen, etc. Most of them are merely annoying, not fatal. Our point is that there are a lot of good ordinances out there that have worked for years; it isn't necessary to re-invent the wheel in every town and village. Now, back to our original story.

Duluth Fire Marshal Marnie Grondahl recounted her observations from the fire scene, including a heat lamp and portable radiator in the coop.

“There’s a lot of combustibility in chicken coops,” she said. “There’s a lot of dust created; it can get on these lamps and that’s another fuel source that’s combustible. I’m not completely saying it was that — it could have potentially been an electrical problem — but there wasn’t much left of the lamp. It’s very sad they have to come home to that.”

Thankfully, we haven't heard as many stories of coop fires this year as last, probably because the weather hasn't been as extreme. But we did have five customers tell us earlier this year that they had fires in their coops last winter. One did $1,000 damage to her home. After reading this story from Duluth, we guess she should feel lucky it wasn't worse.

Yes, we do sell heat lamps and we even use them ourselves when the weather gets stuck below zero. But we prefer safer alternatives like the Sweeter Heater, which we have installed in one of our coops. Heat lamps can break if a chicken flies into them or splashes water on the hot bulb. They can fall. The hot bulbs can come loose and sometimes they even separate from their metal bases and can fall into dry bedding. Or a combustible mix of bedding, feathers and dust can collect around a hot lamp. When that much can go drastically wrong, it's a good idea to err on the side of safety.

Just sayin' be careful.

If you’ve looked at the CLUCK Facebook page lately, you might have seen some very cool, but totally impractical chicken coops and, believe it or not, fashion photos of chickens adorned in jewelry.

modernist coop.JPG
You might have wondered, “what are these people thinking?” No, we haven’t started buying tiaras for our hens, and our chicken coop at home doesn’t look anything like the ones in Modern Farmer. But, unlike many of our down-to-earth chicken-keeping friends, we’re not horrified by the glorification of the hen. (Although our chickens probably are!)

In fact, we’re tickled (if a little ambivalent) that the hipsters and fashionistas have discovered chickens. Not because we think chickens need to be glorified; they’re fabulous enough just as they are. Rather, it’s because we tend to think of chickens as an important part of the sustainable food and sustainable farming movement. And they are kind of a gateway animal – the poster pullet if you will – for a different way of thinking about animals of all sorts.

Keeping chickens makes people much more sensitive to the abominable conditions under which most “farm” animals exist. (Which is why the poultry industry would like to kill off backyard chickens – it’s not because backyard egg production is any big competitive threat.) So even crazy, over-the-top art and design that shows chickens as individuals with their own personalities can serve a useful consciousness-raising purpose.

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We also love modernist design and we applaud these coop designers for their imagination and willingness to confer design icon status on the lowly hen. There is something about a chicken coop that inspires creativity.

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Unfortunately, like these coops, many of the most “creative” endeavors we have seen turn out to be failures in a practical sense. But if you have to build something impractical but beautiful, a chicken coop offers a relatively inexpensive, low-risk palette on which to work out your creative urges.

bejeweled chicken.JPGA couple of years ago the Nieman Marcus catalog offered a $100,000 Versailles-inspired chicken coop, complete with original artwork and the services of a landscape architect and, in doing so, became the first to make publicity waves by demonstrating that chickens, taken to the extreme, could be both charming and weird.

And of course, stars from Martha Stewart to Jennifer Aniston have shown that the chic can love chickens just as much as the rest of us do.

Now the photographer Peter Lippmann has taken the leap from celebrity chickens to chicken celebrities in his new fashion photo series “Luxury Chicks” for Marie Claire magazine that features some very posh and bejeweled chickens.

We prefer our chickens a little more down to earth, but we have to say some of the jewelry does look fab!

2015 will be a happy new year for California chickens, but not everyone is happy about the implications.

As of January 1, California implemented a law approved by voters in 2008 to outlaw cramped cages for egg-laying hens and require larger quarters with enough space to move around and stretch their wings.
The new standard, backed by animal rights advocates, has drawn the ire of farmers in Iowa, Ohio and other states who sell eggs in California and have to abide by the same requirements.

Naturally, the people who want to treat chickens like living sardines are warning that prices will rise, poor people will starve and even the chickens will suffer. We won’t repeat their arguments here, but you can read all about it in the California Capital Press.

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