Cluck Blog

Live mealworms are back! That’s good news for chicken keepers. (We call them crack for chickens.)

Our neighbor Sandy Rindy stopped in this week with lots of good things for chickens. We’re especially happy that Sandy has live, organic mealworms again. We didn’t sell mealworms over the summer because it’s too hard to keep the worms in their larval stage in the hot weather. The return of cold weather means live mealworms are back at CLUCK.

Sandy raises (if that’s the right word) these worms on a mash made from organic chicken feed and packages them in containers of about 50. Yes, we know you can get dried mealworms at a lot of feed stores, but despite what it might say on the bag about where the worms were packaged, we always wonder whether they might have been produced one of those countries where they’re not so careful what goes into food products. With Sandy’s live worms, we know our chickens are getting organic, locally raised treats that contain no additives the might end up in the eggs we eat.

large_millet.jpgSandy also brought us some bunches of proso millet grass. We’re going to try hanging them in the run as a way of keeping our chickens entertained and out of trouble over the winter. We’ll find out if they like pecking on it just for fun. We have a few bunches for sale in the store in case you want to experiment too.

We’re also going to put dried herbs in our nesting boxes this winter to see if it keeps things fresher. Our friend Barb has made up a mix with dried dandelion leaves, nettles, catnip and alfalfa, and we plan to add lemon balm, mint and hops we dried from our garden. We’ll try a little lavender, too.

Who knows, if the chickens peck at the herbs, they might even start laying oeufs Provençal, if they ever start laying again.

Every so often we get a visitor at CLUCK the Chicken Store who can’t wait to tell us that he thinks the whole idea of a chicken store is just the weirdest – not in a good way -- thing he’s ever heard of. But lately we’ve come across a couple of news stories that reassure us that we’re not far off base at all, at least by East Coast and West Coast standards.

We’ll admit we never heard of Modern Farmer magazine until we saw a story in The New Yorker last week about the founding editor, Ann Marie Gardner.
Ann Marie Gardner Modern Farmer New Yorker_0.jpg Ann Marie Gardner

For those not familiar with Modern Farmer, here is a brief excerpt from The New Yorker story:

Modern Farmer appeared in the spring of 2013. After three issues, it won a National Magazine Award; no other magazine had ever won so quickly. According to Gardner, though, Modern Farmer is less a magazine than an emblem of “an international life-style brand.” This is the life style of people who want to “eat food with a better backstory”—from slaughterhouses that follow humane practices, and from farmers who farm clean and treat their workers decently. Also, food cultists who like obscure foods and believe that fruits and vegetables taste different depending on where they are grown. Also, aspirational farmers, hobby farmers, intern farmers, student farmers, WWOOFers—people who take part in programs sponsored by the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms movement—and people who stay at hotels on farms where they eat things grown by the owners. Plus idlers in cubicles searching for cheap farmland and chicken fences and what kind of goats give the best milk. Such people “have a foot in each world, rural and urban,” Gardner says.

Modern Farmer certainly doesn’t represent all of our visitors, but we meet a surprising number of people at CLUCK who fall into at least one of those categories, so it’s not just an East Coast thing.
Choosing locally grown food, building a sustainable local food system and having an adventurous palate are close to the heart of what CLUCK is all about.

Sure, we get a lot of customers who are only looking for a fun, unusual shopping experience and clever chicken décor and gifts. But we also get an equal number of people who want to stay and talk about their animals, their gardens and how they are trying to integrate living a modern life with staying close to the natural world. For us, chickens are a gateway into a whole way of thinking and living in a way that values humane treatment of all animals and is mindful of our environment. We think there are millions of like-minded people, not just on the coasts, but right here in Wisconsin. In fact, with our incredible Dane County farmer’s market and an organic farming community that’s been leading the way for decades, our region in many ways is light years ahead of most of the world.

Meanwhile, from the other coast, comes this little story in the Silicone Valley Business Journal entitled “Meat is the New Kale.” Aside from the clever headline, the thing that caught our attention was the venue. If the medium is the message, what does it tell us that a story about hand-raised livestock (that comes perilously close to a Portlandia parody) appeared in a serious business journal that is read by many of America’s most cutting edge entrepreneurs?

happy pig.JPG
Here’s a quick clip from that story: A hipster Thanksgiving fantasy can be had just outside Pescadero in San Mateo County, where Root Down Farms is raising turkeys, chickens and pigs in a sustainable way that treats the animals with respect. Dede Boies and David Evershed have made it their mission to raise food animals to meet to the standards of the Animal Welfare Approved food label.

That doesn’t only happen in California. We will get our Thanksgiving turkey from Katherine H., one of our customers, who hand-raises her birds in a thoughtful and humane way that respects each animal as an individual. Not only does her method make the turkey taste better, it makes us all feel better on Thanksgiving and every other day.

So maybe it isn’t so weird after all.

If your City Council ever gives you the argument that chickens carry disease, just refer them to Douglas Anderson. He ought to know. He is the veterinary director of the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network, and poultry is Georgia’s largest agricultural industry.

Anderson told the University of Georgia’s Poultry Disease Research Center on Monday that backyard poultry flocks have not been the disease threat to commercial growers that many feared. “They aren’t maybe the demon that we thought they were,” he said.

The laboratory works with Georgia’s huge commercial poultry industry to keep flocks healthy, but a growing part of that involves working with those growing birds outside the high-volume commercial poultry economy. In fact, the flocks can be a valuable source of information for veterinarians keeping an eye out for bird-borne diseases that could be a threat to animal or even human health, Anderson said.

Chickens kept in backyard settings do get disease, but genetic fingerprinting tests have shown the bacterial strains in backyard birds are different from those found in commercial flocks, he said. The poultry industry and backyard enthusiasts can, Anderson said, “peacefully coexist and learn from each other.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

straw.jpgHere’s something new at CLUCK this year: organic barley straw. We plan to use it in our nest boxes and maybe throw some into the run to give the girls something to scratch around in when the winter gets long and cold. Kind of an organic boredom buster.

Sarah cuts hops v1.jpg
Fall is hops harvest time at CLUCK. Our hops plants in the coop garden at CLUCK had a bumper year. We don’t know if it was the weather or the chickens, but they grew big and strong and produced tons of cones. Our friend Sarah helped snip down some of the fragrant cones today.

Nope, we don’t make beer yet. We primarily grow hops to give the chickens shade. But we’ll dry the cones and mix them in with other dried culinary herbs that are beneficial to chickens. During the depths of winter (and maybe even before) we figure the herb mixtures will be a welcome treat for keeping nest boxes smelling like summer, and will deter some of the creepy-crawlies that can find their way into the winter coop.

In addition, things like dandelions, nettles, lemon balm, parsley, mint, oregano and basil add a terrific nutritional boost to chicken feed when our birds can’t be out foraging in the yard. And, of course, the lupulin (the yellow powder in the cones) from the hops is also good for chicken digestion.

Have you heard any of these?

1. Chickens stink.
2. Chickens are noisy.
3. Chickens are dirty.
4. Chickens attract vermin.
5. Chickens carry disease.
6. Chicken coops are visual blight.
7. Chickens will cost taxpayers money.

If you live in Brookfield, Wis., you are hearing them now from your City Council. It seems that every community that contemplates allowing people to keep chickens has to answer the same questions. The objections are not obviously insincere, but a few minutes research on the Internet or a couple of phone calls to municipalities like Milwaukee or Madison that have allowed chickens for years would quickly prove the concerns to be unfounded.

All of which leads us to conclude that they aren’t genuine objections at all, but stand-ins for the real objection, which is a fear of the new or unusual, especially if it involves the messy, unpredictable natural world.

Consider the objections raised in Brookfield, as reported by Bridget Shanahan for WTMJ4: "Some of the concerns are odor, noise and disease," said Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto. Ponto is also worried about the kinds of animals the chickens and their feed might attract. "I have concerns that it's in conflict with our emphasis on openness on minimizing outbuildings," Ponto said. Besides, he added, "any kind of violation of an ordinance in this regard puts an additional burden on the city government."

Nonetheless, Brookfield probably will ask for citizen input on the chicken question over the next few months, according to the report. So, if you want to keep chickens in Brookfield, be prepared to answer the seven deadly questions that every governmental body since the Roman Senate has asked. Chickens are common in hundreds of cities across the USA. There are plenty of answers if people want to hear them.

If you live in Roscoe, Ill., you might want to take the opportunity in the next few weeks to tell your village board why you should be allowed to have chickens.

The Beloit Daily News reports that there is no legislation, but the Zoning Board of Appeals last week held a public hearing on an ordinance that would allow up to six hens in a well-maintained cage. The board tied the vote, which means a no vote, but the residents may bring their case to the village’s Zoning Committee, said Chairman Jay Durstock of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

You can read the whole Beloit Daily News Connection story here.

Beloit allows residents to own up to four females chickens — no roosters — at a single-family residence. Residents must keep their chickens in the coop between sunrise and sunset, but may allow them to roam free during the day.

The Village of Rockton allows up to five domesticated animals per household, which could include a mixture of chickens and other pets like dogs or cats.

South Beloit does not allow chickens. The ordinance lumps them with other typical farm animals that the city deems a nuisance.

According to the Mequon Now website, the City Council in the Milwaukee suburb of Mequon is considering (gasp!) allowing people to keep chickens on lots smaller than 10 acres. The proposed ordinance would allow chickens on only 1.5 acres. We don’t know the average lot size in Mequon, but in most places that would qualify as a mini-estate, not a typical suburban lot.

Despite coming late to the chicken party, one Mequon council member has come out in favor of chickens because he thinks the more lenient ordinance would present an opportunity for Mequon to “be a leader among other communities”. We don’t know which way Mequon intends to lead, but even if you narrow your focus only to Ozaukee and Washington Counties, the opportunity for leadership seems to have already slipped away.

Mequon officials reported that River Hills allows chickens without any regulations; Wauwatosa allows four hens on any size parcel; Germantown allows up to 10 chickens but only on lots 2 acres and larger; Brookfield requires 3 acres; Cedarburg only allows chickens in agricultural districts and Port Washington doesn't allow chickens at all.

And just to guarantee that it will be as inconvenient as possible to raise chickens in Mequon, the proposed ordinance states that chicken coops may be no taller than 6 feet and no larger than 40 square feet. Who came up with that, we wonder. If that’s leadership, they’re leading in the wrong direction.

It seems that every community that contemplates legalizing backyard chickens has to re-invent the wheel when it comes to all the same questions and objections about noise, smell and vermin that inevitably arise. Chickens have long been legal in big places like Seattle, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Minneapolis with barely any complaints. But smaller towns – where the city leaders still remember life on the farm with a passel of crabby Leghorns – have a tougher time seeing the benefits.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, is having that debate now and Joel Salatin, who might be America’s most famous farmer, has weighed in on the question via the Rapidian newspaper:

Editor's note: Joel Salatin, author of multiple books and a third-generation alternative farmer and sought-after conference speaker, has become known as "America's most influential farmer" after public discovery of his work thanks to Michael Pollan’s bestselling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. When he heard of the upcoming debate on chicken keeping being revived in Grand Rapids, he wrote to us to share his thoughts with our City Commissioners- and our residents as a whole- on what he thinks about keeping chickens in an urban environment.

You can follow the link to read Salatin's entire message to the citizens of Grand Rapids, but here’s a brief snippet to whet your appetite:

Perhaps the most independent-minded, democratic-styled policy any city could create is one that encourages householders to domicile a few chickens: pet, recycler, food provider. And if they're allowed to roam in the yard once in awhile, they eat ticks, bugs and other hygienic questionables. Chickens don't prowl around at night- they go to bed early. Really early. About the times you'd like your 8-year-olds in bed. Perhaps in that vein, chickens can be seen as a wonderful role model for our youth. They also get up early- really early. Tada!

Thanks, Joel. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

The Wisconsin State Journal doesn’t think so.
madison's 100 objects.JPG
In the August 30 edition, the newspaper honored the backyard chicken coop as one of the 100 objects that define Madison. The backyard coop was number 57 in the list that also includes Paul Soglin’s mustache and Babcock Hall ice cream. A pretty exclusive list, if you ask us.

The State Journal’s What says Madison to you? series began July 6 and focuses on one object a day. You can follow along at

Why have a chicken coop in your backyard? asks the headline.

Because in Madison, you can,” is the snappy answer.

But there’s more to it than just that, says reporter Sandy Cullen (who, we happen to know, keeps chickens herself).

“For those who want to know not only where their food comes from, but from whom, the short trip to the egg box of your chicken coop brings the farm to your own backyard.”

Read more:


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