Cluck Blog

cedar coop 2.pngThis time of year, the coop garden at CLUCK the Chicken Store takes on kind of an empty aspect. As people’s chicks turn into chickens, our supply of coops, which filled the coop garden to the max only a few weeks ago, has dwindled to a few orphan coops.

In fact, after delivering a CLUCK coop to Lena, Illinois, on Sunday, we were down to only one coop in the yard. (A two-year-old Red Rooster walk-in we used for our store chickens until this year that we’re selling for $850.)

Fortunately, we met a new coop builder last week who brought us a coop on Sunday unlike anything else we’ve seen. Tim Taylor’s coop is undeniably cute and practical, as well. It is made of cedar, with a sharply pitched roof that gives it the look of an English cottage for chickens. It sits on a run big enough for three full-size hens (4-5 bantams) and has space for a rooftop garden suitable for flowers or herbs. It also comes apart, so it can be easily transported by two people, an important consideration for a ready-made coop. It also features a feeder and waterer made from PVC pipe

We have more coops on the way from our local artisan builders, so we hope there will be no homeless chickens. We sell only hand-made coops that are created one at a time by local craftsmen and women, Sometimes they sell faster than the builders can make them, and this is just one of those times.

If you are one of those folks who just couldn’t decide whether to build or buy, the good news is there’s still time to have a beautiful, practical coop made to your specifications. We may not be able to show you an example of every coop model we normally have, but we’ll still be happy to talk about what you want in a coop, whether you intend to build one yourself or get it from CLUCK.

The Village of Ashwaubenon has joined the flock.

Congratulations to the Ashwaubenon Village Board for approving a pro-chicken ordinance. But $50 for a permit? C'mon! Ashwaubenon is upscale, but that's pretty steep for an annual permit. If you are a Green Bay area chicken keeper, or you'd like to become one, you can read all about who allows hens and how doesn't in this story from the Green Bay Press Gazette.

We're still named CLUCK, not QUACK, but we're pretty excited about our new baby call duck, currently living in the brooder in the back of the store.

Stevie One-Duck

She came to us via our friends, the Tollaksons, who raise both waterfowl and chickens as show birds and breeding stock. You might remember young Jake Tollakson, who informed and entertained us last summer with a seminar on How to Bathe Chickens.

Our new baby, who's about two weeks old, was born blind, and wasn't well-suited to a life among other ducklings, all jostling for food and a place to swim. But she seems to be doing just fine at the store, although she does want lots of attention. Fortunately, she gets it here. Everyone is enchanted by a little web-footed friend whose breed is widely acknowledged as the "cutest of all ducks."

Here's what Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds has to say about call ducks:

“With an almost stuffed-animal appearance of a kid’s toy, Calls are the cutest of all ducks. They have a tiny beak, fairly large eyes for their size and a rounded head and a stubby neck set atop a squat, rounded body…..Calls are raised primarily as show birds. They make excellent pet ducks, having an extra-friendly disposition.”

Naturally, we're totally smitten. She may be blind, but she's also charismatic and remarkably capable. And, of course, like all female call ducks, very talkative. Her name? Stevie Won-duck. We'll see if she's musical.

chicken vs earbuds.png
Chickens, like cats, have a reputation for being aloof and not attuned to their keepers. We haven’t found that to be true at all with our cats, nor with our chickens.

Sometimes when we’re sitting on the back porch munching on some nachos and enjoying a cold beer, we are quickly surrounded by pets begging for chips. It’s not surprising when the dogs beg. That’s in their nature. But often they are joined by Buffy and Zelda, our four-year-old Buff Orpingtons, who give us the old one-eyed stare until we drop a few tortilla chip crumbs for them.

So then the dogs get jealous and start to whine until they get chips as well, and back and forth it goes: dogs – chickens – dogs – chickens. Sometimes we even get to eat some ourselves. Don’t tell us chickens aren’t pets!

But when it comes to cheeky chickens, this one wins the prize. We won’t give away the punch line. Just watch the video.

Robert Mentzer, the regional opinion editor for Gannett Central Wisconsin Media, penned the opinion piece below after the City of Marshfield voted to allow backyard chickens.

First off, congratulations to Marshfield for discovering what millions already know, but Wausau still doesn’t – chickens are here to stay.

But they’re not just pets. They are also our backyard connection to the food we eat and a way to remind ourselves and our families that food doesn’t just come from the supermarket in a plastic package. Food comes from critters with lives and sensibilities, even if they aren’t exactly like our sensibilities.

Here’s what Mentzer wrote:

On Tuesday, Wisconsin Rapids became the latest city to get in on the fun, as City Council approved a chicken ordinance there. The University of Wisconsin-Extension is all set to offer chicken-raising classes. It's happening! And it’s a trend.

You can read the rest of his impassioned column here.

One by one, America’s cities are going to the chickens!

Here’s a news story that will make you feel like hugging your backyard chickens.

Quality Egg LLC, Iowa City, Iowa, once one of the nation's largest egg producers, has agreed to pay $6.8 million in fines for selling old eggs with false labels, bribing a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, and also for selling tainted products that caused a nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2010.

Now, we don’t assume that everyone who runs a factory farm or a mass production food company is a bad egg. But isn’t it nice to know where at least some of your food comes from? You know when that egg was laid. You don’t have to depend on an inspector or a label to tell you. You know what your hens eat and how they are kept.

That’s also why we are fortunate to have so many local farmers’ markets and CSAs. We can’t personally inspect every farm, but we can meet and talk to the people who are producing the food we eat, and that’s almost as good as being there. We also should remember that not everyone has the opportunity to get that close to their food sources. That’s another reason to support our local producers.

So when you come into CLUCK the Chicken Store, take a minute to say hi to our hens in the coop-yard who are busy producing fresh-fresh eggs. And don’t forget to pick up your free copy of the Southern Wisconsin Farm Fresh Atlas from REAP Food Group. It's your directory of CSAs, farmers’ markets, restaurants and food sellers who provide great-tasting food grown close to home!

Also, just a word of caution. If you do hug your chickens, be sure to wash your hands afterward.

Bunny.pngBunny

Bunny arrived with a reputation as a bully.

That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has had chickens. Even the mildest hens sometimes remind us of Velociraptors, or middle school girls. And that bad rep wasn’t exactly her fault; she was the last survivor of her original flock and she probably just felt it was her job to put the new girls in their rightful, cowering place. But Bunny’s owners were tired of the disharmony, the endless pecking, the ruffled feathers and the terrified young pullets. One way or another, Bunny’s days in her original home were numbered.

Bunny might have been on her way to the stewpot, that ultimate destination for wayward chickens, but fortunately she made a stop at CLUCK the Chicken Store. We figured it would be worth a try to re-home this Ameraucana hen, providing we could discourage her tyrannical behavior. Once we saw her dazzling blue eggs and her gorgeous gold and black feathers we hoped we could figure out a way to integrate her into our own store flock. She is an undeniable beauty.

If you’ve ever introduced a new hen to your flock, you know it has to be done carefully. The results of an abrupt introduction can, literally, be deadly. With Bunny’s rep for aggressiveness, we figured the best course would be to match her with our toughest hen, a similar size black and white Ameraucana named Mini (named for her hometown of Minneapolis). Mini was scheduled to move to the store for the summer anyway.

We started out just keeping Bunny in a large cat carrier inside the chicken coop, complete with low roost, food and water. Once she was familiar with the environment, we added Mini to the coop’s run area, where both hens could see each other but with a protective grill between them.

Day three of the getting-to-know-you phase was the girls’ day of reckoning. We opened the coop so the two hens would have plenty of space to air out their differences, and let Bunny out of the cat carrier. That’s when the feathers started to fly.

Bunny marched out with the strut of a prize-fighter. She leaped at Mini and thumped her. Stunned with the interloper’s audacity, Mini glared, shook her head and went on the attack. Three quick blows and Bunny retreated. That might have been lesson enough for some chickens, but not for Bunny. She charged again. Whack, Whack, Whack! Now Mini was really annoyed, and this time she looked like she took Bunny seriously. She didn’t appear to be using deadly force but she was systematic in her attack and when Bunny scurried away, Mini shook herself proudly. But Bunny wasn’t quite done.

Bunny thought things over for a while as Mini munched a little grass and pecked at a bit of scratch grain. With Mini’s back turned, Bunny launched a last great assault. But this time Mini’s counter-attack drove Bunny into a corner of the chicken yard, and this time Mini didn’t quit. She kept up her whacking and pecking until Bunny scrambled up and ran for her life. Satisfied, Mini walked away, dusted off her wings and hopped up on the roost to survey the situation.

There were mussed-up feathers, it’s true, but there wasn’t any other discernible damage. Best of all, there were no more challenges from Bunny, and Mini appeared content with having a companion who recognized her role as boss lady. Chickens may be bird-brains, but they’re downright clever about things like pecking order. That night the two hens cozied up to each other on the roost like the best of friends.

After another day or two it was time to take the next step and introduce two more hens, Mini’s “sister” Paula (a white Ameraucana named for her hometown, St. Paul), and Grace, a gentle, friendly Lavender Orpington. Would Bunny try to bully them? We put them out together with a lot of room to run and stood ready to intervene if things went badly, but fortunately, Bunny had learned a powerful lesson from Mini. She was no longer a bully. All four hens now get along beautifully, with only mild, infrequent squabbles over a special treat, like mealworms or the occasional handful of shredded cheese.

Everyone came out a winner. Bunny has a new, happy lease on life. Our friends Tim and Candy now have peace in their coop. We acquired a beautiful and productive addition to our flock. And all the chickens are getting along just fine.

We can’t say that we would have had the same result with a different chicken. All chickens are individuals. But some of the principles could work for anyone. Acclimate your new hen carefully. Introduce her slowly to a companion who matches her personality and aggressiveness. When you put them together, give them plenty of room to run. And hope for the best.

You can visit Bunny, Mini, Paula and Grace at CLUCK the Chicken Store.

sprout.pngThe good news is that your yard and garden can co-exist beautifully with chickens, dogs and other pets. But it takes some planning and flexibility to make it happen. That was the message from Tim Phelps, landscape architect, who talked to a group of chicken and dog owners at CLUCK the Chicken Store this week.

Tim, the owner of Sprout Landscaping and Garden Design, led an informal roundtable discussion focused on how to make a backyard a pet friendly environment. Since the weather was absolutely perfect, we were able to meet in the coop garden and enjoy the sunset and the coming of evening, although the traffic on Highway PB reminded us that we werebn’t exactly in an idyllic pastoral setting.

Naturally, chickens pose the biggest problems for a yard or garden, since they are often happy to rototill any plants they don’t devour. And, unlike dogs, they’re a little more difficult to train, based on their owners’ desires. But, even though they don’t generally respond to commands or learn much in the way of boundaries, Tim had some recommendations on channeling their energy, or at least channeling the direction they want to travel in your yard or garden.

First, begin to think like a chicken and try to view the world of your yard from their perspective. Begin by watching, and paying attention to what your chickens do in your yard and where they want to go. Observation is the first step to wise planning.

Then create paths, play areas and hideaways for your chickens that follow their natural inclinations. You will be surprised how well paths, open areas, dirt patches and other chicken-friendly features can channel chickens away from the plants you want to protect and toward the areas that are more suited to chicken use.

Creating chicken-safe zones may involve digging up plants that are growing in vulnerable areas and moving them to places less frequented by chickens.

If there’s a particularly attractive element in your yard (for example, the scruffy area underneath your winter bird-feeding station), you may want to simply turn that into an area where your hens can dust bathe to their little chicken hearts’ content. Bird feeders are particularly attractive to chickens because they love hunting for the seeds that get knocked off the feeder. Tim’s advice was to just cede the area to the chickens and move any valuable plants to a different part of the yard. Trying to protect them will just end in frustration and failure, he thought.

Another interesting strategy Tim suggested is to use sticks or stones to create barriers that discourage your chickens from straying off the beaten path and into a protected area. The challenge is to see your yard and garden from a chicken’s-eye viewpoint.

Bees 1.jpg Unpacking the bees.

We got 20,000 new pets at CLUCK the Chicken Store on Tuesday. No, they’re not chickens. Our bees arrived and have taken up residence in two new hives behind the store. Don’t worry, they’re much too busy scouting out delectable food sources and water from the nearby Sugar River to bother anybody.

In fact, we found them to be quite gentle, friendly and accommodating, especially when you consider that they were packed into two little wooden boxes about half the size of a shoebox for shipping. And then considering that you have to bang the box rather sharply to shake the bees out into their new home. You would expect them to be upset. But they were so busy looking out for their queen, and getting acclimated to their new home that we had no trouble at all with their behavior. Very sweet, actually.

We’ve got customers who sing to their bees (probably my grandfather’s method…he was a master beekeeper with a glorious voice) but we just tried to move quickly, quietly and speak gently, explaining what was happening and why. We briefly used a puff or two of smoke from the smoker (so much new stuff to learn!) on the second group to alleviate any anxiety. I’m told anxious, agitated bees are not a good idea and I believe it.

We got our beautiful honey bees from well-known local beekeeper, organic farmer and honey maven Mary Celley, who is also a beginning chicken keeper. If you know Mary from the Dane County Farmer’s Market you know that she does all things with amazing substance and style, and the chicken coop she designed and built for her young flock of 16 Light Brahmas, Welsummers and a Fayoumi (!) pullets is a sight to behold. Mary’s one of those competent country women who can handle just about any job without stressing out, so she’s an amazing bee mentor for us. Since we know absolutely nothing about bees, we’re going to depend on Mary’s wise counsel and 30+ years of experience to guide us in this new adventure.

We did invest in the whole beekeeping outfit, if only for peace of mind. No matter how gently you talk to your bees, there might always be one or two out of 10,000 who don’t get with the program and might get agitated about being banged about and relocated, etc. However much it might give us mental comfort, we have to say physical comfort is not one of its advantages. A bee-keeping suit is about as comfortable and practical as one of those deep-sea diver outfits. Too big. Too awkward. Too hot. Too everything, but it does work. Despite a whole lot of buzzing and aerial activity, nobody got stung. In my gleaming white suit I felt like my outfit was a cross between astronaut and Papal garb.

Why bees? Well, why chickens? They are both part of our connection with a sustainable food system, and both are out of sight and out of mind for most people most of the time. Bees in particular have a precarious existence. About 30 percent of all bee colonies die each year from causes nobody can quite pinpoint, although a new study from Harvard’s School of Public Health claims that pesticides are at the bottom of the problem, specifically the neonicotinoid class of pesticides, widely used not only on corn and soybeans but also on cotton, sorghum, sugar beets, apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. They're even common in yard and landscaping products.

(The chemical companies blame varroa mites and other non-chemical factors, of course.)

We’re not chemists, but we figure that anything we can do to nurture honey bees and help bees stay healthy and survive is worth doing. That’s why we now have bees at CLUCK the Chicken Store. We may not want to pet them, but we’re glad to have them here.

Another local municipality has made chickens official. The Lodi City Council last week passed a backyard chicken ordinance. Lodi residents have to register their flocks, but - hooray for Lodi - there's no fee required.

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