Cluck Blog

HRH.jpgWe knew the British Royal Family’s finances were strained, what with Prince William and Duchess Kate traipsing around the globe with young Prince George in tow. But we never dreamed that Prince Charles, scion of the House of Windsor and heir to the throne, would have to earn pocket money selling eggs.

So we were shocked to read in the Gloucester Citizen that Charles has had to shut down his organic egg store after a local fox (probably an anti-royalist) killed 24 of his hens. Now, that seems strange to us, since we’ve never heard of a single fox taking more than one or two hens at a time, but maybe British foxes have larger families. (OK, we couldn't resist linking to this YouTube of a cute! fox family on the UW-Madison campus.)

However it happened, we offer our sincere condolences to both His Royal Highness and the poor 24 hens.

Apparently the fox attack was simply the last straw for Prince Charles’s organic roadside stand, the Veg Shed, which sold organic produce, including freshly picked fruit and vegetables, as well as meat from his ecologically raised cattle. The store became famous for “wonky carrots”—the type often rejected by supermarkets on aesthetic grounds.

Unfortunately, the Veg Shed was forced to close after the prince admitted it simply wasn’t financially viable.

The good news is, you can still buy some of the Prince’s “sustainably produced” food products through his Duchy Originals brand, now owned by Waitrose grocery. HRH sold the business to Waitrose after it reported a loss of more than £3.3 million for the 2009 financial year.

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If you missed Wisconsin Public Television's broadcast of Wisconsin Life on Monday, May 5, be sure to click this link to watch their segment on CLUCK the Chicken Store.

You will get to see some of our own chickens cavorting around and leading their chicken-ish lives, but there's a serious message, too. Backyard chicken-keeping isn't just about having an endearing pet who will come when you call. It's a serious connection to the natural world and to the food we eat. We've lost so many of those connections and chickens, believe it or not, are a way to help rebuild them.

Tune in if you have the chance. There's an excellent segment on l'Etoile owner and chef Tory Miller, as well as some other amazing Wisconsin stories.

Andy Cawthray.png Andy Dawthray and friend
As you might expect, we get a lot of questions at CLUCK the Chicken Store about which among the hundreds of chicken breeds are best. As always, the answer is "it depends," but we do lean toward a few heritage breeds as the best choices for backyard chicken-keepers, especially those with little or no chicken experience. Many of those breeds were developed in Britain in an explosion of chicken interest in the 19th Century.

So we were please to find this blog in The Guardian by Andy Cawthray, who explains a little bit about how the heritage breeds originated. Here's a preview:

The frenzy of fancy fowl in the mid-19th century significantly changed the western perspective on chickens, putting poultry in a new light within modern culture. No longer were they simply a farmyard forager, they had wider appeal, reflected in a new "hen fever" that cut across the classes of Victorian Britain.

The influx of new breeds not only delivered aesthetic appeal and a price tag beyond anything that had been seen before, but also egg laying and meat capabilities that could raise an eyebrow. It was both of these practical functions that would become more pivotal over the next 100 years

It's worth a read, if only because there seems to be a charming connection between Brits and animals of all sorts. They don't apologize for being sentimental about other creatures, for one thing.

Andy also writes his personal blog, called the chicken street, which he calls "confessions of a chickeneer." It's right up our ally because it's all about sustainable small-scale agriculture, both animal and vegetable.

Now here’s a fox-guarding-the-henhouse story with a happy ending, or at least nobody got hurt. Of course, it happened in England. They must have more sophisticated and intelligent foxes there.

fox in henhouse.pngThis lovely creature turned up in the middle of the day at the Flying Bull Primary School in Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK. (They also have more imaginative names for their schools, but that’s another story.) He was found dozing in the school chicken coop just curled up and keeping the eggs warm. The chickens were out running about at the time and apparently were not aware of the intrusion.

The story might have had a less happy ending, but before the chickens came home to roost, some students discovered Mr. Fox when they went to check for eggs. They rushed back and reported his presence to Jane France, the school office manager, who snapped a few beauty shots before another school employee chased the uninvited guest out of the schoolyard.

We guess British schools don’t have armed guards on duty, so no harm done to the chickens, the fox or the eggs as far as anyone can tell.

We were not so lucky with predators earlier this spring. We came home just a little bit late to close the chicken coop one night a few weeks ago and discovered that a raccoon had gotten one of our Lavender Orpington hens. The raccoon hadn’t broken into the coop. The loss resulted from operator error – an open door - as is usually the case when we lose a bird. But that just made us feel worse about it.

The dogs let us know that the culprit was hidden under the hay pile. They barked and growled their fiercest, but the hay pile contains several tons of hay for our horses, and we didn’t have the desire or energy to move 100 bales just to flush out the raccoon. So we put out a live trap to catch it. We tried various kinds of bait over a couple of weeks, but with no success. Fortunately, there were no more fatalities, either.

We had pretty much given up the chance of catching it, when we went to feed the chickens one evening and our dog Joe started just going crazy around the coop. We noticed that the waterer was overturned and the feed bucket was moved. A quick look inside the coop revealed not one, but two raccoons, one in a nest box and one curled up on a roost. We’re not sure how they ended up in the roosting house. They had either gone inside to hunt for eggs while the chickens were out and about, or maybe they were surprised while scouting around the coop and Joe had chased them inside. In either case, we now had two raccoons in our henhouse.

The female was just about as cute as this fox, but we weren’t about to let these critters loose around our shed where they could prey on our hens again. If you want to hear all the details of our struggle with the raccoons, you can ask us when you’re in the store next. The short version is that we were able to trap one in a dog crate and release her into a wildlife area far from anyone’s chicken coop. The male didn’t survive his coop experience.

The moral of this story is that, as much as we love cute foxes and raccoons and want them to live happy lives, not every encounter with the wild world end happily – for the wildlife, for the chickens or for us.

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We had a visit this weekend from the folks from Red Bucket Farm . They live on the far east side of Madison, as we understand it, and have been working at making their small yard into a complete urban farm. They have chickens, of course, which is why they stopped at CLUCK, and they also had bees, although their bees died earlier this year. You can see that blog post here.

The Red Bucket Farm blog has been written by Cindy since 2011 and includes all kinds of information about keeping chickens, winterizing bee hives, growing greens in a hoop house, managing an orchard, pest control and lots more. They’re not experts in the academic sense, but the blog has some good, common-sense advice that anyone interested in sustainable backyard farming might enjoy.

We recommend it.

Mary Eberle from First Step Renew let us know that Camp Green Star, Madison’s urban farming camp for kids aged 7-13, will be open again this summer. The camp gives kids hands-on experience with sustainable gardening and raising chickens in the city and other practical skills that can inspire them throughout their lives. At camp, kids also learn about composting, watering the garden with rainwater, and making butter and ice cream by hand

Camp Green Star is a secular (non-religious) camp held on Madison's west side at Madison Christian Community. The site has seven acres, plenty of room for kids to play and explore the prairie under the guidance of the teachers.

Registration is open now for afternoon or full day sessions. For more information, visit Camp Green Star. Camp Green Star was recently featured in Edible Madison Magazine.

The thermometer read -12 degrees at our house this morning and the snowdrifts were sculpted into fantastic overhangs and ridges on the roadsides and along our driveway. It hardly felt like it warmed up at all, but Tuesday is officially spring at CLUCK the Chicken Store. Or at least it's the day we go back to our normal spring-summer-fall hours. From now on we will be open Tuesday-Saturday 10 am to 5 pm and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. We're closed Mondays.

We have chicks in the brooder and a brand new coop in front of the store. The feed pallets are piled high with chick starter and all manner of things for nurturing new life. Now we just have to wait for the weather to catch up to the season.

Even the conversation in the store has changed. For weeks, we have been talking about how our chickens are doing in the winter and how to keep them warm enough. Now, people are crowing about how many eggs they are getting and how their hens seem to be responding to the return of the sun. It may not feel much like spring to those of us who are so weary of sub-zero temperatures and drifting snow, but the chickens know that the good times are coming soon.

Listen to your chickens.

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It seems like nearly everyone who comes into CLUCK the Chicken Store has an idea of the perfect chicken coop. And now that spring is (almost) here, we have noticed that a lot more of our visitors want to talk about coops. We’re happy by oblige.

Talking about what we like in a coop just got easier, thanks to the coop that arrived this week from Henry Topinka, one of the craftsmen who builds the coops we sell. It looks a bit like many other coop designs you see around the area, but it also has several features that we think set it apart from the pack.

  1. The roosting house and the covered run come apart, which makes the whole unit light enough for 2 people to move around the yard using the sturdy handles affixed to both ends.
  2. It is sized to fit in the back of a full-size pickup truck – the better to get it from CLUCK to your backyard.
  3. It incorporates plastic clean-out trays in the roost house and a simple access door so you can clean the coop in about 60 seconds. No scraping hardened poop off a wooden floor!

Those are just a few of the things we like about this coop. The final thing is that Henry has put a remarkable level of craftsmanship into the construction. We think anyone would be proud to have this coop in the backyard.

If you are thinking about building or buying a coop, we invite you to visit us at CLUCK and talk about your idea of a perfect coop.

It must be spring because people are thinking about chickens. We had a full house at CLUCK the Chicken Store on Sunday for our Backyard Chickens 101 class. If you missed it, you can catch the class again on Sunday, March 30.

The conversation covered the eight questions that anyone thinking of Chickens should ask - and answer - before their chicks arrive:
1. Why do you want chickens?
2. How many chickens do you want to keep?
3. How much does it cost?
4. How much time and work is required?
5. What breeds are best for your needs?
6. Should you start with chicks or laying hens (pullets)?
7. Where can you get chicks or pullets?
8. What kind of coop is right for you?

We will get into more of the details in coming days.

It was 25 below at the store as the sun was coming up this morning, but we can tell chicken season – and spring - are just around the corner. Our Chickens 101 seminar, scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 23, is just about filled. But don’t worry if you haven’t signed up for the February one. We will have another one in March.

We have also had people starting to ask about coops. Unfortunately, the snow still lies deep in the coop garden so we can’t show very much right now. But our coop builders are already hard at work on some new walk-in models and we think they’re going to be our best ones yet. We will have them on display just as soon as the glacier melts.

In other developments, we’ve seen heartening news from some nearby communities who are about to welcome chickens!

The Tomah City Council was scheduled to consider a chicken ordinance this week that would allow for up to five hens in a single family residence. The resolution requires an annual chicken license with a fee that would be set by the council.

Meanwhile, the Chicago suburb of Deerfield has made its pro-poultry ordinance permanent. Last year, Deerfield instituted a pilot Hen Keeping Program that allowed five households to keep up to four hens. The village now is moving to lift the number of flocks permitted and make other terms of the pilot program permanent. Applicants must notify neighbors, register with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and maintain a 10-foot setback.

With all this chicken talk happening, can spring chickens be far behind?

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