Cluck Blog

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Our store chickens, Buffy and Zelda the Buff Opringtons, and Mini and Paula the Ameraucanas, have gone home for the winter, but we just got a whole new flock of metal found-object chicken sculptures from Jim Billmeyer to take their place.

Unlike real chickens, Nathan's found-object welded creations don't mind snow. They are perfectly at home in the garden or in a home. They are made with a ecclectic assortment of old kitchen implements, farm equipment, tools, baskets, bowl and rebar. And attitude. They all have a lot of attitude. Kind of like real chickens.

The picture at the top shows some of Nathan's flock frolicking around with a whole lineup of welded chicken objects. We only have half a dozen or so, but if you're into that kind of thing, we think you'll fall for at least one of them.

News Flash: Winter is Coming! Just as you inspect your tires and check your anti-freeze to be sure your car will make it through the coming winter, you should also perform a 7-point winterizing check on your chicken coop before things freeze up to make sure you can keep your chickens clucking through Wisconsin’s worst.

1. Tighten it up: You opened all your ventilation doors for the summer, now it’s time to close them. But don’t seal everything up tight. Humidity is the mortal enemy of chickens. Always make sure to leave enough airflow to keep the coop dry. Better too cold than too humid.
2. Snow-proof your run: Our chickens hate to walk on snow. Keeping an area in their run snow-free is one important way we keep them happy and relaxed during their winter confinement. We like to put plastic sheeting on three sides of the run to keep out the rain and snow. But leave some panels open for good air flow. You don’t have to put a roof over your whole run, but covering at least part of it will give your birds some bare ground to scratch on.
3. Predator patrol: Fall is a time when predators are actively looking for new sources of food and shelter. Make sure your coop isn’t one of them. Check for holes or digging around the coop and take advantage of the nice fall weather to make sure windows and doors still fit tightly and that boards have not come loose.
4. Electrical inspection: Before the snow buries your extension cord, make sure the cord is the right size for your electrical needs, the plugs are secure and the connections are protected from the elements. Also be sure any light fixtures are secure and free from debris that could start a fire.
5. Dust bath: A closed-up coop is perfect for a mite infestation. You can help prevent mites by giving your birds a place either in the run or nearby where they can take a dust bath. Even a large box with dirt or sand will do. We like to add some diatomaceous earth to the dust bath and also sprinkle some in the nest boxes.
6. Grit: If your chickens don’t have access to dirt and gravel during the winter, make sure they have free access to either grit or a grit & calcium combination such as Pol-Cal.
7. Fall cleaning: Now is the time to remove all of your old bedding and start the winter months with a clean floor and fresh bedding. We use shavings for the roosting area and straw for the nesting boxes. The nesting boxes stay pretty clean, but the roosting area can get pretty gross. We like to put down a plastic tray under the roosts to catch most of the poop. Make sure it’s small enough that you can remove it and clean it thoroughly a couple of times during the winter. We use the panel from the bottom of a dog cage, but you could use a plastic boot tray or something similar.

What are your favorite winterization ideas? Let us know and we will publish your advice.

Leave it to The Wall Street Journal to make even the simple egg into a business proposition. (The Hunt for the Perfect Egg, The Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2013).

After spending decades in a relentless quest for quantity over quality and, in the process, eliminating every last drop of goodness from eggs in the name of uniformity and easy production, it seems the egg industry is starting to rediscover a simple fact: natural eggs from well-fed, free-range chickens are pretty good food. They’re low in cholesterol, high in Omega-3 fatty acids and tasty besides.

But they’re not good enough. Instead of seeking to return to the natural goodness of eggs, the WSJ reported that, “Scientists are working to build a better egg: one that is chock-full of fatty acids, vitamins, and high in calcium. And then, they hope we'll pay more for it.” The story by Sarah Nassauer goes on to note that marketers covet an egg that includes unnatural levels of calcium, vitamins or other attributes so they can make bold nutritional claims, regardless of whether that’s what eggs are really all about.

Anyone who has kept backyard chickens understands that one of the charms and pleasures of natural eggs is that their color and flavor reflect the seasons. Sometimes the yolks are yellow and sometimes they’re almost orange. And that’s OK. What goes into the chicken also comes out of the chicken in some fashion.

We’re all in favor of science and understanding what chickens need to be their best. As we’ve discovered, there’s always more to learn about keeping healthy, happy chickens. But if you give your birds high quality food, lots of sunshine and good, old-fashioned dirt, you’re probably doing it right.

We don't have to tell you winter is coming. Are your chickens ready? Like all chicken-related questions, it seems the answer to that question is, “it depends.”

It depends on what breed of chickens you have, how big your coop is, how many chickens you have, whether you want to keep egg production up all winter and whether you’re willing and able to carry water to them.

We had one of those “it depends” seminars at CLUCK the Chicken Store on Sunday. Heather Lockhart led the conversation with about 40 people in the audience. Heather has years of experience raising all kinds of poultry, but, wisely, she didn’t try to provide just one answer to every question. She offered lots of different ways of approaching some of the most common winter-time problems, covering light, heat, nutrition, ventilation and water.

The following is our summary of Heather’s presentation.

Light: For most breeds, the egg cycle requires 15 hours of light per day – if you want them to keep laying regularly all winter. That means setting the timer to start their day at about 3 a.m. and turning it off before dusk so the hens can find their way to their roosts before dark. Heather says the type of light doesn’t matter so much, but it should be bright enough for you (or your hens) to read a newspaper. It also depends on the breed. Some will lay all winter with very little prompting; some just quit until spring, or until they choose to become productive again.

Heat: Some people do, some don’t. It depends on the breed and your personal preference. Many hens don’t necessarily need heat. After all, birds wear down jackets all the time. When chickens molt in the fall, they grow a new set of warm feathers for the winter. Chickens are kind of like the Farmer’s Almanac, Heather says, because they seem to know if the winter will be warm or cold and grow their feathers accordingly. However, tight-feathered breeds, and especially Frizzles, Silkies and all types of bantams, will almost certainly need heat in the Wisconsin winter. Our big, old-fashioned heritage breeds probably don’t. Other breeds fall in the middle ground.

Whatever the breed, make sure they have wide, flat, wooden perches so they can roost with their toes flat. They don’t like to sit with their toes curling around the roost. They like to sit down and cover their feet with their feathers.

If your birds have large wattles or combs, you should consider coating them with Vaseline about twice a week during the coldest weeks to keep those parts from getting frostbite. Wattles and combs were developed to shed heat in warm climates, so they’re vulnerable to frostbite.

Heather keeps a 250-watt heat lamp on day and night all winter, partly because she keeps her 20 chickens and her rabbits in a drafty, enclosed carport. On the other hand, we rarely heat our little 2x4-foot roosting houses because they’re small enough that four or six birds can keep themselves warm. When it gets sub-zero, we turn on a ceramic reptile heater that emits heat, but no light.

Our friend Lisa Peterson reported on her short experience with the new Sweeter Heater radiant heater, but said she didn’t have enough time to really test it out. We have Sweeter Heaters in stock at CLUCK. They’re kind of pricey, but they look very safe and secure and have a reputation for producing an even, radiant heat with no hot spots. They're even made right here in Wisconsin.

Whatever you do, make sure your heat source is secure. People burn down their coops – and sometimes their houses – every year because of faulty or poorly installed heaters.

Ventilation: Whether you heat or not, make sure your coop is ventilated, but not drafty. If the hens get sweaty or the air in the coop is too damp, they will get sick and maybe even die. Damp drafts can be fatal to chickens. They are better off cold than damp.

Nutrition: Even though your hens may not be laying regularly in the winter, they still need a complete feed to stay healthy. Heather suggested helping the hens create their own heat by feeding them scratch grain in the evening about an hour before they go to bed. It’s not high protein, but it will stay in their crops overnight and digest. Scratch grain shouldn’t make up no more than 25 percent of their diet and you should give them no more than they can finish in one feeding. Otherwise, you may find yourself feeding the rats.

You will need to give them grit so they can digest the grain. Not oyster shell, but sand or ground up stone. You can also give them warm snacks to relieve boredom. Warm oatmeal. Scrambled eggs. Greek yogurt.

Looking for an inexpensive boredom buster? Make your own scratch block. There are lots of recipes on Internet. But remember to keep scratch blocks dry. They mold easily and chickens can die from mold. You might also throw a bale of hay in the coop and let the chickens do what they will with it.

Water: Chickens need a ready source of warm water all year. If you don’t have electricity in the coop, or you don’t want to buy a water heater, you should be absolutely sure that you bring the hens fresh water every morning. Twice a day would be better, but most people who work don’t get home until the hens have gone to bed. That’s too late to water them.

You can use a heated dog bowl if you like. It’s best to raise it on several concrete patio pavers so the heating element never contacts the bedding and so it’s harder for the birds to kick debris into the water (which they still will no matter what you do).

The most convenient and reliable solution is an electric, thermostat-controlled heater base and a metal water fountain. It’s safe and proven, but it’s also a little more expensive. If you’d rather do it yourself, Heather showed how to build your own heater base for a few dollars with lamp parts from the hardware store and a metal cookie tin.

If your extension cord won’t reach your coop, you could have two waterers, or even two bowls, and bring them in the house to thaw, one in the morning and one in the evening. It just depends on how you want to keep your chickens and what works for you.

At the end of the day a lot of information was shared. We only captured a small part of it here, but we hope it’s helpful.

We want to thank Heather for sharing her experience and knowledge with us. And we want to thank our very attentive and engaged audience of chicken keepers (and a few wanna-be chicken keepers) for spending time at CLUCK the Chicken Store on a Sunday afternoon.

police chicken car 1.pngI guess we can't call it a chicken coupe because it's really a hatchback. It's got wheels, but it's definitely not a chicken tractor.

It's another clever repurposing of a common object by the French artist Benedetto Bufalino. He previously created Pac-Man light bulbs and an aquarium in a phone booth. You can see more about him here.

It seems like the chickens are quite at home in this little cop cruiser, but it sure doesn't look like it could catch any bad guys. Maybe things are different in Italy.

We’re excited to host Heather Lockhart at CLUCK the Chicken Store on Sunday to talk about how to get your birds ready for winter. Heather has been raising chickens and other poultry for years and is up on the best practices. She’s also very sensitive to the need to treat your chickens well and use natural methods as much as possible.

Heather will bring some door prizes, including coupons good for money off on Nutrena’s new Feather Fixer feed. With molting season well underway, this has been quite a popular new feed for backyard chicken keepers. Heather will have a short presentation and then we’ll open it up to questions about feed, heating, coops, nutrition, health, lighting and anything else people want to talk about.

The discussion will be from 3:30 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10, so you won’t have to miss the Packers game (if you’re a fan). The seminar is free and walk-ins are welcome; no need to register in advance. However, we can’t guarantee you’ll find a place to sit. If you have been to any of our past events, you know they can be very popular. Oh, and there will be coffee and cookies, too.

waldo.jpgWhat Waldo expects in heaven:
1) Unlimited amounts of grass, regardless of season
2) No annoying bugs
3) An entire herd of attractive mares. All find him irresistible.
4) Many congenial humans with an endless supply of apple slices and bite-size carrots.

I'd be surprised if the Pearly Gates haven't already swung wide open so he can come trotting briskly home. All residents will benefit from his high spirits, cheery attitude and mischievous antics. His resilience and optimism is a gift in any realm. Bon voyage, darling old friend.

Thanks to vets Judy and Stephanie for their compassionate help on Waldo's last journey.

landmark-cheese_400.jpgWe don’t sell cheese at CLUCK the Chicken Store, but we are very proud to be associated with one of Wisconsin’s rising star cheese makers.

Anna Landmark, who makes cheese by hand at her tiny homestead Landmark Creamery in Albany, was featured last weekend at the Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival along with such longstanding stars of the cheese world as Sid Cook (Carr Valley Cheese) and Tony Hook (Hook’s Cheese). Not to mention a host of European artisan cheese producers. You can read all about the Cheese Originals Festival here.

You can’t buy her cheese at CLUCK, but you can buy her goat’s milk soap, which she makes by hand from milk supplied by her two goats – thus the name “Two Goat Farm.” It is exceptionally gentle on the skin and comes in a variety of fresh, herbal scents.

But, back to the cheese. Anna has recently experimented with a taleggio-style cheese made with water buffalo milk from a farm in Cedar Ridge. Taleggio is a semi-soft, washed-rind Italian chees that is named after Val Taleggio in the Italian Alps. It may be the first American water buffalo taleggio. Anna primarily makes sheep’s milk cheese.

So congratulations and best wishes to Anna in her cheese-making endeavors, but we hope you keep milking those two goats as well.

Thanks to all the visitors who stopped at CLUCK the Chicken Store Friday night to meet Cynthia Quinn and see our display of her marvelous paintings.
We called the show Fresh, Whole, Local Landscapes and Farmscapes. Cynthia's paintings made up the farmscapes part of the show. A collection of landscapes by Jan Norsetter made up the landscapes part. Jan's paintings were shown at Zazen Gallery across the street from CLUCK. We encouraged gallery hopping and many people took advantage of the opportunity.

The art was inspiring at both galleries and the conversation flowed like wine, and vise versa.
Cynthia's show will be up until Thanksgiving weekend, so everyone has a chance to stop at CLUCK and take a look. Jan's paintings will be at Zazen at least until Thanksgiving, possibly longer.
3 hens.png Not all her paintings include chickens, but this one does.
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Because if it had 4, it would be a sedan.


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