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Nuts & Bolts

November 13, 2012

The rise of the urban chicken

CLINTON, Iowa — There’s one more reason to cluck these days.

For those who have admired chickens from afar and have longed to raise them from day-old baby chicks, backyard chicken farming is becoming a reality in big cities and rural communities across the country.

The popularity of chickens can’t be disputed they can be found everywhere from chicken-chat lines and forums on the Internet to poultry magazines, such as “Backyard Poultry” and “Chickens”, lining end caps in agriculture-based stores.

According to Theresa Loe, one of the producers of "Growing and Greener World" and a chicken expert herself, "chicken keeping is hot right now."

Alicia Rheal, one of the co-founders of Mad City Chickens in Madison, Wis., agrees chickens are here to stay.

Rheal, who helped spearhead legalizing backyard chicken keeping in Madison, said more and more people want to get closer to their food source. They want to have a connection with the land and become more self-sufficient. Even though there isn’t a lot of cost savings that goes into raising chickens, it does, however, “strike a chord with something (people) have been missing.”

Rheal adds that raising chickens makes people more aware of animal conditions and can be used as an educational tool for children, in addition to providing feathery buddies.

“(Chickens are) delightful companions in the backyard,” Rheal said.

As more and more city dwellers become urban chicken farmers, Rheal offers key pieces of advice to keep the peace with the neighbors.

“It can wreak a lot of havoc if you don’t follow the rules. We tend to give away eggs to make neighbors happy,” she said.

Rheal also suggests letting the neighbors help name the chickens and letting them become involved in their chickens’ lives by allowing them to give the hens their food scraps. This way, they can get on board the “chicken campaign.” By allowing neighbor involvement, “they are invested in them.”

For those just starting out, Rheal suggests talking to others who have chickens so they can check out their coop set ups and learn from their mistakes.

Before chickens arrive, Rheal stresses that the coop should be ready or almost ready for them to move into. Coops also should be predator-proof.

Dr. Darrell Trampel, extension poultry veterinarian and poultry diagnostician at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, said some universities that still have a poultry science department have a wealth of information on their websites.

“The University of California at Davis and Pennsylvania State University are examples. Also, there are a number of books available including 'Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens', 'Backyard Poultry' and similar publications provide information to their subscribers on a monthly basis.”

Trempel warns beginners that cute baby chicks grow up to become adult birds.

“Do not buy baby chicks unless you are prepared to provide proper feed and shelter for them as they grow and reach adulthood," Trempel said. "Feed commercial rations purchased from a feed store or grain elevator to ensure that your chickens receive adequate nutrition. Provide clean water and change it daily. Avoid wet conditions or dry, dusty conditions in the chicken house, both contribute to disease. Be aware that in northern climates, heat must be provided during cold months of the year to avoid frost bite of chickens’ combs and toes and to ensure that the water supply does not freeze. Protect your chickens from wild and domestic predators such as raccoons and cats.

"Roosters crowing early in the morning lead to poor relationships with neighbors. Roosters are not needed for hens to lay eggs and should be avoided in urban settings. If all possible, all chickens in a flock should be from the same source flock, be of the same age, and arrive on a premises at the same time.”



As chickens become more and more commonplace and are allowed in major cities such as Seattle and Brooklyn, their appeal also has settled in small towns as well. The city of Camanche, Iowa, recently passed an ordinance giving the green flag to residents who would like to keep chickens in their backyard.

This news was music to Camanche resident Debby McCormick’s ears. McCormick, who recently started raising chickens in her backyard, was glad she didn’t have to part with her flock. Her flock includes Della, a blue-laced wyandotte; Deidra, an Americana; Little Dove, a bantam; Ruby and Tuesday, red star sexlinks; and Izzy and Zoe, brown leghorns. McCormick’s lucky girls are housed in a coop made by the Amish from Pennsylvania.

As McCormick greets her girls in the backyard, you can tell the mutual love and admiration they have for one another. McCormick loves to pick them up and talk directly to them making each chicken feel special.

In a world where people maintain busy lives, McCormick says this is one way to get back to a “simpler life.”

“Life is simple. We make life so complicated. They are just a joy,” she said.

As a nutritionist, part of the appeal of raising chickens was knowing where her food came from. This way, she knew what the animals were eating and the conditions they lived in. In her mind, chickens crammed into cages is no way to live.

“(It’s) inhumane to God’s creatures; disrespectful to nature,” said McCormick.

McCormick loves giving her girls cucumbers, cantaloupe rinds and even pineapple.

“They eat everything. Nothing gets wasted.”

As McCormick’s love for her chickens has grown, she indulges them in homemade chicken treats. Her blend, which differs all the time, can include wheat berries, peanuts, raisins, lentils, oats, millet, sunflower seed and flax seed.

For McCormick, raising chickens in her backyard has evolved into a labor of love and one that she enjoys sharing with others including her granddaughters.

---

Angie Bicker has been the lifestyle editor with the Clinton Herald in Clinton, Iowa, since 2001 and started raising chickens 3 1/2 years ago. Bicker’s weekly column, which is published on Wednesday, has centered around her hobby and the growing love she has for her pearl white leghorns at Klucker Farms. Since raising her flock from day-old baby chicks she received in the mail from the Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, Angie has learned a lot along the way and has shared those lessons with her readers. Angie is fondly called “the chicken lady” by Herald readers and jokes that she never thought chickens would be her claim to fame. She can be reached at angiebicker@clintonherald.com.

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