Archive for April 27th, 2010

Urban Chicken Check-Up

On Sunday, I led the Urban Chicken Check-Up at the Animal Care League in Oak Park. There were 11 people from various neighborhoods.

This hen found a human perch!

What’s Normal, What’s Not

It is important to know what a healthy bird looks like. Birds are flock animals, and the flock will cull the unhealthy members to prevent predator attacks. Birds, therefore, hide their symptoms, leading to subclinical illness. Often you can’t tell a bird is sick until it is near death. The quicker you can determine a bird is ill, the more likely that you can save the bird.

Basic Healthy Hen Signs

It’s important to know how your flock interacts. What’s the pecking order? If you realize your flock is excluding one bird, there is probably a health reason motivating the behavior. Observe behaviors carefully. We talked about the signs of a happy, healthy flock: vocalizing, eating and drinking, doing normal chicken things like dustbathing, and producing normal droppings.

Specific Healthy Hen Signs

Then we moved to specific anatomical characteristics, discussing what was normal and what might indicate disease:

Head: comb, nostrils, ears, eyes, beak, mouth

Body: feathers and molting, posture, preening, keel, vent, abdomen, places to check for lice

Vent: color, how to determine who’s laying and who’s not by looking at the keel and pelvic bones

Legs: proper appearance of leg scales and the footpad

Poop: urates, solid waste, cecal dropping, stress poops

Toweling a Bird

One couple had a bird that was not used to being handled, and I showed them a toweling technique for easier handling. Birds calm down if you place a towel over them. We wrapped legs and wings in the towel, which made it easier to examine the head and vent.


Maisie the hen (see my post about the hen with the soft-shelled egg) came, and she is looking good! Still a bit of residual messy stuff in her fluff, but looking good!

Maisie the hen

Seamus, Emily, chickens, and I had a great day at Earth Fest!

Showing the buff Orpington to a little guy!

Exciting Conversations

I spoke to a number of folks who are interested in getting chickens, exhausted my stack of rate sheets, and allowed a lot of really cute kids to pet a chicken for the first time!

It’s very exciting to see this many people excited about chickens (and I realize as I look at the pictures how excited I am about chickens!)!

I'm not having any fun at all!

I answered question about housing, square footage per bird, chickens and other pets, anatomy, eggs, composting, emergency care, breeds and cold hardiness, coop design, etc.

My favorite question is

Q: Do you eat chicken?

A: Only chickens I don’t know!

My Lovely Assistant

Emily was a wonderful PR rep, despite having just come from ballet, graciously fielding questions about her chickens and carting them from one end of the table to the other!

Emily with Joe Schmoe, the buff Orpington hen

RootRiot Community Garden

Seamus spoke with quite a number of folks about his RootRiot Community Gardens in Austin. The proposed site is between Race and Lake on Waller. Some Austin folks will be meeting in late April/early May to discuss the project. If you’re interested in knowing more, you can find Seamus at and

Seamus discusses his community garden plans.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and asked lots of good questions!

Q: Are chickens permitted in Forest Park?

A: No, per the Forest Park Village code: 5-1-2: PROHIBITED ANIMALS: No person shall keep or allow to be kept anywhere within the village any cattle, horses, swine, sheep, goats, ducks, geese, chickens or any other poultry except birds or pigeons used for exhibition or sporting purposes. (Ord. O-48-01, 11-19-2001)

Q: Is there an egg co-op in the city? Someone is interested in purchasing egg-cess eggs.

A: The Wettsteins bring fresh eggs to the Oak Park Farmers Market. They are right across from the Genesis Growers stand.

One more for my loyal readers:

  • Does anyone in the city have ducks? A few people are interested in ducks!