Archive for September, 2010

Are Hens Right for Your City? 5 Reasons for Urban Chickens

Evanston, Illinois, city official overturned a 36-year-old law that prohibited hens within the city limits. Residents cite eggs, companionship, and fertilizer as reasons to keep feathered friends. Leah Zerbe of provided 5 great reasons to keep chickens!

Reasons why chickens belong in the city

#1. Urban chickens are “cheep” backyard city workers. Hens help recycle food and yard waste, which in turn stays out of landfills. In fact, The BBC reports that 50 people in the Belgian town of Mouscron received pairs of chickens from the town as an alternate waste-management system. Those progressive Europeans…

Now who wouldn't want this in your yard!? This is Sassafras, a Belgian bearded d'Uccle (from

#2. City chickens are an organic exterminating service. Hens eat all kinds of bugs and weeds and will rid your yard of ticks and other nasties!

#3. Urban chickens as soil savers.
Chickens turn the soil by scratching, which can turn your compost heap, mix leaf litter with dirt to create fertile humus, and fertilize as they go!

#4. Heritage-breed city chickens contribute to genetic diversity.

When you hear chicken,  you probably think “white hen,” right? There are many heritage breeds that factory farms disregard as useless for their agribusiness operations. Keeping heritage-breed hens helps keep genes in the pool. (But breeding… that’s a whole nother can o’ worms…)

#5. Chickens make you happy! I’ve never met a chicken that didn’t make me happy! Except that fighting cock I met in Ohio who nearly tore off my upper lip… Animals (and people) we love contribute to our emotional well-being by causing our brain to release oxytocin, a feel-good hormone.

So there you have it! Take this list, go talk to your city council, and make chickens legal in your city!

For the full article, click here.

Chickens now allowed to roost in Evanston!

Hats off to the Evanstoners who worked so hard for the right to the pursuit of avian happiness in their own backyards!

On September 28, 2010,  Evanston city council voted 6 to 3 to allow residents to have chickens, overturning a 36-year ban on chicken keeping. Residents will keep hens for eggs, fertilizer, and as pets.

There’s a catch, though: residents will have to pay a $50 licensing fee to keep hens.

Concerns included noise, small, rodent infestation, and predators; however, chicken supporters surveyed officials in 20 locales where chicken keeping is legal, and officials reported satisfaction with the existing laws.

A proud cock-a-doodle-doo for the Evanston Backyard Chickens group!

To read the Tribune article, click here.

Sunday, 9/26/2010: Busy Day with Chicago Bird Collision Monitors

I admit it, I’m a bird person. Any kind of birds. Chickens, quail, parakeets, turkeys, king vultures, golden pheasants, emus. And migratory birds. So in the fall and the spring, I help migratory birds navigate Chicago’s Loop.

A Unfortunate Banner Day

Sunday, 9/26/2010,  was a big migration day, and my team from Chicago Bird Collision Monitors picked up over 260 live birds and hundreds (I’m guessing 500-600) of dead birds in downtown Chicago.

These birds are our brightly colored, tiny treasures: warblers, thrushes, hummingbirds, sapsuckers, wrens, kinglets, brown creepers, and others. So why do they hit buildings? What’s going on?

Chicago and Migration Paths

Chicago is on a major migratory flight path between North and South America. You can see from this map (from that Chicago is a major intersection of migratory flyways from Canada and the northern United States.

The Draw of the Big City

Birds who are passing through in the early morning hours are drawn to the lights of the city and come down. They are attracted to lighted lobby and office windows and landscaping inside buildings. They get lost in steel and glass canyons, spiraling downward from exhaustion, not realizing that up is out.

These birds do not understand glass, so they will fly into it, thinking they can reach the trees or lights inside. Many die on the street every day in the spring and fall. They sustain head injuries from collisions with glass; they are stepped on, run over by cars, and eaten by gulls and crows. Some die of fright.

How CBCM Helps

I volunteer with Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, and once a week (or more) during the fall and spring, I walk the streets from the crack of dawn until 9 or 10, collecting injured, stunned, and dead birds.

The live birds go to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for rehab and release. The dead go to the Field Museum for documentation and research purposes.

CBCM records data from each bird found and works with building owners and management companies for LIGHTS OUT CHICAGO! a campaign to lower or turn off excess building lights during the spring and fall migrations. A few hours a year of no building lights can save lots of dollars and lots of avian lives.

How You Can Help

You can donate, volunteer, or work with your building staff to help birds navigate the Loop. Contact CBCM at 773-988-1867.

If you have an injured or dead bird, call 773-988-1867!

October 3, 2010: Hen-apalooza Chicagoland Chicken Coop Tour

Are you thinking about raising chickens but wonder what it’s like to do so in an urban or suburban area? Or are you already raising chickens and wonder how others are doing it? Or are you just interested in taking a fun tour through the Chicago area?

On Sunday, October 3rd, 2010—rain or shine—the first annual Hen-apalooza Chicagoland Chicken Coop Tour will take place at 15 locations throughout the area. Hen-apalooza will be a self-guided tour, so visit as few or as many local chicken-keepers and their fowl friends as you like. A map of tour locations is available at

Home to Roost urban chicken consultant Jennifer Murtoff will be on hand at 2 PM at the Logan Square Co-op (1936 Sawyer Ave.) to talk about her experience and services. She’s also give some quick tips, a “six-point inspection” to assess the health of a chicken.

For more information and a Hen-apalooza Passport to track your tour progress, please see or the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts Google Group at

Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. No dogs or other pets please. Street parking available at each location. Please consider biking or using public transportation.

Hen-apalooza Chicagoland Chicken Coop Tour is presented by the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts ( and generously supported by Angelic Organics Learning Center (, Backyard Chicken Run ( and DoubleTake Design (

Chicago’s Urban Chicken Movement Reaches Michigan Avenue

The urban chicken movement is really picking up speed here in Chicago, and this chic (chick?) new trend has reached trendy and cultured Michigan Avenue: the Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Randolph dedicated an exhibit to urban avian agriculture this summer.

There were pictures of Chicago’s feathered residents, a full-size coop, information and resources on raising chickens, and educational displays about hens and eggs. Martha Boyd from Angelic Organics Learning Center was instrumental in creating the exhibit, and chicken owners from around town contributed pictures of their birds and coops.

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Home to Roost’s TV Appearance: WCIU Segment 9/21/2010 Morning Show

Jennifer Murtoff, Melissa Forman, Kimberly Burt, Jeanne Sparrow

WCIU , Channel 26, pulled in two female entrepreneurs, Kimberlee Burt, owner of A Child’s Space daycare, and Chicagoland’s urban chicken consultant for a spot on You and Me in the Morning on 9/21/2010.

I got up at 5:15, got dressed, did the hair, the makeup, and then loaded the cage into the back of a car I borrowed–not a good time for my vehicle to be in the shop! I was anticipating finding two sleepy hens who could be easily removed from their roosts, but no such luck. I tried persuading with food, water, and free-range time in the yard, but they weren’t cooperating. Finally I wrangled them out of the coop by pulling off the top cover and poking a stick to get them to move toward the entrance.

With hair, makeup, clothes, and jewelry still intact, I headed to the studio. Once inside, I noticed that the hens’ feet were a mess, so I scrubbed them with wet, soapy towels. One of the hens is a singer–much too risky for live TV–so we put the chickens in Block B. The studio told me this was the first time they’d had live animals.

It was a whirlwind show and quite random–Blago’s new gigs, the guy who balances stuff on his chin, day care, and chickens! The girls were very well behaved and even sat on the hosts’ laps!

Check out Part I, the lead-in ,here. Part II, the show clip is here:  Home to Roost’s and Jo Schmoe the Buff Orpington’s debut TV appearance. Dinosaur the Australorp also made an appearance (on Jeanne’s lap!), but she’s not in this clip. The show went well, and the hens were very well behaved!

A huge thanks to WCIU for this opportunity.

Advice for Female Entrepreneurs in a Tough Economic Climate

So you’re a woman with a great business idea, but the economy is slowly recovering. Now can’t be a good time to start a business. Right? Wrong!

Anytime is a good time to pursue a passion or a dream!

If you have an exciting idea for a new niche market (like urban chicken consulting), set things in motion. Follow your passion. Go down rabbit trails. Talk to people. Get a buzz going about your idea.

From my experience this spring, it pays to follow your interests and passions. As I mentioned on WCIU this morning, initially I didn’t take urban chicken consulting seriously. But talking to some friends led me to give it a try. Here is some practical advice:

1) Get a presence on the web. WordPress blogs are a free and easy way to get a web presence.

2) Put together a presentation/workshop/class. Market this, or do it for free, to get the buzz going.

3) Have a gimmick. My chicken purse gets attention and gives me a natural way to talk about what I do.

4) Network, network, network. Print business cards and hand them out. Talk to friends, family, coworkers, people on the L, in elevators…

5) Offer freebies or give-aways. Let people sample your product or idea. Give them a chance to try it! They’ll love it!

6) Find a niche. Do you have something unusual and unique to offer? Wrap it up and starting marketing it, and then see what happens!

As Jeanne and Melissa mentioned this morning on the U, there are also workshops to attend, such as the Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference, tomorrow, 9/22/2010, at McCormick Place.

You go, girl!

Urban Farm Showcase/Job Training, Sept. 25, 2010

Employment Training Showcase at Growing Home’s Wood Street Urban Farm Saturday, September 25th, 10am-3pm.

814 S. Wood St.

Admission: $5 suggested donation OR used, plastic grocery bags for our farm stand

Growing Home provides job training through an organic agriculture business and is located in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.

-Work Opportunity Tax Credit information for employers
-Seasonal refreshments made by our interns, with our own organic produce
-Farm stand
-Tours of the farm

  • Seed Tapes
  • Keeping Produce Fresh
  • Growing Great Garlic
  • Brewing and Using Compost Tea
  • Building an Urban Root Cellar
  • Herb Drying
  • Growing an Indoor Salad Bowl

9/21 Home to Roost to Appear on WCIU

We’re scheduled to appear on WCIU between 7:30 and 8:30 AM on Sept. 21. Tune in to hear more about urban chickens!

Penny the Quail: The Final Chapter

Penny the quail passed away suddenly, though not unexpectedly, on August 18, 2010.  I was in PA with my family, when Kat of My Paws and Claws petsitting called with the sad news. She had died suddenly between 7:00 and 7:30 AM.

Penny enjoys her dirt and sprouted seeds.


Penny had a rough July. She developed watery diarrhea and stopped eating. The vet found she was anemic, and I hand fed her for over three weeks, syringefuls of food mixed with meds. She was a sick little bird.

When she finally got back to her normal self, we’d go for walks. I’d carry her to a nice grassy spot. We’d sit outside, and she’d dust, eat grass, and do other quail stuff while I kept a close eye on her. We’d find ants on the sidewalk, and she had great fun chasing them, in a very ADD fashion. She’d see one ant and go running after it. Another ant would come from another direction, and she’d head off after that one!

In August we (Penny, the parakeets, and I) took a road trip to Michigan to see an old high school friend and her family. The girls enjoyed Penny.

Penny and the Frost family

Penny was a cheerful little bird, and I miss her early-morning progressive alarm clock noises and her energetic, cheerful, and sometimes goofy personality.

Life Lessons from Penny the Quail

Penny was patient and gracious with children. She was very easy to handle and never really put up much of a fuss about anything, unless it was getting more romaine lettuce. She ate her vegetables without complaining. In fact, the first time I gave her chopped veggies, she started scratching happily in them, and they went all over the floor! (She later cleaned them up!)

Penny and her new friend Kara

Penny was unapologetically quail. She was always herself, even though that meant being goofy and offbeat sometimes. She was always very clear about what she wanted: greens, dirt, ants, a little more time in the grass. She gave back in big ways: 16 eggs to make an omelette. And she was always willing to snuggle. There is much to be learned there.

Penny and her eggs


Because Penny was a Japanese quail and because she greatly enjoyed hanging out under the ferns in the backyard of the folks who sold me her cage, I bought a Japanese fern for her grave at the Oak Park farmers market.  The purchase was also fitting because the guy who sold me the fern keeps quail. A coincidence? I think not. She is buried under the fern in a lovely garden plot. She is greatly missed.

Penny is buried under a Japanese fern.