Archive for October, 2020

Spooky Chickens Part II: Mike the Headless Chicken

In September 1945, a Colorado farmer named Lloyd Olsen went out to the chicken coop to bring back a chicken for dinner. He chose Mike, a young Wyandotte rooster. After the ax fell, the bird was able to stand up and walk around a little unsteadily, sans head!

Olsen decided to keep the headless chicken and exhibit it at sideshows. He was able to feed Mike using an eyedropper. According to Wikipedia, at the peak of Mike’s earning power, he brought in $4,500 per month (equivalent to $51,525 in 2019).

Apparently, in his clumsy attempt to cut off the rooster’s head, Olsen left most of the brain stem intact. For an explanation of the science behind Mike’s survival, see the video below. Mike still attempted to preen, peck for food, and crow, although his “crowing” resulted in a strange gurgling sound in his throat.

This Crunch video explores the science behind Mike’s ability to live without a head.

Unfortunately, Mike passed away a year and a half later. But his fame outlives him, and every spring the city of Fruita, Colorado holds a Mike the Headless Chicken Festival.

The Electrifying Chicken Art of Heid In My World

Digital artist Heide Royer has a thing for chickens. She received her first set of chickens at Christmas 2019 and, chicken math being what it is, she now has a total of 60!

It was only natural that Heide turned to drawing pictures of her birds. “I discovered that chicken people love chicken art,” she said. “I got a great response to the first chicken portraits I did. Now my house looks like a chicken art gallery.” Heide raises her chickens and other animals on a ranch near Weatherford, Texas, appropriately named the “Cock ‘n’ Roll Ranch.”

She calls her electrifying chicken portraits “kinetic art.” Heide starts by sketching the bird, then she moves to a digital tablet to add the kinetic elements, including strokes of digital “electricity.”

“If I look at an animal spiritually, I can see its soul shining out. That is what I attempt to capture in my portraits,” she said.

The response to her artwork has been gratifying and heartwarming. “I found my chicken people,” Heide says. “I feel very, very blessed that I have the chance to create this art for others. In a time when people are losing their jobs, I can bring this joy to them.”

Heide also creates portraits of dogs and other animals, and accepts commissions from pet owners. View her work at

Spooky Chicken Tales, Part I: Rooster Burned at the Stake

In 1474, the townspeople of Basel, Switzerland gathered to watch a bizarre sight: a rooster being burned at the stake, with all the solemn ceremony usually reserved for a human transgressor.

The rooster was sentenced to this terrible fate “for the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg,” according to Johann Gross, who wrote an account of the incident in 1624. Witchcraft was suspected, and the magistrates of Basel sentenced the cock to the same punishment usually reserved for witches.

Folks back then were especially afraid of an egg laid by a rooster, because of the superstition that this egg could hatch a basilisk or cockatrice, a terrifying, winged creature with the head of a cock and tail of a serpent. This creature could kill with a glance.

Beware of eggs laid by roosters: people used to believe they could hatch a cockatrice!

The good people of Basel had no idea that such gender-bending can happen in chickens, and it’s a perfectly natural occurrence. I wrote a blog post about this rare phenomenon: “It’s a Hen… or Maybe Not! Gender-Bending Chickens.” In rare cases, roosters can start laying eggs, and hens can begin to crow… and it’s not the result of witchcraft.


Learn more about the trials of animals accused of witchcraft:

“Nature on Trial: The Case of the Rooster that Laid an Egg,” by E. V. Walter

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals
By Edward Payson Evans

Most popular accessory: the Chicken Purse!

Jen with Chicken Purse
The enterprising chicken consultant with her chicken purse, in April 2010!

The chicken purse is enjoying a moment.

“This season’s hottest purse is a rubber chicken ‘henbag,’” crows the New York Post. On Instagram, folks are posting selfies taken while holding their chicken purses, hashtag #chickenpurse.

May I point out that I saw the possibilities of the chicken purse more than 10 years before it became big?

Here’s an excerpt from a blog post I wrote nearly 10 years ago to the day:

“Might I recommend the snazzy and memorable rubber chicken purse, not to be confused with the dead rubber chicken? This nice, roomy handbag can hold wallet, keys, business cards, dental floss, Altoids, camera bag, pens, CTA card, Post-It notes, gloves, flashlight, spare pair of shoes…

The rubber chicken purse makes a definite statement. I’m not quite sure what that statement is yet, but I’ve found that people remember the purse more than they remember me. Either that, or they leave lots of room on either side of me as I walk down the street.”

I guess I am just ahead of my time when it comes to chicken fashion!


Chicken-Keeping Basics — Online Class with Des Plaines Library, Nov. 14, 2020

Are you new to chicken keeping, or thinking about getting your own coop? Learn how to raise chicks and care for adult birds during the “Chicken-Keeping Basics Class” with Home to Roost, hosted by Des Plaines Public Library on Nov. 14, 10:30am – 12:30pm.

Registration information is available here. This online class is open to all.

Photographer Liz McCrory’s Chicken Portraits Set Hearts Aflutter

  • Chicken portraits by photographer Liz McCrory

Photographer Liz McCrory of Kosmic Studio has embarked on an unusual project that caught our attention here at Home to Roost — portraits of pet chickens!

The Hoffman Estates, IL photographer decided to immortalize people’s birds using the same photographic techniques and equipment she uses with her human subjects. We think the results are quite impressive, presenting these birds as little works of art.

“For this project I wanted to remove chickens from the typical coop setting, and place them in front of a formal backdrop with professional lighting,” Liz explains. “Some of the photos use backdrops I painted myself, and some are composites created after the shoot. My goal was to show the beauty and dignity of these sweet animals.”

Their personalities shine through as well. “I find chickens fascinating–they’re sweet and affectionate, while being somewhat wild at the same time. I recently learned that birds evolved directly from dinosaurs, and I love to look at their fierce eyes and reptilian feet and picture a tiny dinosaur looking back at me,” Liz said.

If you would like your favorite hen or rooster immortalized in a portrait, Liz said she would be happy to hear from you at

Liz will be branching out from chickens to include other animals, starting with horses and puppies. You can follow Liz’s photographic journey on Instagram at @lizmccroryphoto.

Darien, IL Residents Win the Right to Keep Backyard Chickens

Darien resident Melissa Goodridge and her chicken coop

On Monday Oct. 5, the Darien, IL City Council voted unanimously that city residents have a right to keep chickens in their backyards. This ruling ends weeks of controversy that began when a Darien resident, Melissa Goodridge, wound up with 4 hens and a rooster instead of the 5 hen chicks she thought she was getting.

Her story may be an inspiration to those in other communities who hope to change their local ordinances to allow chickens.

A neighbor called the local alderman to complain about the rooster’s noise, and the local council reacted by considering a ban on all backyard chickens in Darien.

“Darien had no ordinance on chickens, which allowed residents to own chickens without a problem,” Melissa said. “The change… was led by the alderman who received one complaint about my rooster.”

Once the ball was rolling, Melissa felt the need to fight because she didn’t want to be the reason all chicken owners in Darien would lose the right to keep their birds.

“I created a petition that created waves in social media, but the local council couldn’t care less,” she recalls. By the time of the ruling, hundreds of people had signed the online petition.

What did get their attention, it seems, were the residents who sent emails to council members about the issue after reading about it on social media.

In addition, “I worked closely with a local politician who would like to remain anonymous. They were a big help in advising me about the logistics of it all,” Melissa said.

“I think the fact that there were so many residents who already had chickens helped. [Council members] knew prohibiting chickens would cause a big issue.”

The new regulations limit the number of hens to six, mandating privacy fences and requiring permits. And, of course, no roosters.

No one here but us girls!