Archive for the ‘My chicken stories’ Category

Odd Health Conditions: Chicken with Curled Toes



Being an urban chicken consultant means encountering a lot of unusual chicken health conditions. I recently heard from James and Sarah. Their pullet Ruby had an odd condition: the toes were curled up on one of her feet, and Ruby was having trouble walking.

“She couldn’t put any weight on her feet. Whenever she tried to walk and put pressure on that foot, she would sort of slip and fall,” James told me. He had tried Googling her symptoms but was unable to find information on her exact condition.

I realized that Ruby was suffering from curled toe paralysis, a condition that is caused by a vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) deficiency. The treatment: vitamin B2 drops and a splint for the affected area. James isolated her from the other hens and gave her a few drops every day.

“It took her about 3 weeks to a month to recover, but she’s healed,” James reports. “She’s walking normally and her foot doesn’t bother her at all.”

James offers kudos for Home to Roost: “Jen’s service was great. Seeing how she handled hens gave us more confidence to help Ruby out. Jen was able to tell us what was wrong and what our options would be. This is our first time keeping chickens, and having her help and knowledge was really useful!”

Here is a lovely “after” photo of Ruby, with toes uncurled!


Kids, Dirt, and Allergies

I grew up in a rural, agrarian community, and my mom has stories to tell about not being able to keep me clean: I was always in the dirt. We have a picture of my one-year-old self sitting at the base of the washline pole in my diaper, with dirt all over me! My next-door neighbor and I used to slide under the electric fence and go play in the cow pasture. I’d dig around in streambeds, looking for tadpoles, hellgrammites, planaria, and anything else of interest; rescue toads from window wells; go visit my grandfather’s steers and hogs… and then there was the night when my cousin and I got up at midnight to run around in the chicken coop in our bare feet…

Yeah, there were a lot of germs, parasites, creepy-crawlies, and other stuff involved in my childhood. I didn’t get ragingly ill or die of any bacterial infections — just the ordinary childhood stuff: chicken pox, colds, and the like.

Many parents today are afraid that their kids will get sick from contact with animals, and I think this is the child’s loss, from a life-experience perspective and from an overall health perspective. A little healthy inoculation of our bodies with germs every now and then serves to strengthen our immune systems, making our bodies more resistant to disease.

A 2012 study on Amish children raised on farms shows a much lower incidence of asthma and allergies, strengthening the idea that a little dirt won’t kill you; in fact, it’s a good thing! NBC covered the story and the original article in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology can be found here.

So let your kids run around in the chicken coop and handle the birds! It’s good for body and soul!

Columbia College Student Covers Home to Roost in a Documentary Film

Check out the humorous, witty, and cinematographically pleasing results of hours of being followed by a camera and hooked up to a microphone! Mary Horan, a Columbia College student followed me for a few months to get a variety of footage, most of it involving urban poultry!

As it turns out, my wacky sense of humor comes out, as does my passion for chickens!

Judge for yourself! You’ll find the video at the bottom of the page on this link! Spend some time looking at the other films on the page, too!

Chicks in the City

By Mary Horan

The Urban Chicken Consultant Recommends: The Chicken Store

Back in 2000, I went on a cruise with my friends Bill and Vickie. We were biking around Key West, and I spotted a bike with a license plate that said “The Chicken Store.” I quickly flagged our tour guide, who didn’t understand my enthusiasm, but nevertheless agreed to take us to the Chicken Store on Duval Street.

Apparently Key West has feral chickens. Lots of ’em. They hatch cute fuzzy little chicks, the roosters crow, they cross the road, they annoy residents. And people abuse them by breaking their legs, shooting them with BB guns, and other such nonsense.

The Chicken Store takes in the injured chickens and rehabilitates them, and then adopts them out. They sell all kinds of great chicken-related paraphernalia to help with the rescue efforts. Next time you’re in Key West, check out this store!

There are pictures of the chickens of Key West, as well as chicken-related merchandise, on their site:

Traveling Chicks Land in Illinois

The call of the day was FedEx at OHare – with a box of chicks that had been there since Saturday. They were on their way to Arizona and got stuck in IL. I picked them up this AM.

There were eight (out of 13) still alive and healthy when I got them. I had to teach them to eat and drink, though. They were from McMurray Hatchery, hatched 2/4, and the label said barred cochin bantams (5), light Brahma bantams (1), Araucana bantams (2), Rhode Island red bantams (5). The hatchery sent a replacement shipment to AZ, so these guys are now Illini! They now have a great home on the south side!

Strange Coincidences Around My Urban Chicken Consulting Business

Strange coincidences have sprung up around my urban chicken consulting business. To name a few:

A few years ago, I purchased a chicken purse…(The Urban Chicken Consultant Recommends… the Rubber Chicken Purse!). Have chicken purse, will travel – and, boy, the places that thing has taken me…

In the spring of 2008, if memory serves, the chicken purse and I went to see my accountant, Stewart, who lives in the Austin neighborhood. He said, “You have a chicken purse!” I explained to him that I had chickens when I was a kid. As it turns out, Stewart was interested in getting chickens… in his backyard… in Austin… in Chicago.

Stewart and friend - is this chicken Playboy or Vogue?

This was rather shocking news to me. He told me about the urban agriculture movement and planted the suggestion that folks in Chicago might benefit from a chicken consultant. Inspired, I designed business cards, mostly as a joke, on Vista Print!

Fastforward to late winter/early spring of 2010, before I started being serious about urban chicken consulting: My friend Jane attended a benefit event in Oak Park. She found an unusual silent auction item: a low-carbon footprint chicken coop. The donor: Seamus Ford. Jane also spotted an ad for Earth Fest and suggested that I contact Seamus and get a booth at Earth Fest. I was a little incredulous, but sure, why not?

I looked up Seamus on LinkedIn, and there he was! As it turned out, Seamus was a neighbor of Stewart, my account. Stewart and his wife had talked to both Seamus and me about each other, but never by name! We talked for a bit on the phone, and then met at Red Hen on March 28 to talk about this crazy idea – urban chicken consulting – really? All right… So on April 1, I started this blog, officially hanging out my shingle, and Seamus and I staffed a booth at Earth Fest.

Seamus and I shared a booth at Earth Fest.

Bruce Caughran hired me and called  Terry Dean of the Wednesday Journal to cover my first media event, setting up chickens in Bruce’s backyard: Home to Roost Makes the Paper! Oddly enough, I ran into both Bruce and Terry the day before my appearance on WCIU in September.

Bruce and Ailsa with the lovely a-frame coop made by Alcuin Middle School

Still more oddly, hours after the WCIU appearance, which dealt with inspiring female entrepreneurs, I got a cold call from a woman in California who wants to start her own urban chicken consulting business. She was calling me for tips, pointers, ideas, and other information. She had no idea I’d just been on TV, talking about female entrepreneurs and chickens – she had found me on AOL’s WalletPop (more on her and her business to come!).

The week of the taping for Chicago Tonight, which airs on 11/4, I met Becky Fogel of Vocalo radio station in Caribou Coffee on Lake Street. Because it was too loud for a recorded interview, we headed to Red Hen, sitting at the same table where Seamus Ford and I sat on March 28. Who happened by Red Hen? None other than Stewart, my accountant!

There have been a number of times when I’ve felt that things have come full circle in this crazy ride that is urban chicken consulting. But the circle moves, redefines itself, and comes full circle again – but in a different way.

I’ve done only word-of-mouth and social media advertising, and to date I have two TV appearances; a upcoming radio spot; and several newspaper, internet, and magazine articles; as well as a film student from Columbia who is producing a documentary covering my avian adventures.

Coincidence? Perhaps not. Maybe just a confirmation that I’m in the right place at the right time. I’m excited to see what surprises are around the corner for the chicken purse and me!

My First Chickens

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Roll back the years to 1985. I was in fourth grade, Mr. Summers’ science class. We did a project on embryology, lining up rows of white eggs marked + and 0, pointed end slightly downward, in a white styrofoam incubator. I remember peering through the plastic windows, looking at those eggs. Twenty-one days is a long time when you’re only 10 years old.

Mr. Summers taught us how to candle the eggs with a flashlight to determine the viability of the embryo. The phrase “one rotten egg spoils the whole bunch”… oh, wait, that’s the Swedish version… nevertheless, it’s true. Gases escaping from an infertile or unviable egg can ruin the hatch. We pulled those out and threw them away.

We used a scalpel and cut a tiny window in one hard calcium shell, using wax to seal it off with plastic wrap. Blood vessels carried oxygen-rich fluid to a tiny heart, beating a pulse of new life. I liked the egg with the window and candling. How exciting to see something come from nothing, a tiny life form from what would otherwise be breakfast.

The days passed. We turned the eggs. More days passed. And finally one day, there was moisture on the incubator windows. A tiny yellow chick, wet, weak, and weary, had arrived. The rest of the flock soon followed, and before long the little guys were dry, energetic balls of fluff.

Sadly, the one we’d had a window on, whose development we’d watched with curiosity over the last three weeks, didn’t make it. Like Schroedinger’s cat, it seemed the very observation of life in the making destroyed it. My 10-year-old’s heart was sad for that chick and sorry that our curiosity and desire to know more had killed it.

Did we want to take some home? was the question Mr. Summers posed. Of course, yes! My two little chicks landed in a cardboard box behind the chair in the living room. They were soon joined by my friend Sam’s chicks (her parents decided that chickens weren’t a good idea) and a fuzzy buff-colored chick from my Pappy. I’d inspect the box of avian energy several times a day, to which my mother said, “Don’t pester those chicks! You’ll kill them!”

Far from that: After all my high-quality handling, those were some of the tamest white Leghorns on the planet. Personalities became evident, and naming soon followed: Baby, the sweet, docile hen; Jitterbug, the slightly schizo, easily startled hen; Hot Stuff, alpha male; and his subservient sidekick, Little Boy. The buff-colored one, well, she  was just Red Hen.

A life-long fascination (obsession?) with chickens and other fowl followed hard on the heels of those first little fuzzy critters. I soon had my own incubator. I sold chicks at Easter, eggs to the neighbors, boxes of fowl at stock market. Ducks, peafowl, turkeys, quail, golden pheasants, geese, pigeons… The incubator was running almost all summer, and I candled and turned, and turned and candled, enjoying taking part in the process of new life. But I never cut a hole in an egg to watch a chick grow.