Archive for the ‘Weird chicken stuff’ Category

Residents of Key West Cry “Fowl” over Feral Chickens

A rooster roaming free in Key West.

Visitors to Key West can’t help but notice the chickens that wander around town, pecking at discarded French fries and potato chips and nesting in alleys and vacant lots. They make for charming tourist photo ops, but some of the locals are understandably annoyed by the frequent crowing at all hours, chicken droppings on sidewalks and door stoops, and even the threatening behavior of some of the more aggressive roosters.

These feral chickens are well fed–even without scraps of food from humans, they can feast on Florida’s abundant foliage and insect population. But some residents purchase bags of food for the critters, and feeding the chickens is a favorite tourist activity. The result: an exploding feral chicken population.

The wild chickens are considered an invasive species. As the chicken population spreads up the Keys, there is concern that they could crowd out some of the last remaining native species of the islands. As Tom Sweets, Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Center points out, chickens don’t have many natural predators in Key West.

“We get hawks migrating through but they don’t really get the numbers down,” he said in an article for WFSU News.

On the other hand, organic farmers in the Keys welcome the chickens, because they are excellent foragers for bugs that could damage their crops, and their droppings make excellent fertilizer.

Enough people complained to local government about the birds that the Key West City Commission recently passed an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of feral chickens within city limits.

We at Home to Roost approve of this approach to controlling the chicken population, especially because feeding chickens fast food and random table scraps is bad for their health. Chickens are very good at foraging for their own food, especially in a lush environment like Key West.

Another solution that locals favor is to trap the chickens (without harming them) and bring them to the Key West Wildlife Center. Then the chickens are transported to farms and stables on the Florida mainland.

The chicken has become an unofficial symbol of the island, frequently seen on t-shirts, caps, and artwork for sale in Key West boutiques. When I visited the island a few years ago, I fondly remember the Funky Chicken Store. Visiting a vacation area where the chickens run free has its charms, as long as the local chicken population is managed responsibly.

Out-Of-This-World Chicken Coops

We love how some chicken keepers express their quirky personalities in the coops they build (and, incidentally, their science fiction/fantasy fandom). These coops may push the boundaries of practicality, but we admire the creative vision expressed in these designs!

  • TARDIS Chicken Coop

Build your own creative henhouse!

Do you have some ideas for a fantastic chicken coop design? Once you have built your chicken castles in the air, give them a firm foundation by signing up for my online class, “Chicken Coop Basics” on July 7, 6:30-8:30pm. Learn the essential components of a chicken coop, important construction tips, and different coop styles. More information is available Here!

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.

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

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!


Chickens Reduce Malaria Risk

Yet another great reason to love chickens! The next time you’re in Ethiopia, sleep with a chicken to reduce your risk of getting bitten by the malaria-carrying mosquito!

Chicken Hitch-Hiker!

One day Zag the chicken decides to roost in an odd place, and, like Mary’s little lamb… makes it to school! Then it becomes a habit. Read more here. 


Classical Music Leads to More Eggs

We all knew that Mozart produces eggheads, but how about eggs!? Classical music can increase hens’ productivity, according to a farmer in the UK. Classicalight* covers the story here. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA*Home to Roost had credited Louise Burton with writing this story; please accept our apologies, as the author was Brick Dozer.


Tinsel the Bear Chooses Plucky Denmates

Apparently humans aren’t the only chicken fanciers. A baby bear was recently found hiding out in a chicken coop in British Columbia. For more information, check out the link!

Rooster Saved from Drowning by Young Farmer

A feathered contestant at the Kenosha County Fair was saved from drowning in his bathwater by his owner. Frank the rooster took in some water while getting cleaned up for the big event. Frank’s owner performed CPR on the bird. Frank paid him back by winning a red ribbon. Read the story here. 

As for bathing chickens, they’re generally not fond of it.