Archive for the ‘Poultry Facts & Fiction’ Category

Montanans: Dependence or Independence?

Montana IS the last best place. “The trailhead to the West”… we are actually the bulk of the remaining Old West in America. Montanans are known to be self-regulating, trailblazing, get-your-laws-off-me sort of people. They prefer to do it themselves, as befits the progeny of the pioneers and cattlemen who first settled this area.

Montana likewise draws those sort of people from other states, much to native Montanans chagrin I’m sure, but those of us who weren’t blessed enough to be born here got here as quickly as we could. We are proud of the Montana heritage and appreciate our adoptive state.

This very independent-minded pioneer spirit is why I find it so confusing that Billings, Montana has a few residents (and a few elected officials) who are so adamant against giving us the right to raise a few hens in our own backyards. Seriously? They find it somehow better and more admirable to trundle up to the grocery or big box store to fork over greenbacks for eggs, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce. Ignoring entirely the sheer and scientifically provable inferiority of those store-bought versions of what we can actually produce ourselves, the fact that they are willing to be told what they can eat by the grocery store chain (probably home-based in New Jersey) is just absolutely confusing.

The whole thing just strikes me as, well, laziness. Sure, it’s easier to go buy something ready-made, even if it is of known lesser quality. But does “easier” make it right? Is it right to be willing to sit back and accept the horrific and inhumane living conditions of battery-cage hens, to pay good money for chemical-laden produce shipped from thousands of miles away, or to prevent ourselves and our neighbors from having the ability to produce some of our own foods in an urban setting, simply because it is easier?

There is a whole Chicken Little “the sky is falling! The sky is falling!” mentality with these folks. From worst-possible-case-scenarios to just blatant disdain to the point of hatred, they are willing to use any excuse to try to browbeat others into submission. “Line up and take your handout like the rest of us, quit trying to do something better with your life!” This is not our heritage, Montana.

I guarantee that when our forefathers started packing the wagons and saddling the horses to head out to Montana, they heard a lot of their neighbors squawking about how much easier it is to stay in “civilization” where there are grocery stores and butcher shops. And as we can see from looking at any current census map, there are many more folks in our United States who decided against trying their own hand at providing for themselves and their families, and chose to stay with the crowd where they could be safe. But for the million-or-so there are of us in this great state, being told where to live and what to eat and what we can do with our own property wasn’t acceptable when it was the 1800’s, and it isn’t acceptable now. You don’t want to get a pair of gloves on and grow your own vegetables or raise a few hens? Fine. You’ll keep Walmart in business. But for those of us who do… keep your laws off our hens!


Some Friday Humor

For those who worry about the “coop gleanings”… this says it all:

Chickens 101 with Magic City Hens

This coming Saturday 2/25/12 from 1:30-3:30PM at Good Earth Market downtown, enjoy and learn at CHICKENS 101!! 2 hours of information for only $15. Learn breed selection, care, feeding, seasonal issues, and lots more about these fun and productive birds! Older children are welcome with a parent. Contact TJ at for more information or to sign up!!

Percentage of Major US Cities Allowing Urban Hens

Attached below, please see a database as of 12/21/2011 indicating the 100 largest (by population) cities in the USA and whether they do or do not allow urban hens. For a quick summary, at least 93% of major US cities (according to population ranking) now allow urban hens! This is up from a reported 65% in a November, 2008 article in Newsweek magazine.

Rank City State Allow?
New York New York YES
2 Los Angeles California YES
3 Chicago Illinois YES
4 Houston Texas YES
5 Philadelphia Pennsylvania YES
6 Phoenix Arizona YES
7 San Antonio Texas YES
8 San Diego California YES
9 Dallas Texas YES
10 San Jose California YES
11 Jacksonville[h] Florida YES
12 Indianapolis[g] Indiana YES
13 San Francisco California YES
14 Austin Texas YES
15 Columbus Ohio YES
16 Fort Worth Texas YES
17 Charlotte North Carolina YES
18 Detroit Michigan NO
19 El Paso Texas YES
20 Memphis Tennessee YES
21 Baltimore Maryland YES
22 Boston Massachusetts YES
23 Seattle Washington YES
24 Washington District of Columbia Not yet
25 Nashville [g] Tennessee YES
26 Denver Colorado YES
27 Louisville [g] Kentucky YES
28 Milwaukee Wisconsin YES
29 Portland Oregon YES
30 Las Vegas Nevada YES
31 Oklahoma City Oklahoma YES
32 Albuquerque New Mexico YES
33 Tucson Arizona YES
34 Fresno California YES
35 Sacramento California YES
36 Long Beach California YES
37 Kansas City Missouri YES
38 Mesa Arizona YES
39 Virginia Beach [e] Virginia YES
40 Atlanta Georgia YES
41 Colorado Springs Colorado YES
42 Omaha Nebraska YES
43 Raleigh North Carolina YES
44 Miami Florida YES
45 Cleveland Ohio YES
46 Tulsa Oklahoma YES
47 Oakland California YES
48 Minneapolis Minnesota YES
49 Wichita Kansas YES
50 Arlington Texas YES
51 Bakersfield California YES
52 New Orleans Louisiana YES
53 Honolulu [b] Hawaii YES
54 Anaheim California YES
55 Tampa Florida YES
56 Aurora Colorado NO
57 Santa Ana California YES
58 Saint Louis [d] Missouri YES
59 Pittsburgh Pennsylvania YES
60 Corpus Christi Texas YES
61 Riverside California YES
62 Cincinnati Ohio YES
63 Lexington Kentucky YES
64 Anchorage Alaska YES
65 Stockton California YES
66 Toledo Ohio YES
67 Saint Paul Minnesota YES
68 Newark New Jersey ?
69 Greensboro North Carolina YES
70 Buffalo New York YES
71 Plano Texas NO
72 Lincoln Nebraska YES
73 Henderson Nevada YES
74 Fort Wayne Indiana YES
75 Jersey City New Jersey YES
76 Saint Petersburg Florida YES
77 Chula Vista California YES
78 Norfolk [e] Virginia NO
79 Orlando Florida YES
80 Chandler Arizona YES
81 Laredo Texas YES
82 Madison Wisconsin YES
83 Winston-Salem North Carolina YES
84 Lubbock Texas YES
85 Baton Rouge Louisiana YES
86 Durham North Carolina YES
87 Garland Texas YES
88 Glendale Arizona YES
89 Reno Nevada YES
90 Hialeah Florida YES
91 Chesapeake [e] Virginia YES
92 Scottsdale Arizona YES
93 North Las Vegas Nevada YES
94 Irving Texas YES
95 Fremont California YES
96 Irvine California YES
97 Birmingham Alabama YES
98 Rochester New York YES
99 San Bernardino California ?
100 Spokane Washington YES

What’s Next? Pot Bellied Pigs?

Can I just answer this in one word? No.

To continue, if need be: pets are pets, and none of us should really sit in judgement of someone else’s desire to own a hen, a pot-bellied pig, a dog, a cat, a snake, a turtle, hamsters or gerbils, white rats, or a hippopotamus. HOWEVER… the Billings Backyard HEN Initiative is all about hens. We’re not the Billings Backyard Anything-Goes-For-Pets Initiative, and this group of people (grown to over 150 by late July, 2011) has absolutely no further agenda than to advance the cause of urban hens. Gallus Gallus Domesticus. The quiet, gentle, egg-laying backyard chicken.

Rest easy, Fair and Magic City… we are not the front men/women for some nefarious scheme to overrun our town with winged, hooved (cloven or otherwise), or pawed creatures. We’re just individuals and families who really strongly believe that backyard hens benefit all of us. We want to keep them in clean, enclosed and predator-proof little coops in our backyards, feed them scraps, eat their eggs, and enjoy being a little more self-sufficient. Fret not!! (“>


Grasshopper Patrol

aka Chicken PopcornThey are voracious. With whirring wings and chomping jaws, a cloud (the official name for a group of grasshoppers) can decimate a beautiful, productive garden or crop in a matter of minutes. There was a reason they were one of the plagues on Egypt… they are some nasty little critters.

Enter Gallus Gallus Domesticus… the backyard hen. How many grasshoppers can one hen eat in a day? Opinions vary but they must taste like popcorn (crunchy, slightly salty) because hens do go flat bonkers over the leaping, crawling, creepy-legged little bugs.

You may find that your young hens don’t precisely know what to DO when confronted with their first meal-on-stick-legs. That’s because most chickens now are incubated in mechanical incubators rather than hatched under a fluffy hen’s bum before following her around the yard learning what to eat, how to scratch, etc. That’s ok – instinct will prevail and you can be a Surrogate Mama Hen if even for just a day…

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Bugs-Are-People-Too folk, here’s the drill. Semi-squish a grasshopper, so that it’s still moving a bit but isn’t able to fly/leap to freedom. (I know, I know.) This is best done while capturing a hopper beneath your foot. Supposedly grasshoppers are less active earlier in the morning while the dew’s still on the rose, as they are heat-lovers and the cold makes them stiff. (Even if you can relate, choose not to.) Bring the disabled hopper to your young hens, place it on the ground in front of them, and forming your fingers into a point mimicking the head of mama hen, tap around on the ground and up to the grasshopper. This teaches the young ‘uns that they should follow suit, and the happy circumstance of a grasshopper on a chicken’s palate is the end result. Just because I enjoy doing it, I like to say, “Cheep cheep cheep” at the same time… so they associate both the movement and the sound with food. This works with introducing other types of bugs, snails, slugs, worms, etc as well as garden and kitchen scraps being handed over to the nice chickens. The best thing is, it doesn’t take them long to figure it out and they’ll be eating everything on their own.

The “cheep cheep cheep” thing also gets your chickens used to your voice, and you will forever become their favorite person, as you are the food-bearer.

So since the official ordinance states that chickens are to be kept in clean, enclosed, and predator-proof coops, how will these hens help out with a grasshopper problem unless an unwary hopper happens to leap straight into their pen? Enter the Chicken Tractor, or as they call them over the pond, Chicken Arks (the English tend to have a slightly cuter way of looking at things than do Americans). These are movable, portable pens that can be set down in one part of the yard for a few days before being moved to another… the chickens will scour into the grass for bugs and bug eggs and the like, will apply a light application of fertilizer, and will happily enjoy some salad along with their meat-and-potatoes (or bug and hen feed) courses.

Another real help in the grasshopper patrol issue is young children. Teach kids to catch the hoppers and they will gleefully feed hens, as well as get quite well exercised themselves as they run hither and yon. In this age of obese Americans, from children to adults, it gets kids off the couch and into the yard, running their little hearts strong at the same time that they contribute to the circle of life. This should be a public service announcement on PBS!

Tasty Treat for Hens

Chicken Little and Henny Penny

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

Originally published in Boston in 1840, the story of the chick who mistakenly thinks that the sky is falling when an acorn lands on her head has taken many forms over the years. However, it remains an analogy of people who react with hysteria and fear without having all the facts.

Chicken Little (also known as Henny Penny) rushes around telling the other animals that the sky is falling, the sky is falling! Disaster is imminent! Cocky Lockey, Ducky Lucky, Drakey Lakey, Goosey Loosey, Gander Pander, and Turkey Lurkey all react with fear and rush about in panic, ending up in the lair of Foxy Loxy, who has nefarious plans for them (tastes like chicken). Versions vary, but in our preferred endings, Chicken Little is able to narrowly escape, explain the problems to the King, and disaster is averted for all. And, one presumes, Chicken Little was a little more careful in her reactions from that point. 

As with many children’s stories, the story of Henny Penny/Chicken Little has some great life applications for all of us about the implications of our actions and reactions on the lives of others in our community. Careful fact-checking can have great impact. For Henny Penny and her friends, not only was the sky NOT falling, but what actually fell was a tasty and nutritious treat. Hmmm. Sounds like… the issue of Urban Hens in Billings.