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Continued: Back-yard chicken trend comes home to roost

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 8, 2013 - 10:09 PM

Tim Schmit of Nowthen typically sells his chickens via Craigslist in the fall and buys new ones in the spring. He hasn’t had trouble finding homes for his birds, he said. “People buy them.”

Pets or producers

Al Bourgeois of St. Louis Park, a k a “the Chicken Enthusiast,” has taught classes on urban chicken-keeping for four years. Over that time, his curriculum has evolved to include a cautionary section. “I cover all the reasons you should not get chickens,” he said, to deter those with unrealistic expectations. Such as?

“No. 1. They stop laying eggs after four or five years. But they live 10 to 12 years,” he said. “You will have an unproductive hen, and you need to be OK with that.”

“No. 2. It is some work,” he added. “If you want to make no effort at all, you shouldn’t have gotten chickens in the first place. I bet I have deterred some people.”

There are also some health risks, both to humans and the birds, associated with keeping chickens in urban areas, according to Alyssa Herreid, a graduate student in public health at the University of Minnesota, who has been surveying back-yard chicken keepers in Minneapolis and St. Paul as part of her master’s project on disease transmission in urban poultry.

“My biggest finding is that a lot of people don’t know about diseases and are completely unconcerned,” she said. Most of them report getting their information via the Internet. “We need a better way to inform these back-yard chicken keepers.”

Dr. John Baillie, a veterinarian with Cedar Pet Clinic Lake Elmo and president of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association, is seeing a lot more chickens in his practice.

“It’s been a noticeable increase over the last three years,” he said. Most of his feathered patients are wanted pets, he said, and their owners are conscientious. “By the time they come to see me, they’re pretty committed to their birds.”

Common avian health problems include respiratory problems, trauma injuries caused by dogs or wild animals, frostbite and reproductive problems. “Birds’ bodies aren’t designed to lay eggs daily for five to six years,” he said. Selective breeding has resulted in birds that produce eggs to the point of exhaustion and disease.

That’s one reason the Clouses don’t eat eggs and don’t believe chickens should be kept to produce eggs at all. “We don’t want anybody eating eggs. People think an endless supply of eggs is natural, but there’s nothing natural about it,” she said. “People are using them [chickens] for food, but they don’t know or understand what impact that has on the animal.”

The Clouses recently started spaying their hens, and allow adoptions only to people who want chickens as companion animals. “Our rescues need homes, not jobs,” she said.


Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784


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