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Willy Street Coop

Earlier this Spring, Martha “You’re Not Doing It Right” Stewart dedicated an entire episode of her popular daytime TV show to the subject of backyard chickens. For this icon of bourgeois living to spend an hour of national television on topics like pasting-up and cracked-corn scratch surely means that urban chicken keeping has reached a level of ubiquity not seen since the Depression. But it wasn’t economic downturn that sparked the current revival of backyard chicken keeping (in fact, properly establishing a backyard flock can be quite an investment); it was the eat-local movement and growing interest in urban homesteading. In this respect, keeping a few laying hens is a natural extension of vegetable gardening—not only are the eggs a homegrown protein source, but the manure also makes great fertilizer when properly composted. If the sold-out “City Chickens 101” class held in the Co-op’s Community Room this April is any indication, Madison is already keen to these and other benefits of backyard chicken-keeping. To support our Owners in this effort, Willy Street Co-op now carries a variety of supplies to start and maintain a backyard flock.

Because raising backyard chickens for eggs is the ultimate way to eat locally, it would defeat the purpose if the chickens themselves didn’t eat local. To that end we offer Nature’s Grown organic chicken feed milled by Heartland Country Co-op in Westby, Wisconsin. For chicks we have 19% protein starter crumbles that are suitable from day one to point-of-lay (16% or 18% grower feed is also available by special order). For hens we have 16% layer feed that is higher in calcium for the production of eggshells. A word of warning: keep your chickies out of the layer feed, as the extra calcium is bad for their kidneys.

While we carry both the starter and layer feeds in typical 50-pound bags, we are excited to be the only source in Madison for bulk chicken feed! Not only is this handy for those who travel by foot or bike, it’s also a great way to lessen the risk of vermin infesting your feed stores.

We carry feeders and fountains made by Miller Manufacturing located 20 minutes outside of the Twin Cities. The chicks get a galvanized Mason jar feeder. Just fill a quart jar with feed, screw on the base, and flip it over. The chick fountain works the same way, but it’s made of red plastic. We chose this over the galvanized fountain because it’s important for chicks to drink as soon as they hatch (either from an egg or priority mail carton) and they are attracted to the color red. Make sure they take a drink before they eat.

For full-grown chickens, we have access to feeders that hold anywhere from 12 to 40 pounds, and fountains in 2-, 3-, 5-, or 8-gallon sizes. Also look for heated fountain bases this fall.

If you’re going to feed your chickens table scraps—and this is a great way to complete the circle that goes from garden to table to chicken to poop to compost and back to garden—you’ll need to offer a source of grit. Chickens fill their gizzards with grit to aid in digestion. Food is passed back and forth from the stomach to the gizzard where the grit grinds it in to tinier and tinier pieces. Grit doesn’t stay in the gizzard indefinitely though, so chickens need a constant source. Free-range chickens consume their own grit by pecking at the ground, but chickens kept in a run need it supplied for them. We carry 5-pound bags of insoluble granite grit by Manna Pro.

Food-grade diatomaceous earth is a highly effective way to control parasites organically. Just sprinkle it in any dry area that your chickens dust-bathe, and the tiny, fossilized diatoms will dehydrate and kill parasites on contact. Food-grade is a must for the safety of chickens and humans. Willy Street Co-op carries 4.4-pound bags of St. Gabriel’s Organics food-grade diatomaceous earth. Follow directions on the label for safe handling.

You’ll need more than supplies to get your flock off the ground. Doing proper research will ensure a happy and successful chicken-keeping experience. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow is a must-have resource for the backyard chicken keeper. It’s information-heavy and doesn’t shy away from some of the more unpleasant aspects of raising chickens. If you’d like a lighter but still informative read, we also carry Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock by Ashley English. This book focuses specifically on backyard chicken keeping, and is filled with great firsthand advice.

Beyond the items mentioned here, just about any backyard poultry supply you can imagine is available by special order—we’d love to carry it all in store, but have to leave room for groceries. I’d also like to mention that there are a few backyard chicken-keepers on staff here at the Co-op, myself included, who are always willing to answer questions. Just ask for a chicken expert at the Customer Service desk, but be sure to specify that you don’t mean the Meat department.