It didn’t take long for Eggnog and Jerk Chicken to find a new home, thanks to the woman who connects peeps.
The tale of two chickens goes like this: Hannah Stern’s boyfriend was buying feed for her two hens at Nutzy Mutz & Crazy Catz, Liz Perry’s natural pet food store, when he asked for advice on keeping the feathered pair warm through the winter.
Perry said the best way to keep them toasty in the henhouse was ... to add more chickens.
And she knew of two, recently found abandoned beneath an Oregon porch.
“We’re not sure if they escaped from somebody’s coop or if somebody couldn’t take care of them anymore and set them free,” said Stern, who doubled the size of her brood by adopting the strays. Eggnog and Jerk Chicken quickly became so beloved Stern featured them, along with their coop-mates Schizo and Butterfat, in a photo on her 2011 Christmas card.
And so goes another happy ending for the “Urban Chicken Network: Connecting Peeps,” Perry’s one-woman, volunteer re-homing enterprise that since 2008 has linked an estimated 230 homeless chickens with families willing to make room for one more on the roost.
Stray chickens sent Perry’s way
Madison’s reputation for chicken love is so well-known — in 2004 it became legal to keep up to four hens at a single-family home — that when animal control officers in Milwaukee, Chicago, Evanston and Skokie, Ill., pick up a stray, they often send it Perry’s way to find a new home for it here.
Chicken buffs say they adore their pets for their low maintenance, the tasty eggs they provide, and their unique and often funny personalities. But the craze also has created an uptick in displaced fowl.
Twice during the summer, Perry rushed to a Madison post office to pick up chicks that were shipped from a hatchery but never picked up by the person who ordered them. When an organic egg producer periodically replaces hens with higher-yielding, younger birds, he also knows whom to call.
“What he says is, ‘I need homes for 80 chickens. Otherwise they’re going into
the soup pot,’ ” Perry said, “which is enough incentive for me to find homes for them.”
When authorities get a stray chicken alert — at most once a month — “We all think it’s quite fun (to retrieve them), because a lot of us officers have chickens of our own,” said Cheri Carr, an animal services officer for the Department of Public Health for Madison and Dane County. She owns 28 chickens and two roosters on her rural Dane County land, is an active contributor to the tip-sharing chat group on madcitychickens.com and will organize the annual Mad City Chicken public coop tour this summer.
Compared with dealing with vicious dogs and wayward cats, “chickens are really a benign aspect of what we do,” Carr said. “Occasionally a neighbor will call when a chicken wanders into their yard, but a lot of times they’re reclaimed even before we get there.”
Humane Society adds coop
When the Dane County Humane Society received a surrender of 18 chickens on Feb. 6, it temporarily housed some of them in its new, $3,000 chicken coop. The coop, which wasn’t meant to open until spring, was built in response to a trend: In 2007, the Humane Society received two homeless hens, but by 2011, that number rose to 42 hens and five roosters.
“We get a lot that are just dropped off in cat carriers at our front door overnight,” said adoption counselor Betsy Halat. The biggest challenge is placing roosters, which aren’t allowed in Madison because of their crowing.
Most chickens at the shelter are housed in dog kennels and taken outside occasionally in caged dog runs. As with dogs, the Humane Society provides chickens with “enrichment” — usually a ball with a hole in it stuffed with Cheerios or oatmeal to dig out — to calm them and keep them busy.
“We started it with a couple of roosters, and now we do it with all our chickens,” Halat said. “If they were outside they’d be busy digging and scratching, not just sitting on newspaper.”
As the Humane Society raises money to build an outdoor pen to attach to its chicken coop, it also hopes to increase the number of households on its waiting list to adopt chickens.
“It almost feels inevitable that there are going to be more chickens,” said spokeswoman Gayle Viney, “based on what we’ve seen this year.”