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Pet shop owner fills urban chickens' need to feed -- and scratch

June 15, 2009 |  1:12 pm

A chicken roams a pen at Troy Gardens, a community gardening space in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. When Liz Perry opened her doors at Nutzy Mutz & Crazy Catz in the heart of Madison, Wis., the pet-supply shop owner figured that she carried everything a green-living, animal-loving Midwestern pet owner could want.

She stocked all-natural pet food, meals for pets restricted to a raw diet and goodies designed by local artists. Shelves were filled with recycled cat toys, and there was even furniture that could double as houses for small fuzzy creatures.

What she didn’t expect, however, was customers coming in and routinely asking for chicken scratch.

"People were coming in every week, asking if I carried scratch and organic chicken feed," Perry said. "At first, I thought they were kidding."

Nope. Turns out that in the emerging world of urban homesteading, the state capital of Wisconsin is also a center for growing interest in city dwellers raising chickens in their backyards.

(Poultry fans in Madison persuaded the city's common council to reverse a ban on backyard hens about five years ago. The ordinance -- similar to regulations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore -- allows up to four hens per property. The animals are to be raised for eggs, and must be housed in a coop that is far separated from neighboring homes. Roosters are a no-no.)

So she started carrying chicken feed -- and selling out.

"I can barely keep it in stock," said Perry, whose $21 bags of organic feed will keep up to four hens full for five weeks or longer.

How does that translate for egg prices? Not bad: Each hen will lay an average of one egg a day. That’s nearly 12 dozen eggs -- at less than $2 a dozen.

Along the way, Perry joined the crowd of Mad City Chicken owners. Last year, while dropping off bags of garbage at a dump, she and her husband spotted a featherless hen running through the debris. (Dump workers told her that the animal, somehow, had survived being gassed and dumped by a local chicken factory.)

Perry rescued the bird. But because Perry lived in a nearby community that didn’t allow chickens, she "fostered" Consuela the Chicken with friends.

Now, Consuela is a happy hen. And Perry? She has started the Urban Chicken Network to "connect peeps" -- and help be a feathery matchmaker for those looking for hens and those with too many chicks to handle.

To read more about the clucking over the underground chicken movement, check out The Times story.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A chicken roams a pen at Troy Gardens, a community gardening space in Madison, Wis. Credit: John Hart

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