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Friday, 22 January 2016 09:19

Backyard chickens in Janesville? Poultry expert shares advice, anecdotes

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Dale Wheelock holds a chicken at his town of Darien farm. Wheelock, who writes the “Ask a Poultry Farmer” blog, is a promoter of raising chickens in urban environments as well. The Janesville City Council in October passed its own urban chicken ordinance and voted to allow people living in single-family residences to house up to four chickens and no roosters in backyard coops within city limits. Dale Wheelock holds a chicken at his town of Darien farm. Wheelock, who writes the “Ask a Poultry Farmer” blog, is a promoter of raising chickens in urban environments as well. The Janesville City Council in October passed its own urban chicken ordinance and voted to allow people living in single-family residences to house up to four chickens and no roosters in backyard coops within city limits. Terry Mayer

Editor’s note: Staff writer Margaret Plevak interviewed Dale Wheelock for this “Slice of Life” story.

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- Poultry farmer Dale Wheelock remembers one of his first responsibilities as a 10-year-old farm kid was minding the family’s chickens.

“It was like whitewashing a fence; you begged to take care of the chickens at that age,” he said. “You didn’t understand you had to clean up after them, too.”

Now, after 60 years of raising chickens, turkeys and other waterfowl, Wheelock is the area go-to guy when it comes to poultry. He has an online blog called “Ask a Poultry Farmer,” is an area 4-H team leader in poultry and breeds and sells chickens to 4-H participants as well as hobbyists. He also helped craft an amended ordinance for raising backyard chickens in Walworth County and promotes chicken raising in other areas.

The Janesville City Council in October voted to allow people living in single-family residences to house up to four chickens and no roosters in backyard coops within city limits.

Residents are required to register their chickens with the city and the permit year begins Jan. 1.

Wheelock will host a basic course on raising backyard chickens Feb. 27 as part of Janesville’s Sustainable Living Fair.

A Darien town board member, he and his wife, Barb, live on a 200-acre farm they purchased in 1977, with, among other animals, about 50 chickens.

“I always said I don’t drive to work,” he said. “I walk outside and I’m surrounded by it.”

Share a sunny side-up slice of life with Wheelock:

Why chickens?

It’s an enjoyable hobby, but you’re not going to make money at raising chickens, particularly the backyard ones. It costs you more than you get out of it. If you think you’re going to save money on your eggs, it’s never going to happen with four or six chickens.

I think it’s the back to earth, natural food, raise your own food, know where your food comes from type thing that’s started the interest, but I think you have a wide spectrum. Some people just do it on a lark. Some people are dead serious and get so far carried away that I just shake my head.

Farm sense

Many people are so far removed from the farm that they have no idea and they’re just scared of what could happen. Cities are afraid they’re going to have to chase loose chickens down. Well, they won’t be out there very long. If the neighbor doesn’t get them, the dogs or raccoons or coyotes or something will get them. And it’s not going to be a big problem.

It takes five chickens to equal the waste from one medium dog. So you can have two Rottweilers and keep them anyplace you want. Other than a dog license, what else do you have to have in the city to have dogs? There’s a limit (to how many you can own). But you can put your doghouse right at your lot line, right under your neighbor’s bedroom window and the dogs can bark all night long. Nobody sees a problem with that.

Which came first --

the rooster or the egg?

(One of the most common questions I get asked is) do you need a rooster to get eggs? The answer is no, but people think you do.

I know some people don’t like their crowing, but it’s not that big. It’s not near as bad as a little yappy dog.

If you have two or three roosters, the dominant one crows in the morning. The last one crows in the middle of the night when he can get away with it. I go out in the dark and I can hear roosters crowing because the one that’s not the dominant one, he has to get his in someplace.

Poultry personalities

Some chickens will come right up to you. Some will run and hide. Some hens are nasty. And there’s always a boss hen. If something happens to her, the next one steps right up. They’re right there waiting.

Say that once more

My most unusual request was a call from Madison. The lady wanted to buy a heritage breed tom turkey, but I didn’t have any at the time.

In talking to her I said, “What kind of turkeys do you have?”

She said, “I don't have turkeys. I live in Madison.”

“Well, you’ve got a place to keep it?”

“Oh, no, I’m going to keep it in the house.”

I’m thinking, “This is getting weird. I said, “You know, they’re quite messy.”

“That’s OK. I’ve got diapers for it.”

I said, “You know, if you spook them, they don’t know what a window is.”

“Oh, it will be OK.”

Finally I said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll look, but if I find you one, I want pictures of your house afterwards.”

I just cannot believe keeping a turkey in a house. She heard they were good watchdogs.

I have no idea who makes diapers for turkeys, but I’m sure somebody makes them. I would not be a bit surprised. Now the big thing is they have little vests for chickens, for hens, in the cold weather. They knit little things and they put them on. You know, chickens stand the cold weather very well, as long as they get feed and water, and get out of the wind. Some of the bigger comb ones, the comb will freeze. That’s what you’ve got to watch.

Tastes like chicken

We eat some kind of chicken at least once a week -- mostly our own chickens. Sometimes we have those stuffed chicken breasts from Aldi’s, which are pretty good. And when we stop at McDonald’s, Barb likes their chicken nuggets.

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