Kirkwood Chicken Chat With Garden Expert P. Allen Smith

by Linda Wiggen Kraft

I sat next to Hazelnut, a Black Star chicken, at the Chicken Chat in Kirkwood recently. While most of the people there were chicken owners and lovers who raise chickens in their backyards, I was one of the few chickenless gardeners.

This was no ordinary Chicken Chat. It was a gathering of local urban poultry keepers and P. Allen Smith, whose many gardening books and national television and internet appearances have made him a well respected expert and advocate for home gardening and chicken raising. The guests who had chickens were invited to bring their favorites to join in the festivities. Peggy Hoelting of St. Louis brought Hazelnut with her beautiful brown feathers. Many others brought their favorite feathered friends including Jan Oberkramer and Laura Streett of The Green Center in University City who brought Alberta, a Golden Laced Polish sweet chicken with a big tousled hairdo of dark brown crown feathers.
The chickens contentedly sat in their owner’s laps while we talked at the Kirkwood “Chicken Ranch” of Bill and Joan Ruppert who have the local two-story chicken palace of chicken coops. Bill suggests three books to get started with chickens: City Chicks by Patricia Foreman, Chicken Tractor by Andy Lee and The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow.

This chat gave me lots to consider about the care and feeding of these beautiful birds. The people there obviously loved their chickens, who had names and were treated as pets. They shared the joys of having these animals as part of city life: fresh healthy eggs, pets with personalities, garden fertilizer and weed control.

These urban farmers are raising chickens for their eggs, and the subject of raising them for anything else didn’t come up. So the main topics were how to make sure chickens are first of all laying eggs and how to make sure those eggs are nutritionally rich. What if the chicken isn’t laying eggs? The fact that a chicken’s main instinct is for survival, not laying eggs was emphasized by Dr. Erin Veneble, whose PhD in animal nutrition gives her knowledge of how these animals survive and thrive. She suggested if all other conditions like food, shelter and water are taken care of, there may be other stresses. A home video monitor in the coop can show what may be upsetting the chickens. What if the eggs have thin or rubbery shells? According to Dr. Veneble, diet is the most important factor for both the egg layers and egg eaters. She works for Purina Mills so the products she recommended were that company’s, especially the Omega 3 feed. Other feed companies offer organic chicken feed, which locally can only be found at Greene’s Country Store in Lake St. Louis. When I asked Randy Greene about feed he had many other suggestions beyond what is in the package, including growing cover crops for protein for chickens. All in all the benefits of raising chickens far outweighed the challenges in these chicken owner’s lives.

Parts of the Kirkwood Chicken Chat can be viewed online in July at P. Allen Smith’s YouTube Channel. The round table discussion with Hazelnut, Alberta and other chickens and people will be online at a later date. Tune in, and watch these adorable chickens. You may be inspired to have some of your own.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a mandala artist and garden designer who uses the wisdom of many traditions in her work. Visit her website & blog: www.creativityforthesoul.com/blog or (314) 504-4266.