From Barnyard to Backyard

With the help of Animal Nature, Pittsburgh’s backyards are gaining some feathered tenants.

Regent Square pet-supply store Animal Nature, which sells chemical-free organic food, is always a-scurry with animals — like dogs, a cat and a fluffy rabbit or two.

And, most recently, two chickens — Q-Tip, a white rooster, and Cinder, a gray hen. They live (and stay) in a comfy enclosure, but during quiet hours, co-owners Nina Wolf and Rachel Lamory let the birds wander the store’s aisles. However, the feathered pair isn’t just a novelty — the birds are living proof of Animal Nature’s status as Pittsburgh’s “urban chicken headquarters.”

In these greener days, some urbanites grow crops, keep bees, compost their leftovers and share plots in communal gardens. But now, adventurous ’Burghers are bringing a little piece of the barnyard to the backyard … in the form of an urban chicken.

Animal Nature sells all the supplies (feed, scratch and more) that an aspiring micro-farmer needs to keep chickens happy; staffers also share advice on how to obtain the birds, how to care for them and what to feed them (they just can’t sell animals in the store).

“I love gardening, I love animals and I thought: How could I take this to the next level?” says Lamory. Now, Lamory, who owns six hens, can grab fresh eggs from her backyard daily. She has become an aficionado of chicken husbandry — and ever since Animal Nature started selling feed and scratch in March, the store has gained about 20 regular customers.

The practice comes with a price: Chickens are cheap (Lamory says three go for $5) — but they require housing in the winter, and coops take effort to build. Prospective owners must also apply for a permit. And potential urban farmers should keep in mind that hens are easier to keep than roosters (which cannot be kept outdoors within city limits, anyway).

Meanwhile, Q-Tip and Cinder clearly show that an urban chicken can be as comfortable as its rural brethren. They might turn a head or two, though: One customer recently recoiled from Q-Tip, holding up her handbag defensively. “Is that a spider monkey?” she exclaimed. When she was assured that the fluffy animal was a rooster, she murmured, “I’ve been in the city too long.”

Thanks to Animal Nature, though, Pittsburgh is becoming more feather-friendly. 

Categories: Community Feature