Outlaw Chickens Show a Chicken Gym No Mercy - Modern Farmer

Outlaw Chickens Show a Chicken Gym No Mercy

Chickens have New Year's fitness resolutions, too.

The Cuckoo Marans in Mark Metzler Sawin's flock and the chicken gym, duct-taped together after being dismantled over and over.

Perhaps Sawin just got a lemon off the Hoop and Hurdle production line, or maybe his chickens are unusually rowdy — which would be understandable, given that Sawin is something of a chicken gangster with a rogue flock. Backyard chickens are illegal in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he is a college history professor, and he has 10 of them. (More on this this in a bit.)

Regardless, know that a) chicken gyms exist, and b) whether used as intended or repeatedly disassembled and scattered to the winds, they may help your average cooped-up backyard chicken keep its New Year’s fitness resolution.

The chicken gym hit the U.S. market late this year, sold by Crazy K Farm Pet and Poultry Products (Sawin’s unit was a product sample obtained by Modern Farmer). Owner Tobi Kosanke uses the business to support her Crazy K Farm in Hempstead, Texas, a nonprofit animal rescue shelter where she works at “saving the world one chicken at a time.”

Kosanke now has about 120 chickens, including breeding hens rescued from the cockfighting world, re-homed pet chickens and even a paralyzed chicken (which, understandably, hasn’t been using the gym). Most of these birds run around in a flock outside, but some of the particularly damaged or vulnerable individuals simply can’t rejoin the regular pecking order and spend most of their time in Kosanke’s sunroom. She calls them her “house chickens.”

Mark Metzler Sawin, history professor and Virginia chicken outlaw, shows off his Polish chicken outside his backyard coop.

Mark Metzler Sawin, history professor and Virginia chicken outlaw, shows off his Polish chicken outside his backyard coop.

“Every living being needs exercise,” says Kosanke, who works by day as a geologist in the petroleum industry. “If you have a very small area and your chicken can’t run around a get a lot of exercise, these hoops and hurdles are a great way to get them the exercise they need. It got me moving around, too.”

The chicken gyms — in addition to the Hoop and Hurdle, there’s the Tunnel and Slalom version — are manufactured in the UK by a company called Spike’s World. Last spring, Kosanke discovered them at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, and fell in love after introducing her house chickens to chicken gymnastics. Dried and fresh mealworms, she found, worked great to train them on the things, and once the house chickens mastered hooping and hurdling (basically what it sounds like), they spent many joyful hours at it.

“Chickens get bored like all the rest of us. Anything you can do to spice up their environment keeps them curious.”

And so, Kosanke ordered a bunch and began selling the gyms ($29.99) on her website, beside other products like the rabbit harness, the Birdie Bra, the hen diaper/harness and the reflective cat vest.

Back to Sawin and his gym-destroying chickens: After tiring of repeatedly putting his hoop and hurdle back together, Sawin used a combination of epoxy and duct tape to hold the hoop together once and for all, and got out his drill to fix the hurdle bar to the uprights.

(Kasanke was glad for the user feedback when informed that Sawin’s experience with the gym wasn’t exactly trouble-free, and says she’ll do a little more QA with her inventory.)

Given the illicit nature of his chicken flock, he’s had to keep his confined in a coop — albeit a fairly spacious, deluxe one — next to his backyard shed for the past two years. But chickens are chickens, and it’s impossible to completely hide ten of them on a small city lot. Since chicken enforcement in Harrisonburg is primarily complaint-driven, he buys his neighbors’ silence with showy mix-packs of eggs: greenish-blue ones from his Araucanas, chocolately browns from the Black Copper Marans, slightly speckleds from his Wyandotte.

He applauds the idea of fun and exercise for cooped-up chickens. “Chickens get bored like all the rest of us. Anything you can do to spice up their environment keeps them curious,” says Sawin, whose favorite bumper sticker says this: Wherever chickens are outlawed, only outlaws will have chickens.

(And wherever chickens are, may they all have great fun.)

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