When visitors come through the front door at CLUCK the Chicken Store in Paoli, their first words are often, “What’s a chicken store?”
“That’s understandable,” says owner Susan Troller. “There are no other stores quite like it anywhere. It’s really three stores in one.”
CLUCK is a farm store that sells a complete line of feed and supplies for people who keep backyard chickens. It’s an art gallery featuring original works from local and regional artists. Plus, you’ll find books, housewares, toys, and a surprising collection of gifts, all featuring chickens, horses, bees, and other animals—even chicken enemies, like foxes and owls.
“I have always loved art and home décor,” says Susan. “It is great fun to meet talented local artists and give them a place to show their amazing work.”
CLUCK sponsors several artist receptions each year and displays paintings, ceramics, and other art throughout the year. The common theme is usually animals or the rural landscape.
Susan also searches the world for unique products, from coffee mugs to greeting cards to baby onesies and housewares, all with an animal theme, especially chickens.
But why chickens? It’s partly that keeping backyard chickens is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in America, with hundreds of chicken keepers here in Dane County and the surrounding area. But keeping chickens is also part of a larger movement: the desire to know where our food comes from and to create a more sustainable food system that connects us more closely to the farmers and the land that produce our food. “You could think of them as a gateway animal to the whole world of agricultural animals. If we are going to keep an animal, whether for egg production or for meat, we owe that animal a certain quality of life that recognizes its fundamental animal nature.”
Susan has been an animal lover since she kept salamanders and raccoons as a child. For more than 40 years, she and her husband have lived on a small farm near New Glarus, where they have enjoyed the company of a menagerie that has included horses, goats, heifers, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, and, of course, chickens. If you drop in at CLUCK, you are likely to be greeted by one of the menagerie. Luke, a three-year-old rescue dog, comes to the store nearly every day and loves visitors, especially children.
Susan never thought of herself as a shopkeeper until she opened CLUCK in 2012. She spent much of her career in the Madison area as an author, video producer, marketer, journalist, and reporter for The Cap Times, where she wrote about education, restaurants, and the local food movement. But CLUCK isn’t a complete break from her previous life. “It’s all storytelling,” she says. “The story in this case is about where our food comes from and our connection with the land. It’s also about that most commoditized of animals—the chicken.” People who have backyard chickens quickly come to realize that chickens are not just units of production, they are amusing creatures with big and sometimes quirky personalities.
“It’s really fun to raise chickens,” says Susan. “Everyone from university professors and CEOs to police officers, construction workers, and daycare moms can enjoy it. Chicken keeping calms your nerves. It’s a great way to unwind at the end of a tense day—go sit on your porch with a glass of wine and watch the chickens. Just don’t be surprised if they come and beg for chips.”
The chicken story is told in many ways at CLUCK. Susan puts on free seminars in the winter and spring to teach first-time chicken keepers the fundamentals of keeping chickens safe and happy. Throughout the year, there are workshops by veterinarians, animal trainers, and other chicken experts. CLUCK also serves as a meetup where chicken keepers can exchange information with their peers.
Chicken keepers and would-be chicken keepers come to CLUCK to get ideas for coops and to order ready-made backyard coops. CLUCK has several kinds of conventional and organic feed, including a soy-free organic feed developed just for CLUCK at Susan’s request. All of the feed comes from Wisconsin, “so we know who makes it and how it’s made,” Susan says. CLUCK also carries coop heaters, solar-powered automatic chicken doors, skelters (for storing fresh eggs), and many other items to make chicken keeping more fun and convenient.
Beyond CLUCK, Susan takes her commitment to local food into the community as a member of the board of Madison-based REAP Food Group. REAP helps connect local organic-and-sustainable food producers with restaurants, schools, and hospitals. REAP also educates people about benefits of sustainable farming, including growing the local economy, preserving the environment, reducing pesticide use, shortening food miles, reducing food waste, and improving food quality. “I think the sustainable food movement will only continue to grow. We’ll have to think in terms of how we encourage growers to produce more local food and find ways to connect them with markets for that food.”
CLUCK the Chicken Store is located at 6904 Paoli Road in the little crossroads town of Paoli, four miles south of Verona or about a 15-minute drive south of the beltline. CLUCK is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Besides CLUCK, Paoli boasts several art galleries, restaurants, a brew pub, shops, and other businesses.