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Kittanning chicken farmer reaches global audience

| Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, 9:23 p.m.
Kelsi Beer, 12, sits in her chicken coop at her family's home in Kittanning on Wednesday, January 31, 2013. Beer became interested in raising chickens and has a Facebook page with tips, contests, and a following in the hundreds. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Kelsi Beer, 12, stands outside a coop for her chickens at her family's home in Kittanning on Wednesday, January 31, 2013. Beer became interested in raising chickens and has a Facebook page with tips, contests, and a following in the hundreds. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
One of Kelsi Beer's 14 chickens stands in the doorway of its coop outside Beer's family's home in Kittanning on Wednesday, January 31, 2013. Beer, 12, has become a chicken guru on the Internet. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
One of Kelsi Beer's 14 chickens stands at the window of its coop outside Beer's family's home in Kittanning on Wednesday, January 31, 2013. Beer, 12, is a lover of animals and keeps a Facebook page followed by hundreds of people seeking advice on raising chickens. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

For Kelsi Beer, naming a chick is crucial because you get one shot.

“I like to give them a name that fits their personality,” explained Beer, 12, an Armstrong County sixth-grader who moonlights as an online chicken-raising guru for people as far away as Australia.

“Beaky is always using her beak and making weird noises. Flippy is always flipping her feathers. Wompanoag is always making loud squawking noises at me when she gets mad. … And so on.”

Funny names aside, Kelsi is serious about chickens.

She bought her first chicks in April 2011, intent on raising and caring for them at her family's home in Kittanning.

They were tiny, she recalled — so small she could fit each chick in the palm of her hand. Kelsi made a home for them in a box in the garage. Her dad, Kevin Beer, got to work building a coop outside. When the chicks were big enough, she carried them out to their new home.

“I think chickens are little bodies of fun,” Kelsi said. “I like to learn about them and watch them scratch around and have fun. I just become attached to them.”

But unlike so many passing fancies for others her age, raising chickens became an enduring passion. And her operation grew.

She added heat lamps to keep her pets warm on cold nights. Her dad built little compartments so they could nest in peace. She collects the eggs, selling some to pay for feed and giving away others to elderly neighbors.

“We have one neighbor who calls up and yells, ‘Where are my eggs?'” said her mom, Tammy Beer. “Whenever I look at her doing this, I keep thinking there needs to be more young kids like her. It teaches responsibility.”

Indeed, when Kelsi lost a hen because it became egg-bound — a fatal condition in which the egg becomes trapped in the hen's body — she researched home remedies so she'd be prepared for the next crisis. Hoping to share her knowledge, she started a Facebook page, Pullet Play Yard. A pullet is a young hen.

Pullet Play Yard earned its 300th “like” last week. She has fans as far away as Australia.

Perhaps her best piece of advice: “Do a little research first so you know if you really want to have chickens.”

If only some adults would follow her lead, said Gretchen Fieser, spokeswoman for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

The North Side shelter has taken in more than 100 chicken surrenders from city folk trying to raise chickens and then discovering they don't know what they're doing, Fieser said.

A common problem: Many would-be urban farmers fail to properly sex their chicks, Fieser said. Expecting to bring home egg-laying hens, they instead adopted roosters, which don't lay eggs and come with the inconvenient habit of waking neighbors at dawn.

“We saw a rush two years ago when the city started permitting the keeping of hens to get the eggs,” Fieser said. “On the one hand, it makes sense; we fully support the humane raising of animals and we certainly support green initiatives. But we saw people who did not do proper research.

“You're not going to be popular with neighbors if you live in a city and you have a rooster.”

Kelsi Beer happily lends her expertise.

She offers step-by-step guidelines for new chicken owners. She recently bought a digital camera for the coop, so visitors to her site can watch her chickens online.

“She's different in her own little way, but it's a good different,” Tammy Beer said. “And who knows? Maybe raising chickens could end up being her college fund.”

For Kelsi, being with her chickens is all the reward she needs.

“My friends like to look and play with them for a little while, but they aren't too interested,” she said. “I think of them as little people. They are very peaceful.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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