Throwing Like a Girl


Cyclone Christina Hillman carves out her own
space in the world of women’s shot put

By Kate Bruns

When Tina Hillman was an eighth grader growing up in Dover, Del., her gym teacher’s husband – a champion weight thrower – happened to see the tall blonde pass the pigskin to a classmate. Not an 8.8- pound shot put, but a 14-ounce inflated football. Really, there’s very little that a quarterback and a shot putter have in common, but the sight of it was enough to give him a feeling: This girl could throw.

By the time Hillman got to high school, she had added track and field to her long resume of athletics activities. She was a standout Delaware prep, winning seven state titles at St. Thomas More. Then-Iowa State assistant track coach Grant Wall was in the state recruiting and decided to swing by and check out the 6-foot, 2-inch Hillman, who was still trying to decide whether to pursue collegiate track and field or volleyball. Hillman could hurl the shot 39 feet, even with horrible technique. And Wall just got a feeling: This girl could really throw.

Iowa State was the first school that recruited Hillman, and she rewarded that loyalty by committing to the Cyclones after falling in love with the Iowa State campus on her official visit.

“I didn’t think I was going to come here,” Hillman says, “I really didn’t. But I love it here. The campus is beautiful. And I love the team; the team is like my family.”

During the summer before coming to Iowa State, Hillman began working with a personal trainer. In just a few months, she increased her throwing distance from 39 to 50 feet. In 2011 she won the New Balance Indoor National High School championship and the Penn Relays. As an ISU freshman, Hillman earned all-Big 12 recognition. She continued to improve. And she started to get a feeling: I really can throw.

When Wall and head coach Corey Ihmels left ISU for Boise State in 2013, Hillman began working with a new throwing coach: Fletcher Brooks. Hillman says she owes a lot to both of her coaches and has thrived under Brooks’ tutelage. She says his guidance has helped shape what she is today: The top women’s collegiate shot putter in the U.S.

Hillman won her first national title at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships, reaching a height she hadn’t even dreamed of pursuing in high school.

“I think I was almost crying,” she remembers. “I won it on my second throw, because the girl who was in first place threw such a PR [personal record]. She was beating me, but I said to myself in that moment, ‘No one wants this more than I do.’ It was a completely different mindset for me. It was the first time I truly believed I could win the national championship, so when I did I was jumping up and down on cloud nine.”

Hillman followed up that performance with the 2014 outdoor title, which she won on her last throw. “That one was almost kind of a relief,” she admits. “Once you win once, it’s like: ‘I can’t let another collegian beat me.’”

For Hillman, the bar has now been set extremely high: Not only does she want to win more national titles, but she is also passionate about making it to the 2016 Olympics. She will soon earn undergraduate degrees in psychology and child, adult, and family services and hopes to go on to earn a master’s degree and work with youth in the human services field. But she is willing to put plans on hold to pursue her Olympic dream. “I’ve heard that both training for the Olympics and going to grad school are full-time jobs,” she says, “so I’m not sure how that will work. But I’m open to going wherever I need to go.”

Despite her many successes, Hillman says she still believes there is potential to be fulfilled.

“I’m still relatively weak compared to a lot of the female shot putters,” says Hillman, who lifts weights about four days a week. “I love putting in the hard work and just testing my abilities to see where I can end up. It’s been such a blessing.”

Hillman also says she enjoys defying people’s stereotypes of female throwers. While she is certainly big and strong, she’s not what anyone would describe as masculine, with long blonde locks and painted fingernails.

“I wanted to show that you can succeed in a sport that’s deemed masculine, whether you’re masculine or feminine,” she says. “If [masculine] is your identity, that’s perfectly fine, of course. I’m very feminine; that’s my expression. Even in my sport it doesn’t have to be about masculinity or femininity. It’s about how hard you work and the effort that you put in.”

Issues of gender and sexuality figure largely in Hillman’s life; she was recently profiled by’s Cyd Zeigler, a national author and commentator on sexuality and sports, about her identity as a pansexual student-athlete – an identity Zeigler says adds “another color in the LGBT rainbow.” (“I think of it as being gender blind; I fall in love with humans” is how Hillman explains it.)

“I was open [about my sexuality] in high school because I was dating a female,” Hillman says. “But when I got to college I guess I went back in the closet, in a way, because it was a new place and I’ve always wanted people to know me as a person first. Once I’d made friends and established my networks, I came out and was accepted by almost everyone. Taking the next step and talking to Cyd was me realizing that maybe I could help some other athletes. No one part defines me, obviously. I’m an athlete, pansexual, sister, daughter…but if that one identity can encourage others, I would love to do that.”

As Hillman works toward adding another identity to that list – Olympian, she is relishing her experience at Iowa State.

“I hope my teammates would describe me as an optimist, as someone who is encouraging, generous, and thoughtful,” she says. “I love being part of a team: We support each other and are part of something bigger.

“But at the end of the day, what I do is completely up to me, and I like that. If I mess up, it’s my fault. If I do well, it’s because I put in the work. I love everything about it.”

Cedar Rapids: A Case Study


Urban Ag is alive and well in Iowa’s second-largest city
By Carole Gieseke

When it comes to the urban agriculture movement in the state of Iowa, it seems that all roads lead to Cedar Rapids.

A devastating flood in 2008 left 10 square miles of the city – including the downtown area and adjacent neighborhoods – submerged in water when the Cedar River crested at 31.12 feet (19 feet about flood stage) on June 13. More than 5,000 family homes were damaged or destroyed. About 1,400 of them have since been demolished.

As Cedar Rapids continues to redevelop, so too does the opportunity develop to solve some of the city’s issues with food insecurity. Currently, an estimated 26,000 people in Cedar Rapids go to bed hungry. About 60 percent of its schoolchildren are on free and reduced lunch.

But this city now represents some of the best policies and projects in the state: zoning laws that allow urban agriculture to thrive, a commitment to designation as a “Blue Zones” healthy community, and a comprehensive city food system plan.

Iowa State connections are strong in this eastern Iowa community, with a highly engaged Linn County Extension team, alumni working in all sectors of the industry, and a new College of Design Community Design Lab agricultural urbanism project in development.

It was time to pay this city a visit. One day last August, members of the VISIONS editorial staff headed to Iowa’s second-largest city to see what was happening here.  On a day where the combined heat and humidity topped the heat index at an even 100 degrees, and thunderstorms rolled through intermittently, it was clear that the 2008 flood had opened up acres of opportunity.

Cultivate Hope Urban Farm
It’s not yet 7 a.m., and already the air is hot and sultry. A stormy sky threatens to scuttle the first photo shoot of the day, at the Cultivate Hope Urban Farm.

Neo Mazur (’12 global resources systems / world languages & cultures) greets us with a friendly smile and a handful of long beans. Mazur is the Cultivate Hope farm & school garden manager.

The urban farm is a project of Matthew 25, an independent, local nonprofit organization in Cedar Rapids. Matthew 25’s mission is to strengthen core neighborhoods on the west side of the city. This small farm is located at the corner of 6th St. NW and G Ave. NW – in a low-income neighborhood that’s, not surprisingly, in a flood plane. The idea of growing food here was created following the 2008 flood.

“This area was a food desert,” Mazur says. “They wanted to do something with the empty lot.”

More than 1,200 homes in this area were damaged in the flood. Many were not rebuilt. This two-acre farm is Iowa’s first urban farm education center. Children come to the garden to play on the natural playground structures. Families take evening walks here. Weeklong summer camps are held in this space, sponsored by FoodCorps, Linn County Extension, 4-H, and other groups.

The 2014 growing season is the third one in this location. Today, Mazur is harvesting heirloom tomatoes, beans, peppers, melons, and eggplant. Across the street is another plot and a row of apple trees.

Mazur grew up in Ames, the daughter of an ISU professor. She says she “hated gardening” when she was a kid. But today she’s bursting with pride as she offers a taste of her small, yellow Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes.

Urban farming is “thinking about farming in a different way,” Mazur says. “It’s possible; you just have to think about space in a different way.”

Faith and Education
Our visit to the Matthew 25 urban farm is cut short by a brief cloudburst, which cools the air for about five minutes. When it’s over, the humidity is higher than ever.

Our next stop is at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, the site of one of several faith gardens in Cedar Rapids. In its location directly across from Johnson School of the Arts elementary, this vegetable farm is teaching kids about growing their own food.

In this city, where 60 percent of kids receive free or reduced lunches, Ann (Ewoldt) Torbert (’89 child, parent & community service) says it’s important for children to know where their food comes from. Torbert, a 4-H youth specialist for ISU Extension and Outreach, oversees the FoodCorps program administered through the Linn County office.

FoodCorps is a national program that connects kids to growing food, access to healthy foods, and education. It’s a partnership with the better-known AmeriCorps. Here in Cedar Rapids, Tess Romanski is the local FoodCorps service representative and a member of the county Extension staff.

Romanski, a 2012 Luther College graduate, is in her second year with the program. The education leaders at Johnson School of the Arts wanted to establish a vegetable plot, but the school didn’t have enough space, so the garden was established across the street at the church.

She brings first- through third-graders into the garden to teach them lessons on planting, what to do with the food, and composting the garden waste.

“Most kids enjoy it,” she says. “It’s so interesting being outside with the kids after school. Once they’re in the garden, they’re really focused.”

Feed Iowa First
Sonia Kendrick (’12 agronomy) grew up in Cedar Rapids with parents she describes as “Crippies.”

“You know, Christian hippies,” she says. “We had a couple of acres. Everything was pretty natural. We didn’t have a TV; we had to play outside. I can remember walking behind my mom putting seeds in the ground.”

Kendrick became an electrician and then joined the Army. When she returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, she had trouble reintegrating and eventually lost her job during the economic downturn. Faced with no job and a trade she really didn’t enjoy anyway, Kendrick called Iowa State.

“I wanted to be a farmer,” she says. “I was interested in food democracy and growing food and how everything works.”

She came to Iowa State and studied agronomy. And after graduation in 2012, she had a revelation.

“The ISU mantra was, ‘Iowa feeds the world,’” she says. “Well, I was volunteering at some food pantries, and what I saw changed my perspective. What does it matter if Iowa feeds the world? We’re not even feeding Iowa.”

Kendrick founded Feed Iowa First, a non-profit organization designed to help feed the hungry and encourage new farmers in Cedar Rapids and Linn County.

“We need to grow two-and-a-half cups of vegetables daily for each person in Cedar Rapids – for the 26,000 people who are food insecure,” she explains. “To do that would take 500 acres. There are 800 acres surrounding churches alone.”

Feed Iowa First currently has 25 acres of land in production, producing 30,000 pounds of vegetables annually, with the goal of expanding to 500 acres within the city limits of Cedar Rapids. Seven “faith gardens” are located on church properties; three more are on the campuses of Rockwell Collins and other corporations. Plots are tended mostly by volunteers – and Kendrick herself – and all of the fresh produce is donated through food pantries, halfway houses, Meals on Wheels, and in collaboration with ISU’s Linn County Extension and the Blue Zone project.

Kendrick has become a full-fledged food activist. She was honored in March 2014 at
the White House as a women veteran leaders “Champion of Change.”

“I believe in food democracy,” she says. “Food is not just for people who can afford it. If I can show that we can feed Linn County with this model, we can feed every county.”


Farming by Square Foot
By now, the afternoon heat is sweltering. At the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program warehouse in nearby Hiawatha, Jason Grimm (’09 environmental studies / landscape architecture) is fully immersed in his role as a coordinator for the Iowa Valley Food Co-op producers.

Local growers are dropping off this week’s produce in carefully labeled boxes: kale, zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, raspberries, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes. This is not big ag; it’s food production by the minivan-full. And the food is not traveling across the continent; it’s staying local. It will soon be heading to Cedar Rapids-area Hy-Vee grocery stores.

Grimm is a food system planner for Iowa Valley Resource Conservation & Development, a nonprofit organization serving Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Linn, Poweshiek, and Tama counties. His ISU senior thesis on food urbanism informed the way he views food production.

“Food should be incorporated into civic planning like electricity and utilities,” he says. “There should be a plan for community gardens, for operating farms within the community, for school gardens. The production of food needs to be part of the infrastructure.”

Although he hasn’t yet seen much change in urban agriculture policies in the state of Iowa, Cedar Rapids is an exception.

“Cedar Rapids changed its zoning code to allow urban agriculture to happen,” he explains. “The 2008 flood helped – it made so much land vacant that they couldn’t figure out what to do with it all.”

He says urban farms are “farming by square foot, not by acre.” Even big-city dwellers can find creative ways to grow food, he says, by using pots, hanging plants off of decks and canopies, and creating vertical trellis structures.

Grimm is also involved with a more traditional farming operation. He helps run his family’s farm, located south of Williamsburg, with his parents and grandparents. Grimm Family Farm Raises poultry and grows black turtle beans, potatoes, and other produce.

Community organizers can launch their own projects by first educating their citizens, he said. “People don’t even know how much they CAN do,” he said.


How to start a community garden
By Tess Romanski

What are the key benefits of growing a community garden?
Community gardens are a great way to cut down on food costs at the grocery store and allow access to more diverse types of produce. They also offer educational opportunities for children in the area as well as a place for community relationships to develop and deepen. It can also be helpful to turn an unused plot of land into a community benefit to increase quality of living in the area.

What’s the first step to starting a community garden?
The most important first step when thinking about starting a community garden is making sure that there is a solid support system behind the garden. A planning committee is a great place to start. Get some different members of the community involved in a discussion about why/where to start a garden, assign duties, and create a yearly plan so the garden stays organized and productive.

Tip: Make sure there are enough people passionate about the project that if one person leaves, the garden won’t fall to pieces. Get neighbors, community organizations, the local school, religious organizations, and local businesses involved.

How do we choose the site?
The best way to choose a garden location is by looking at sunlight, soil quality, and proximity to water. A garden should usually get a minimum of 6-7 hours of sunlight per day, so stay away from tall trees or large buildings if possible. Soil quality tests are available through the ISU Extension Office, local libraries, or most farm supply shops. It is best to start small, but leave plenty of room for expansion if the garden does well in its first years.

Gardens need a lot of water in the summer months, so consider where the caretakers will source water. It’s not fun to carry heavy buckets of water four blocks in 90-degree heat! Ask around and see if a nearby building would be open to allowing the community to use the water spigot in exchange for a small fee.

Also make sure the site is accessible to the majority of the population the garden is created for. If the garden is two miles away from the neighborhood, people are less likely to become involved. Try to keep the garden within easy walking distance, and make sure it is in a safe spot.

How do we do this if we live in an urban core?
There are a lot of undeveloped green spaces in urban centers, so contact the local city government and inquire if there is a lease agreement that could be reached. Some city governments allow community members to rent out park space to establish community gardens.

If you live in an apartment building, inquire with the landlord to see if there is any small plot available for tenants to use. If the landlord is hesitant, bring a list of all the interested tenants to show support.

With both city and apartment land, make sure you take into consideration mowing and landscape concerns. Make sure there is enough room to get a large lawnmower around, or offer to cut the grass around the garden to make it easier for maintenance crews.

What are the basic elements of the garden that we should consider as we make our garden plan?
Besides selecting the site, the planning committee will also need to decide what types of plants to grow, if it should be organic or if chemicals are allowed, how the division of labor will be divided, and where funding will come from. Pick a “garden build day” where all the heavy labor will be done, and start publicizing that date early and often so lots of people can make the work go quickly.

How should we plan the budget?
The budget should include items such as tools (shovels, wheelbarrows, buckets, hoses, etc.), mulch and compost, signs, seeds, and fencing. Donations can cover some of these costs in many instances. Check the local solid waste agency for rates on mulch and compost; most places charge about $10 per ton of compost, although it varies by location and availability.

Sponsors are also a way to cut down on cost for participants. Churches, schools,
local private businesses, or the parks and recreation department are all possible  sponsors that could cover some of the start-up cost. Fundraisers around the community and grants are also helpful in getting some seed money to start the project.

When looking at a budget, make sure to factor in both one-time costs (renting a tiller and purchasing other tools, compost, and fencing) as well as yearly costs such as renting the land, water usage, seeds, and tool replacement.

What about the division of labor?
Division of labor really depends on each community garden. The number of people, who is involved, and how invested each group is all influences whether a plot or communal system would work best. The planning committee would have to make that decision dependent on who is interested in participating.

Individual plot rentals work well in places such as apartment buildings or other primarily residential areas. In this case, each plot could be rented out at a set price and cover some of the cost of land rental and water usage, and each group working the plot would keep all the produce their plot grew.

For a more diverse group of members, a communal system can work better. If a school, local business, or community organization is involved, a weekly work schedule may be the easiest way to handle distribution of labor and make it cheaper for families to participate. The planning committee would have to assign specific duties to specific groups and plan the division of the produce, but this system would cut down on the overall labor per person.

strawberriesShould we have rules?
Expectations should definitely be set, but it is up to the members on how formal these are. Because it is a communal space, there needs to some agreement (“What are the consequences if you pick someone else’s produce?” “If you are on the watering schedule, you must show up.”). The planning committee should work with the members to set up expectations and make them clear at the beginning of the gardening season.

What are some good resources for additional information?
The American Community Gardening Association and the Let’s Move! website both have some great resources online for starting and maintaining community gardens. For more specific gardening questions relating to your area, the Iowa State Extension Master Gardeners are one of the most helpful resources.

Five Things

Here are five things to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:


1) It’s April 6, and Cy’s Days of Service is well underway. This monthlong service initiative is designed to engage Iowa Staters worldwide in community service in the name of ISU. If you have a project you’ve already planned or regular community service activities in which you’ll engage this month, be sure to log your impact as an Iowa State volunteer on our website. April is also a great month to do something special or engage with a group. There are several planned ISU service activities listed on the website, including one tonight in Chicago, and we’d be more than happy to help you plan and publicize a new activity, too.

Oh, and be sure to send us a picture of yourself or you group in action. If you’re planning something in Iowa, let Carole Gieseke ( know. She is looking to photograph a nearby Cy’s Days of Service project for VISIONS magazine.

2) Coach Otz is back. Last week, just a day after ISU announced the departure of key men’s basketball assistant Matt Abdelimassih for St. John’s, Fred Hoiberg announced that he was bringing back longtime assistant TJ Otzelberger, who worked with both Greg McDermott and Hoiberg from 2006-2013 before leaving for the University of Washington. Otzelberger is a star recruiter who brought both Craig Brackins and Melvin Ejim to Ames, among others. Otzelberger also happens to be married to former all-Big 12 Cyclone women’s basketball star Alison Lacey, so the Homecoming is a happy one for the whole family.

“Returning to Iowa State is a dream come true for my family and me,” Otzelberger said in a released statement. “We are truly passionate about this university and the Ames community. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic to get back to work with Coach Hoiberg and the excellent staff he has assembled. It feels great to be coming home.”

Otzelberger will have his work cut out for him right away; this weekend ISU announced that star recruit Darien Williams, who had been courted by Abdelmassih, has requested a release from his national letter of intent.

3) Spring football practice is winding down and will culminate with the annual Cyclone Gridiron Club Spring Game Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. The scrimmage starts at 1 p.m., and the Club will host a tailgate for all Cyclone fans ($10/adult, $5/high school and younger) starting at 11 a.m. in a tent north of the stadium. The weather forecast looks good, so come on out and get a sneak peek at the Cyclones — and at those impressive stadium renovations!

4) Last week we announced the 2015 class of recipients of our Young Alumni Council’s annual Iowa STATEment Makers recognition. As always, we are humbed by the accomplishments of these awesome young alumni. Check it out for yourself!

5) Guess who made the top 10 on’s list of best colleges for veterans?

Catering Spotlight: Valentino’s

angelaCheck out some great event-planning tips from our ISU Alumni Center team. This piece was written by Angela Horner, ISU Alumni Center Program Assistant. For more tips and assistance planning a special event at the ISU Alumni Center, call Angela, Lexi, or Brooke at (515) 294-4625 or visit

Over the next several weeks, we will be putting each of our approved caterers in the “spotlight” and giving them a chance to answer a few questions about their food, beverages, and services. This week we are putting Valentino’s in the catering spotlight. Who’s hungry for pizza?

  1. Who or what influences your catering?

Our catering goal is always to provide exceptional service, fresh food, and plenty of it. We always overestimate your numbers and bring more food than we need so we don’t run out.

  1. What sets your catering business apart from others in the industry?

A personal touch and the ability to truly cater to your needs (we do far more than pizza and pasta! We can do a carving station, full breakfast or brunch cater, box lunches, baked chicken dinner, mashed potatoes and sides, desserts and more).

  1. What is one thing most people do not know about your business?

side-image-foodMost people don’t know that 99% of the items on our menu are made from scratch…including our pizza dough that is made by hand. We use 100% real cheese and make all of our sauces and other buffet items ourselves. This is unusual in the pizza industry. We could cut our food costs by using pre-made items but we won’t.

  1. What is your chef’s favorite entrée to make?

Our incredible cherry dessert pizza….it’s addictive!

  1. What is your most popular menu item?

It’s a toss-up between our Mac & Cheese pizza and our Bacon Cheeseburger pizza. Both are unique and so delicious!

For more information about ISU Alumni Center approved caterers click here.

Urban Chickens


Henpecked city dwellers dote on their backyard broods
By Carole Gieseke

Originally published in the spring 2015 issue of VISIONS

Ed Moran is cleaning chicken poop off of his back patio, a space he power-washed less than an hour ago.

“Welcome to the world of urban chickens,” he says, laughing. Moran (’99 horticulture) is part of a growing trend of city dwellers who keep a small flock of laying hens in their backyards.

“I keep tabs on the website,” says Christa Hartsook (A) (’98 Jlmc), a small-farms specialist for ISU Extension and Outreach. “In 2007 they started a small forum with 50 members. Three years later they were up to 50,000 members. Today’s membership is more than 300,000.”

Moran fell into chicken ownership quite by accident: The home he bought in a quiet Ames neighborhood had a small chicken operation in the backyard.

“I inherited chickens with the house,” he said. “It never crossed my mind to do this before.”

But Moran, like so many others, has embraced his backyard brood. Urban chicken enthusiasts build elaborate chicken habitats, obsess over the best mix of feed, debate chicken breeds, and celebrate the fresh, daily eggs they collect right outside their back doors. Motivation for starting a backyard flock can vary.

“Chickens represent a safe and small enterprise for people to begin in a backyard,” says Hartsook, who raises poultry herself. “Chickens don’t require large amounts of
space, are inexpensive, and are family friendly.”

Last spring, Amy Feller (L)(’97 transportation & logistics / German) got four chickens
as a gift for her birthday. “I’ve always wanted chickens,” she said. “I have at least 10 friends who have chickens.” Feller keeps the hens in a coop in her yard in New Braunfels, Texas, not far from San Antonio.

Torey Looft (PhD ’12 microbiology) and his wife, Sandra, an academic adviser in ISU’s
World Languages and Cultures Department, wanted their two young children to see where food comes from.

“My grandparents had chickens, and I loved the baby chicks,” Sandra said. “I wanted to recreate that for my kids.”

Before embarking on their chicken project, the Loofts watched a documentary about urban chickens at Wheatsfield, a local food co-op in Ames. That made it more real – and exciting.

They bought a chicken coop crafted by Iowa State architectural design students, one of 20 sold at an auction in fall 2013 as part of a student design-build project. The structures had to meet the specific needs of chickens: space to live and space to range, a place to rest and a place to lay eggs, shade from the sun and shelter from the cold.


The heritage-breed hens in the Loofts’ backyard – the speckled Ameraucana, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and New Hampshire Red – lay five or six eggs each day, enough to provide eggs for the family – with some to spare.

“We give the eggs as peace offerings to our neighbors, for having the chickens,” Torey

“It’s been a great way to meet my neighbors,” Moran agreed. “If I need anything, I can always give them a dozen eggs. There’s that community aspect.”

Carole Gieseke is the editor of VISIONS.


How to raise backyard chickens
By Andy Larson

What’s the first thing I should do before deciding to raise backyard chickens?
First, see if it’s legal. As the level of interest in raising backyard poultry continues to rise, more and more municipalities are either enforcing old ordinances pertaining to the keeping of “livestock” within city limits, or drafting new ordinances. You may need to apply for a permit. Second, in the interest of keeping the peace in the neighborhood, it would be worth talking to close neighbors about your idea of getting backyard chickens.

What are the main benefits of raising backyard chickens?
The eggs! They’re delicious and nutritious, you know where they came from and how the birds were treated, and they make great gifts for the neighbors who are tolerating your chicken habit! A close second would be the companionship and learning opportunities for your family, especially the kids. They get to learn how to raise a pet up from a baby (or even an egg!), the daily routine of chores and egg-gathering, and how to cook with food they have raised themselves.

How much initial financial investment should I expect?
At the most basic, adult chickens need a feeder, a waterer, and a decent coop with nest box and roost. A good gravity feeder with a grill on the trough (to prevent wasted feed) will probably run you $25. A waterer with a heating element in the base (to keep your water from freezing in winter) will probably cost you $35-40. Then you need to buy the feed itself, which will probably run $12-15 per 50-lb bag at the local farm supply store.

The chicks themselves only cost a couple bucks apiece, but if you are going to brood day-old chicks (which most people do) you are going to need a chick feeder, a no-drown waterer, and a heat lamp with a red bulb to keep those little fluff balls at 90+ degrees Fahrenheit for the first couple of weeks. None of these things are too pricey, probably $4-7 each.

All told, if you already have a big doghouse or small garden shed that you can retrofit into a coop, you can start out in the chicken business for $100. However, many do-it yourselfers do tend to spend much more.

How much time will I need to spend each day tending to the flock?
It’s literally only minutes a day: five to seven minutes in the morning to open the chicken door and give a little feed and water, another five to 10 minutes over lunch or after work to gather the day’s eggs and watch the birds for a minute to make sure everyone looks happy and healthy, and finally a minute or two at night to close the door to the coop and keep the girls safe from predators. Add in a coop controller to open and close the door, and your daily time investment is even lower.

However, there will be days when things take more time, like when you have to scoop the dirty litter out of the coop and into the compost pile, replacing it with fresh shavings. Or if one of the girls is acting unhealthy and you have to diagnose the illness.

Is there a downside to raising backyard chickens?
Sure. It’s really hard to lose one (or all) of your chickens, whether it’s due to predators, disease, or simply that your birds eventually get too old to lay productively and you can’t justify the cost of keeping them around. The other downside to backyard chickens
is that they limit your ability to leave for extended periods of time, because they need daily attention. Keep your neighbors happy, and they may be willing to chicken-sit.

Will the chickens become pets? Is it OK to name them?
My personal rule is to never name my chickens because a chicken with a name crosses the line from livestock to pet, and it just makes end-of-life issues that much harder. But there are many chickens with names out there, which is fine if your primary purpose of keeping them is to have additional pets. Just remember that dogs and cats tend to be on a different plane than chickens; it’s hard to find poultry vets, and you’re probably not going to go to the same financial and emotional lengths to save a chicken as you would a dog. As such, you and your family have to be prepared to experience the death of a chicken.

How long do the chickens live? How long will they lay eggs? What happens to them after they stop laying?
Chickens are likely to be very efficient producers of good-quality eggs for their first couple of laying cycles. After that, the eggs starting getting fewer and further between, with reduced quality, until laying tapers off altogether. A chicken can still live well beyond active laying, but you have to value them for either their manure or their companionship in order to justify keeping them around. Otherwise, it’s time to pull out your favorite recipe for chicken soup.

Where do I buy the baby chicks? How old will the chickens be before they start laying eggs?
Buy your chicks from a reputable hatchery that carries the breed(s) of chicken you want, will vaccinate your chicks before they ship, and is willing to answer your questions when you need an expert to troubleshoot. Your birds are going to be five to six months old, depending on the breed, before they lay their first eggs.

How do I determine which breed to choose?
If your goal is to have maximum feed efficient egg production, you are probably going to be looking at one of the hybrid breeds, like Red Stars or Black Stars, or at one of the more productive heritage breeds, like the Rhode Island Red. Many hobby producers choose dual-purpose breeds that can be good for both eggs and meat – Orpingtons, Wyandottes, Australorps, etc. Some people really love chickens that have beautiful coloration or rare characteristics, and they often choose a showy variety which might include Polish with their tufted heads, Cochins with their feathered feet, Frizzles with their almost curly feathers, or Araucanas with their funny beards and blue-green eggs If you live in the Midwest, you are going to want chickens that can tolerate both extreme heat and severe cold.

What should I feed my chickens?
Chickens tend to perform best on a premixed complete feed ration from a feed supplier or farm store. These are primarily comprised of corn and soybeans as well as specific vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that chickens need to be healthy and high-performing. Chickens are omnivorous, and a backyard chicken producer can certainly give them unspoiled food scraps from the house as a treat, but it can’t be their whole diet.

What about the coop and the run? How big do these need to be – and how is the best way to approach building them?
It’s best to locate your coop in a place that is high and dry (think about water flow and ponding during heavy rains or snow melt), has a clear line of sight from your house, and is not right on your property line (just in case your neighbor is not as excited about your chickens as you are). Your chicken coop ought to have about two square feet of floor space per bird housed. You’ll also need around 14-16 inches of roost space per bird; a large wooden dowel like a closet rod, or a 2×4 ripped in half, work nicely as a roost.

You should have organic litter material in the coop – pine shavings are good – for cleanliness, dryness, and ease of cleaning. You should have one nest box for every 4-5 chickens. Nest boxes should be 12″x12″x12″ with a slanted roof to prevent roosting. Raise them off the floor but not higher than your roosts; have a bar for the birds to land on before they step in and a toe board to keep the bedding material in.

South-facing windows with an overhang are great for maximum light and also some passive warming in the winter. Coops can’t be drafty in the winter, but there has to be air exchange, so even if your windows don’t open, you’ll have to have vents to let fresh air in. Just make sure to cover all vent and window openings with hardware cloth to exclude predators; don’t use chicken wire because, despite the name, it tends not to be strong enough and the holes are too big. If you insulate your coop, make sure the insulation itself is covered over by some other building material because chickens love to eat insulation.

Will I save money on eggs by raising chickens?
Most people don’t. They spend too much on the coop and equipment, or they don’t factor in their costs of production, and the payback period to recoup their investment starts to get pretty long. At the backyard scale, saving on groceries should not be the primary motivation for keeping chickens.

How do I protect my chickens from predators?
You build your coop like Fort Knox, and you keep your chickens in there at night when the raccoons, opossums, coyotes, etc. tend to be the most active. Anything with sharp teeth and a backbone tends to be pretty interested in getting a taste of your flock. I don’t like to have openings bigger than a dime when my chicken coop is all closed up, and if I do I cover them with hardware cloth. Also, this is why I have splurged on automatic door closers that can be programmed to close the chicken door at night after they have come home to roost. You may even want to day-range your birds in a fenced-in chicken run. This probably doesn’t have to be as buttoned-down as your coop – materials like chicken wire or wildlife netting ought to suffice – but you’ll want to make the sides high enough to encourage the chickens to stay in and other beasties to stay out.

How many eggs should I expect per week?
Your best hybrid layer breeds, like the Red Stars and Black Stars, lay one egg every 25 hours or so, meaning that in an average week you can expect seven eggs from each chicken as long as they have adequate nutrition, good health, and minimal stress.

Can I keep my chickens outdoors during the winter? Will they continue to lay eggs during the winter?
Your chickens can certainly day-range outdoors during the winter, but I’d prefer to see them have an inside place, like a coop, to roost at night for protection from both the elements and predators. The coop doesn’t really have to be warm, but it should be above freezing, usually using heat lamps with red bulbs. You can buy thermostatically controlled electrical outlets that will turn your heat lamps on when the coop temperature falls below 35 degrees, and turn them off again when the temp goes above 45 degrees.

Also, chickens are very photoperiod sensitive and are naturally inclined to slow down laying as the days get shorter. If you want eggs consistently through the winter, it’s a good idea to provide supplemental light for a total of about 14 lighted hours per day. A compact fluorescent bulb on an outdoor timer inside the coop works great for this.

Andy, besides your terrific series of videos on YouTube that you made when you were with ISU Extension & Outreach, what are some other good resources for folks who are just starting out in the backyard chicken biz?
There are some good books on the basics of backyard chickens out there, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, and The Chicken
Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens, among others. There are also some periodicals that use authoritative authors, like Backyard Poultry Magazine. I like to get my information from university extension services because their material tends to be the most science-based and unbiased. The University of Maryland Extension has a great, concise publication called Raising Your Home Chicken Flock.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention online forums, like Every backyard flock owner I know has been on here. User forums such as this tend to be a wealth of experience-based information from hobbyists and enthusiasts, but there is always the risk of bad information based on rumors or specific conditions that will not be relevant in your situation. Be a conscientious consumer of this type of information, and consider verifying its validity before betting the health and wellbeing of your flock on it.

backyardchickens_howtolarsonAndy Larson (MBA ’08) is a local food systems and small farms educator at the University of Illinois Extension. He formerly held a similar position with Iowa State Extension and Outreach. He and his wife, Kate (MA /08 science education) raise chickens and children in northern Illinois.

Watch Andy Larson’s “How to raise backyard chickens” video series at produced by ISU Extension & Outreach.

Wake up & Wed

angelaCheck out some great event tips from our ISU Alumni Center team. This piece was written by Angela Horner, ISU Alumni Center Program Assistant. For more tips and assistance planning a special event at the ISU Alumni Center, call Angela, Lexi, or Brooke at (515) 294-4625 or visit

The Alumni Center kicked off the spring wedding season this past weekend with a morning wedding. Let me share with you some reasons why I think morning weddings are the hidden gem in the realm of weddings.

Coffee. Need I say more? Who doesn’t love a big morning cup of coffee? And why not incorporate it into your special day? Not only can you have a delicious cup of coffee in your special wedding day mug while getting ready for your ceremony, but you can also have your caterer set up a full-service coffee bar at your ceremony or reception for all guests to enjoy.

pancakesBrunch. I love everything about brunch from the juice to the muffins, to the egg casserole, to the bacon, to the smoked salmon and bagels. Right now food stations are the trend, so having an omelet or waffle station is the perfect way to add fresh, made to order food items to the brunch menu.

Orange and tomato juice. With champagne and vodka, of course! Mimosas made from fresh squeezed orange juice are a delicious and sweet morning treat, and you can’t go wrong with a Bloody Mary bar. Don’t forget to include all the fixings like Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, pickle spears, celery stalks, salt, pepper, and lemons.

Lighting. Beautiful sunrises speak for themselves, especially if you are having an outdoor ceremony. Not to mention how incredibly romantic it is to get married in the morning light. Photographers appreciate the lighting and it gives way for amazing wedding photos.

Afternoon. After a morning wedding you have the ENTIRE rest of the day to spend with your new husband or wife! You can just hang out at the hotel or bed and breakfast and relive the beautiful ceremony, talk and laugh, or take a nap. You could take a stroll at the park and end up enjoying a delicious evening meal and glass of wine or two on the patio of your favorite restaurant. Or you could make final preparations for your honeymoon if you are leaving the next morning. And don’t forget about the fact that you have all afternoon to let the effects of your morning mimosas or Bloody Marys to wear off so you are ready to greet the next day as a happily married couple instead of a hung over married couple.

Now I can’t pretend everything about morning weddings is perfect or even better than evening weddings. Getting up before the sun rises is hard on a normal day let alone your wedding day. Feeling rushed because you only have the morning to get ready and not all day can add a lot of stress to some couple’s wedding day. If you are expecting to spend less on your wedding because you are having everything take place in the morning, think again. You will most likely spend the same or even more.

Morning or night, at the end of the day, you are marrying your best friend. Isn’t that all that really matters? Happy Planning!

One Thing

Here is one thing to put on your Cardinal & Gold radar this week:


1) Unless you were living under a rock this weekend, we probably don’t need to remind you to put Cyclone basketball on your radar this week. March Madness is upon us, and the REPEAT Big 12 tournament champion ISU men’s basketball team (the comeback kids!) is headed to Louisville, Ky., Thursday as the South Region’s No. 3 seed in the 2015 NCAA tournament. The Cyclones will face UAB Thursday at 11:40 a.m. CT/12:40 p.m. ET; if they win, they will advance to play the winner of SMU/UCLA on Saturday for a shot at another Sweet 16 appearance.

Some interesting notes about Iowa State’s berth:

  • SMU is coached by the legendary former Kansas and NBA coach Larry Brown, who was Fred Hoiberg’s first coach in the pros. UCLA is coached by former University of Iowa head coach Steve Alford, so either way there will be an interesting third-round storyline if the Cyclones advance on Thursday.
  • All three of Iowa’s Regents institutions are dancing, and all of them have a top-7 berth. If the Hawkeyes pull an upset, there is even the potential for an ISU-Iowa Sweet 16 matchup in the South Region. Now, that would be a game for the ages.
  • While some may be upset that Iowa State didn’t jump Kansas (the No. 2 seed in the Midwest) in the rankings after defeating the Jayhawks in Saturday’s Big 12 championship game, the snub may actually be a blessing in disguise. Kansas was ranked eighth overall by the committee, ISU ninth. What does that mean? Kansas gets the toughest No. 2 seed (matched up in the same region with undefeated No. 1 Kentucky), and Iowa State’s potential matchups in the South look much more favorable — on paper, at least.

The ISU Alumni Association is busy planning events and potential travel opportunities for Cyclones fans. There will be no official travel package for Louisville, but stay tuned to for information about a potential trip to Houston next week if the Cyclones make the Sweet 16. There is also second and third round ticket information on the site. You can follow the “Contact” link on the website to request more information.

There will be a pep rally and team sendoff Thursday morning (9:40 a.m. CT/10:40 a.m. ET) at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. Stay tuned to our website at for the latest details as they become available.

The Cyclone women, who are on the bubble, will find out their NCAA tournament fate tonight at 6 p.m. Information about fan events for the women’s tourney will also be posted at when it becomes available.