Funny-looking cloth "aprons" strapped onto the backs of Tobi Kosanke's chickens do much more than brighten up her chicken coop — they keep her flock healthy and safe.
Kosanke created Hen Saver aprons to protect her hens from overzealous mating roosters and other aggressive hens, and to protect all of her chickens from swooping hawks. The aprons keep hawks from getting a firm hold.
Hen Savers were created as a solution to her unique, and varied, flock. While most chicken farmers carefully plan their flocks to have a correct ratio of hens to roosters, Kosanke's flock is a bit of a hodgepodge. Most birds are rescues from cock-fighting rings — both brood hens and roosters — so they usually arrive at her Crazy K Farm in Hempstead, Texas, in sorry shape and aggressive with each other.
She purchased hen-protecting aprons, but they didn't stay on, were poorly sewn, and fell apart within a few weeks.
Kosanke decided to take the idea and improve on it.
"We did a lot of measuring on our chickens to see how wide and long the straps have to be to stay put," Kosanke says.
She worked with a local seamstress who sewed the aprons with breathable batting between two layers of rip-, tear-, and puncture-resistant, washable cotton fabric.
They came up with five sizes and single and double elastic strap styles with a notch that slips over the tail. Removable shoulder protectors are optional for birds most prone to shoulder damage.
Single-strap models, in which the strap goes under each of the hen's wings, work best for confined chickens. Double-strap models, which cross the chicken's chest, are recommended for active birds on pasture.
"The way it's designed, it's not tied, because you need to let a chicken be a chicken," she adds. "When she flaps her wings, or is dust bathing, the Hen Saver lifts up. The hen stays cool — even in Texas."
The double-strap model takes some adjustment for the bird, Kosanke says. "The chickens walk backward for awhile," she says, although they quickly get used to it.
Kosanke, an oil field geologist, turned her ingenuity into a home-based business, allowing her to stay home with her young daughter. Other poultry owners loved her design and orders started pouring in.
"One customer reported that a hen at the bottom of the pecking order completely changed personality once the other hens could no longer peck at her shoulders," Kosanke says.
She added an extra-small size for bantams and show pigeons and extra-large for turkeys. Hen Savers start at $9 and come in several colors — now including pink. For each pink Hen Saver sold, Kosanke donates 10 percent of profits to breast cancer research.
"It's just a win/win situation," Kosanke says. Not only do her hens look pretty in pink, but "this color gives back to the community."
Dee Goerge is a Minnesota-based writer.