Sunday, July 12, 2009

City Chicken Chronicles: Part 1

A few weeks ago, something clicked in my gardening-obsessed brain and I started to get chicken-fever. I don't really know what started it all. It could have been the conversation I had in June with some parents at school that have chickens, which made me curious and secretly envious. It could have been all of the times I had to say, "Nope, I'm not going to get chickens" when asked by visitors to my garden. Or maybe it's just a natural progression - first a foodie, second a farmer's market consumer, then an avid kitchen gardener, and finally an urban chicken farmer? Whatever it was, I am officially inspired to have a couple of hens of my own and am now on the quest for as much information as I can gather. 

To see if this is even something I want to get involved in, I decided to go on the Seattle Tilth City Chicken Coop Tour. People around Seattle, who are raising chickens in the city, opened up their backyards and let us check out their set-ups in action. Tilth sent me a map of all the participating chicken-owners and then Jake and I toured around to different coops.  Of course, Jake will be my much-appreciated handy man in this endeavor, the one who will build my coop, so he accompanied me on the tour. He also brought his camera along so that we could take photos of all of our favorite coop features and details.

Here is what we learned so far:
1) Your coop and chicken run can be all one connected, attractive structure. By having these two areas connected, the birds can go into their coop to sleep and come out in the morning when they're ready, thereby making it a little more convenient for me. We will put hardware cloth, a form of heavy duty chicken wire, on the ground of the run and coop and up the side walls and roof to keep predators out.

2) Building a storage cabinet into the coop is a good idea. Where else am I going to put big bags of feed and bedding? Also, doors in different sections of the coop allow easy access to eggs and other areas for cleaning. The four little doors on the first picture can be opened up, allowing direct access to the little nesting cubbies where the chickens lay their eggs.

3) Chickens like tight, little spaces to lay eggs in. We were talking about the idea of using big country mail boxes for nesting cubbies so I could just open that mailbox door and collect my eggs. Then, Jake joked about engineering a mechanism with a flag on the outside of the mailbox that would let me know when I had eggs. I love it!

4) Chickens need a roosting bar to sleep on. Apparently, they poop a lot while on that bar, so if you put big baking trays or a drawer underneath that bar, you can just pull it out and clean it up really easily. According to the coop owners, they change the bedding anywhere from every 6-8 weeks to once a year. I imagine I'd be in the camp of 6-8 weeks, since I don't want it to stink out my neighbors. Plus, the bedding and manure will make great nitrogen-rich compost for my garden.

5) It's best to hang the food and water containers since chickens like to scratch and peck while they eat.

6) Lots of cute accents can be added to your coop like salvaged leaded stained glass windows or this adorable window box planter. Many coops that we saw feature recycled or salvaged materials.

The next step is to take the Coop Design and City Chickens 101 classes at Tilth for even more information. My plan is to get Lucy, Ethel, and, I mean, the chickens sometime next spring.  I am determined to do this with as much planning and preparation as possible, but it is all I can do to contain my excitement. 


radhi said...

i didn't think a chicken coop could be so stinking cute! you'll have to school me more on this idea. i'm sure you'll have them sooner than next spring, just a hunch?! ;)

elisa said...

Prepare to see the cutest chicken coop in the history of humankind:

Her name is Dottie Angel and she lives in seattle. Your welcome!