Saturday, September 14, 2013

Somebody Else's Chickens

Today was the Twin Cities Coop Tour. A self-guided tour of homes, a couple of businesses and a school in the city and suburbs that have chickens. I was intrigued; I printed out the map and marked a few nearby addresses to consider visiting.

Craig said, "I've seen a chicken before."

I said that I'd like to see some chickens, but that I wasn't feeling ambitious and didn't want to have to drive anywhere.

So we rode our bicycles to visit one spot on the tour, the one nearest us, by Lake Nokomis.

This is Mike, and his hens all have names, but I don't remember what they are. They just got their chickens this spring.

I asked why they keep chickens. For the eggs, he said, and because we wanted our daughters to have the experience.

He then explained that they have a 4-year-old attending preschool at the Dodge Nature Center, which has chickens, and one of the teachers there asked Mike and his wife, Britt, if they had chickens. They were surprised by the question.

The teacher explained that the little girl was so completely at ease with the chickens, confidently plucking the eggs out from under them and picking them up, that she figured they must be a familiar thing at home.  Britt wondered aloud, "People keep chickens?"

A week or so later, as Mike tells it, Britt said again, "People keep chickens?" But this time her tone sounded more intrigued than taken aback.

"Next thing I knew," he said, "I was building a coop."

These are winter hardy chickens, he explained. They can stay outside year round. In fact, the heat is a bigger concern for them than the cold. Their coop and adjoining run are situated under the shade of a large tree, and, as you can perhaps see, has vines clambering over it to provide even more shade.

The coop itself is above ground so that there's room under for the chickens to seek shelter from the rain and find dry ground at all times.

I asked if they let the chickens roam in the garden. I had always figured that for a gardener, keeping chickens meant free fertilizer and bug patrol. But they also eat plants, and will eat all of them if allowed to roam freely, so they're only allowed in the garden some of the time, Mike explained.

And, for the record: No, I don't want to keep chickens. But I'd love it if one of my neighbors did, so I could visit them.

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