Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chicago chickens

In Homegrown and Handmade, there will be a section on backyard poultry, and because I've never had chickens in the city, I decided to visit some people who keep chickens in Chicago. Katherine went with me because she is doing most of the photos for the book. It was a fun and inspiring day!

We visited four coops in the city and one in a suburb. They ranged from the ultimate in original green design to the ultimate in repurposing an existing structure, which is also a sustainable concept.

This coop is in the suburb of Batavia. It is actually a chicken tractor, which the owner moves with his front loader. You can't see them very well in the snow, but there are skids under the coop and the run. The coop was originally a model shed at a home improvement store, which explains why it is only four feet deep. Owner Jeffrey Glaser added a window on the opposite side of the building, as well as more vents for good air circulation. The coop is home to eleven happy hens.

Martha Sanders and her family built their chicken coop into the end of their garage. From inside the garage, they can open the coop to feed and water their four hens and pick up eggs. The run on the left side of the photo is covered with hardware cloth to keep the hens safe from predators. The unusual "bump out" in their garage was put in by a previous owner who had a car that was too long for the garage. The family added the lower window to provide light for the hens. That window, as well two additional windows used on the other side of the coop (inside the garage) are repurposed from Martha's sister-in-law's house remodeling.

If you don’t want to give up any garden space for a chicken coop, Beth Berger Martin’s idea might work for you. An avid gardener, she built her chicken coop with a “green roof” so that she could plant on top of it. Her Chicago yard is too small and shady to be able to grow vegetables, so she had been using EarthBoxes in her neighbor’s backyard. When she decided to add chickens to her own yard, she took the opportunity to raise ground level to eight feet where plants would get sunlight on top of her chicken coop. The top of her coop is made with repurposed two-by-six joists covered with two layers of three-quarter inch by six inch by sixteen-foot boards, which are covered with roofing felt. The “raised bed” has a waterproof liner, and the roof is sloped so run-off will go into a rain barrel.

Because chickens are short, the coop only occupies the middle third of the red structure on the left side. The space above and below the coop opens to the opposite side and will be used for storing chicken feed, straw, and tools. Nest boxes in the coop also open to the outside, so eggs can be collected without entering the coop or run. Fresh greens will be planted in the window box in spring, so that the hens can have a snack by sticking their heads through the window. The front wall of the coop is actually a giant door on hinges and can be opened for easy cleaning. The run (on the right) is covered with hardware cloth.

Would you guess that this is a chicken coop? Four bantams are locked up for the night under this six-by-eight-foot porch. Come morning, owner Alexandra Gomez-Koski lets them out to run around her fenced backyard. The space had previously been used for storage. Alexandra said she thought about getting chickens for a while, but she was put off by the idea of having to build a coop because she had never built anything before. Then she realized she already had a space available that would work.


LindaG said...

Interesting ideas. :-)

Carla said...

one of my blogspot gals that i fallow, went and visited some creative back yard ideas, and she found one that used a dresser and converted it to a hut for about 4 chickens, it was not only functional but very creative and attractive, and best of all affordable. Homestead Revival is the name of her blogg.. Your doing a great job, I look forward to ready your book when finished.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

I'm glad you mentioned that, Carla. There was one coop we were supposed to visit, but the man had a last-minute work obligation, and he told me that the coop he had before his current one was made out of a dresser. His current coop is a converted plastic tool shed.

Em said...

Those are some interesting coops! Here, in Raleigh, there is an annual Tour de'coop where all of the urban hen-keepers show off their coops and their systems for keeping their fowl friends happy all year. There are some REALLY cute coops in Raleigh! It's called the Henside the Beltline Tour De'Coop. I think it's usually held in July? Not sure about it, but I'm sure you could look it up to see some cute ideas!

Vegetable Garden Cook said...

I've had chickens in both environments before. My first flock of chickens really pissed my neighbors off, because they were too loud. I had four chickens: a polish, americauna, red-sex link, and a barred rock.

I did a little research, and found out that some breeds differ in how noisy they are. That's why I chose to swap out my flock for Delaware chickens, which lay profusely, are a dual purpose bird, docile, and are quieter than other breeds. I do sell hatching eggs through my website if anyone is interested.

Anyway, just another thought on having chickens in the city--if you have neighbors that will be upset by noise, it is a good idea to try to find a breed that is known to be quieter.


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