Parade of Coops!

September 16, 2008

The Twin Cities had its first very own Parade of Coops! this weekend. It’s the perfect alternative to the parade of McMansions that takes place this time of year. It was a huge success in spite of the gloomy rainy weather. I had to miss it due to a prior commitment but I sent a proxy who scooped out the latest on the backyard chicken revolution.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has a vibrant arts and creative community along with an established grassroots movement of eating local through farmer’s markets, co-ops and community supported agriculture programs. The Parade of Coops! showcased our area at its best with backyard eggs, home gardens and creatively designed coops.

The first coop hosted at least 200 people during the first hour alone. Chicken fanciers, those who already had coops and those interested in getting started surrounded Stephen and Stephanie’s new coop. The large red coop was a hit but their 7 hens seemed oblivious to the fuss. The coop is built off the ground with a large hinged front opening reminiscent of an old-fashioned root beer stand. In spite of having over half a dozen hens and a few problems along the way with mice and even lice (the chickens), they’d love to double their flock if they had the room.

The second stop on the tour was a coop built from the “Playhouse” design by Isthmus Handyman of Madison, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, due to a malfunction, the photos didn’t turn out for the next two stops but catch the link to check out this great coop (http://www.isthmushandyman.com). A perfect design for the backyard, it’s been tested in cold weather but also works for those in the warmer climes.

We didn’t make it to the coop Peat, the organizer of the tour, and his neighbor’s share. But we visited it last year after his class on City Chickens. It’s a quaint coop that houses their menagerie of chickens, ducks and geese. Their run is an interesting combination of two large dog kennels providing a large open walk-in space that’s secure on all four sides.

Audrey’s charming coop in St. Paul was the last stop on our limited portion of the tour before the downpour started and we apologize that the great photos we took didn’t turn out. They normally keep 3 hens and are on their second year. Unfortunately, they’ve had a patch of bad luck. Last year one of their birds died and just last week one of their girls disappeared (literally into thin air)! A hawk is suspected. I guess we’ve been lucky—no near misses or large problems—yet. Perhaps the large oak trees in our backyard provide cover from flying predators.

In a discussion of chicken coops Audrey’s theory that “small is better” is the perfect justification for backyard chicks. Her view, with winter on the way, is chickens huddle closer together in small coops and the combined body heat helps keep the flock warm. Her flock has never suffered the frostbite others have had to contend with. I agree. Our chicks have always huddled together at night, it started when they were a few days old and has continued to today. Even with a small coop they don’t use the entire space; in fact, our girls use only about half of the available space so it’s clearly a choice they’re making.

We weren’t able to be part of the tour this year but we’re happy to have everyone view the coop. It’s much smaller than most on the tour but it suits our three chicks just fine. If we’re home they free-range all day in the backyard, otherwise they’re in the attached run. The Eglu coop (made by the Omlet company) is insulated for heat and cold but I add extra warmth in the winter by way of a pet heating pad and heat lamp. We’ve never had any problems with pests or predators, since we use services as powerpestcontrol to help us with this. The coop can be easily disassembled and cleaned in minutes and has a slide-out tray for droppings that I empty every morning so the coop stays very clean. It can also be moved to different parts of the backyard or garden

Omlet is coming out with the bigger Eglu Cube next year. It’s already sold in Great Britain but we’ve been told they’ll start selling it over here in 2009. I can’t wait! My girls will love the extra room in the run and their old Eglu will go to our lake cabin so I’ll be able to take them with. We haul our cats, so why not the chickens? The chickens have ridden in the car several times as they’ve vacationed across town when we went away. (The coop can be disassembled and taken in the car.) They’re quiet well-behaved travelers in their dog cage.

I hope the Parade of Coops! becomes an annual event as it is in many cities across the country. I promise not to miss it next time. In the meantime, I’d love to hear of other coop tours as they happen across the country.

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