Coop du Jour

by Katy on May 14, 2009 · 42 comments


If there’s anything that defines the pinnacle of hipness that is Portland, Oregon circa 2009, it’s the backyard chicken coop. (Portland allows three hens, no more and absolutely no roosters, thank god!)

My friends Lise and Sasha are energetic chicken enthusiasts, and are always quick to interrogate me on my baffling lack of a backyard hennery:

“You know, chickens are really easy to take care of . . . I don’t understand why you don’t have any? You really should get some!”

Sascha’s chickens are ensconsed in a fairly straightforward coop that actually sits on her front lawn, while Lise’s backyard coop not only encompasses a bicycle storage area, but an elaborate rainwater runoff system. And both keep my poultry lust at bay with occasional fresh egg deliveries.

But today I was honored to visit the most elaborate and unique coop thus far. My mother and I were visiting her friend Deb, who was unloading a good-as-new queen-size mattress and boxspring set. We had driven my mother’s honkin’ huge truck across town to haul away the set, and were given a tour of her elaborately landscaped garden.

Alongside her darling cobblestone patio was a unusual round metal gazebo, sporting an almost pagoda-like roof. 

Wait a minute! What’s that clucking noise?!

Nope, not a gazebo, an elegant chicken coop! 

Deb explained that the coop was actually a massive parrot cage that had been laying about unused on her friend’s property. With the addition of a makeshift roosting area constructed from glass paneled doors, it easily became the perfect chicken coop!

Allowing me to hold a chicken while handing still warm eggs to my mother charmed us both.

It was so cool looking, not Clampett-ey at all!

My backyard is semi-dominated by a 12-foot square tree house/platform that would be very easy to convert into a chicken coop. I’ve held off thus far as other projects have filled my dance card, but I’m thinking I now have motive, (true inspiration) and opportunity, (other backyard projects are just about completed.)

So I’m not sure if I can convince my husband to take on another project, but I’m definitely thinking about jumping on the uber-hip chicken bandwagon.

I’m sure both Lise and Sascha would approve.

Do you have chickens or did you grow up with them? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa G May 14, 2009 at 1:59 am

I would love to have hens in my garden, but I’m afraid they would turn my small patch into a mudbath – scratching hens and plentiful rain may not be a good combination! Loving your blog, I’ve only recently discovered you and I’m trying to catch up with all your posts right now.


Moon Over Martinborough May 14, 2009 at 3:32 am

I never grew up with chickens in the suburbs of Detroit, but now that I’m living in rural New Zealand we just got chickens.

I’m on a quest for blue eggs so I got a breed called ‘Lavendar Araucana’ — they lay blue eggs!

I wrote about my quest for blue eggs on my blog, ‘Moon Over Martinborough’.


Kristen@The Frugal Girl May 14, 2009 at 6:47 am

I don’t think my husband would approve of that. lol If we ate a lot of eggs, I might consider it, but as it is, I’m the only one around here who actually enjoys eating eggs. Sigh. The vast majority of the eggs in this house go into pancakes, muffins, rolls, and the like.

I should probably funnel my energy into doing more gardening if I’m interested in producing more of our own food. I would like to find a friend who owns chickens, though, because I think eggs straight from a small coop like that are healthier.


Rhonda May 14, 2009 at 7:30 am

We had hens when we lived in the country. Tried raising them in town, but our dogs got them.
That being said, there is nothing like fresh eggs. we loved them and I would love to have them again. They’ll eat scraps along with their feed.
I used a lot of eggs for eating and baking, so three would just be enough. Add to that, they don’t lay all year.
I don’t know if its cheaper, but I do know that the eggs are better.


Meg from FruWiki May 14, 2009 at 8:00 am

My husband and I have chickens. Right now, one hen outside and 6 chicks in our guest bath tub (one of which we’re keeping, the rest go to our moms).

I didn’t grow up with chickens, though my siblings did before me. I always wanted some, though. My husband grew up with them and enjoyed the fresh eggs. So when we saw that our back neighbor had some hens, it wasn’t long before he had built a coop and we got some chicks (unfortunately, our first four chicks weren’t sexed and we got three roosters which had to go to his mom’s place in the country).

I really love our two Rhodie Island Reds, Cleo and Chloe. Cleo is the hen and she’s such fun to watch. We let her out in the back yard when we’re home and she loves scratching around. She rules that place, too. She chases off the squirrels which is so funny to watch. And she’s sooooo sweet. When she sees me at the door or window she runs across the yard to greet me. She likes me to give her a scratch and will let me pick her up.

Chloe will be headed outside soon, I think. Here’s a video of when she was very young: So cute 😀

Anyhow, I think having chickens is awesome. They’re great, cheap pets and very easy to take care of. They do a great job of eating bugs and turning up mulch. They make great fertilizer. Plus you get ensure that you get eggs humanely. And the eggs…. OMG! Sooooo much better than store bought! And healthier, too! My husband has been trying to recreate his mom’s French toast for years and didn’t come close until he used one of Cleo’s eggs. That was the trick!


A Squirrel Most Frugal May 14, 2009 at 10:03 am

My family used to go to my aunt and uncle’s farm when I was growing up and we’d get eggs and butcher chickens to freeze and eat during the year.

These days, I would really like to have a few chickens to help me control pests and weeds in the garden. Unfortunately, most cities don’t allow any kind of poultry in the city. How did Portland pass this law permitting poultry? I’d really like to see a post going into this story. Thanks! 🙂

Great blog, by the way. Very entertaining to read.


Lisa Whipple May 14, 2009 at 10:50 am

Urban chickens are sooooo five minutes ago. It’s urban bees now. Sorry, Katy.

(Actually, I have had chicken-owning fantasies. But I am having trouble keeping all the humans alive, so probably not the best time…)


Angela May 14, 2009 at 11:14 am

I was going to say: I don’t get the chicken thing. It’s all about getting fresh eggs, right? We only eat a dozen every 2 or 3 weeks, and that’s mostly for baking.

After reading Meg’s comment, they’re more of a pet than I realized. And I would probably be charmed by the gazebo-style chicken coop.

I live in Los Angeles and many people I know are going bee crazy, so Lisa Whipple may be right! Or maybe it’s geographical- chickens are so Portland, and bees are so L.A.


Clean Simple May 14, 2009 at 12:18 pm

We’ve had chickens twice (and I had them as a kid in suburbia). We got rid of ours a couple of years ago because…poop! We just got sick of the smelliness. And it was a hassle when we wanted to go out of town.

They are sweet creatures though, esp if you get them as chicks and gentle them.


ToilingAnt May 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm I don’t think I could hardly stand to have only three, though!

If you’re thinking of breeds, Buff Orpingtons are calm, docile, quiet, and BEAUTIFUL. And good layers too.


Stacey May 14, 2009 at 3:33 pm

We love our chickens, too! We’ve had 4 of them for over 2 years now and they are wonderful! They live in a coop/run that is right beside our house in an urban neighborhood. Asheville recently passed an ordinance that stated you could have chickens if there was a buffer of 100 feet between you and your neighbor. We have less than that, but great relations with our neighbor, so no worries.

I was surprised by two things: they are noisy (“clucking old biddies” and “hen parties” appropriately capture their often riotous nature – especially when they seem to be “cheering” each other on when one is laying) and they do generate *a lot* of poop. We clean out their coop/run once a week and it is an hour’s labor, at least.

But we are committed. We love to eat fresh eggs and even store-bought “organic/free-range” eggs are a poor substitute (the regulations for applying those terms seem rather lax).

I also love that raising chickens gives my son another opportunity to see where food really comes from.

I haven’t posted a pic of our chickens and their layout in a while. I will try to do that soon!

You can see them when they were much younger here:

Again, can’t recommend ’em enough (with above caveats)!


AJ in AZ May 14, 2009 at 4:55 pm

I didn’t grow up with chickens, although we did live in the country, but DH and I obtained chickens several years ago because of the factory-farming of chickens and eggs. I wanted good natural chicken meat to eat, and the eggs have turned out to be a great bonus too.
I say go for it, to whatever level your family wants to do it. Different breeds of chicken are tamer and/ or quieter and lay more or less eggs, so do some research before you buy. I have 9 hens now and one rooster, plus 5 baby chickens hatched by one of the hens 6 weeks ago, and another is setting on 6 more eggs that should hatch next week. Fun, meat, and eggs. And saving money too. What could be wrong with this picture?


Liz May 14, 2009 at 6:17 pm

We’ve had chickens for about two years now. Best pets ever. They are as fascinating to watch as a lava lamp. Mesmerizing.


Linda May 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Hi Katy,

I have been bugging my husband for about a year now for chickens….April 7 he surprised me & brought home 2 baby chicks! They have lived in our (2nd) bathtub up until 3 days ago. My husband finished their coop & they were moved outside. They’re only 2 months old so it will be another 2 – 4 months before they start laying. They are so much fun to watch as they hunt & peck around the yard. They love eating the slugs from my garden! My husband is already talking about getting a couple more, we can have 5 here in our city. I say go for it…start slow with a couple… if it doesn’t work out for you, you can probably find someone who will take them or you could have a couple of chicken dinners?!


David May 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Yes Katy we have had chickens for almost 30 years now. At our last house where we lived for 28 years we had two acres, and they roamed at will. No problems with the neighbors. Now we have moved to a house with only a half acre. We just got 10 chicks and are hoping our new neighbors will be as understanding. We originally decided to only get 6, but “We’d better get a couple of extra in case anything happens to any of them.” When we went to pick them up, my wife fell in love with some others so we ended up with 10! They are 6 weeks old now and living in an 8’X8′ garden shed – posh digs indeed! I cut an opening, put in a little door for them and fenced in a run about 12′ by 40′. They have’nt been out yet, I opened the door today but I guess they were too scared, but they will go out soon. We love the fresh eggs, we had about 20 chickens at the last house, so it was no wonder the neighbors didn’t mind because they got lots of eggs too! The other thing we like about chickens is there is no waste, they will eat just about anything, so nothing gets thrown away. (Their very favorite food is the leftovers from fried chicken! They will almost kill each other to get it!)


Jen May 14, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I just buy eggs and chicken meat from my friend who lives in the country. I thought about getting chickens, but my hubby thought he had enough dealings with poo from the dog, so he nixed the idea. I am also basically lazy, so I am willing to pay someone else a good price for the organic, free range eggs and meat. And there really is no comparison to store bought!


Lili May 14, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Um, as a vegan, I need to speak for the chickens here: they don’t want you to eat their babies.
And feeding fried chicken to chickens, that’s just barbaric.


Jeanne May 14, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I agree with Liz. Chickens are mesmerizing, true stress relievers.
We have 14! Two four year old hens we just moved into a chicken tractor we built last week and 12 in our new flock who are teenagers now at about 9 weeks old and just took over the old girls spacious hen house. (not good to try to mix flocks)
We’ve been keeping chickens for nine years now and I can’t do without them. I am always sad in winter when they quit laying for a few weeks and I am forced to buy store bought.
I have six acres so my situation is very different than yours. But I am a huge fan of The City Chicken website and you should definitely spend some time there before you make the commitment. Here’s the link:


marianne May 15, 2009 at 3:52 am

katy, can you post a pic of the gazebo cage for us? we love our chickens and will be getting more when we move to a new house at the end of the summer. we get about 1 egg a day from each so if you don’t eat many eggs, one chicken would suffice. and im sure people would be banging down ANGELAS door for the extras. we have an EGLU ( this is not the choice for anyone following the compact. luckily i got mine before i started. 😉 it makes clean up a snap ( i just pull the tray out from the base and dump it in my compost pile). and while i 110% agree with LILI about feeding chickens leftover chicken, their eggs are not babies. They need to be fertilized by a rooster to become a chick. The eggs we get are just like a womans egg she releases each month. This doesnt matter for a vegan, since they respect all aspects of the animal, but i have had several people ask me this question. =)


Cheryl May 15, 2009 at 4:28 am

I’m surprised no one has so far mentioned the obvious…………Chickens have a lifespan of about 8 years but they lay eggs for about 4 years. That means you have about 4 years when they’re not ‘earning their keep’. If you’re OK with keeping them on as old age pensioners, then everything’s good. If not, or it you want the ‘meat’ that others have so casually mentioned, you have to deal with the slaughter question.


Aleeya May 15, 2009 at 6:39 am

I would love to have chickens running around the yard. My great aunt used to have free range hens and I thought it was so neat to sit on the porch and watch them strut back and forth across the yard. I live in a residential area though and would have to be pretty sneaky about raising chickens. Could you post a picture of the cool coop for inspirational purposes?


Meg from FruWiki May 15, 2009 at 6:54 am

Re: poop, we haven’t had a real problem with that. But then we’ve had at most two hens outside (or four pullets) outside, it’s a rather large coop, and they get to spend a lot of time outside.

When the bottom of the coop gets a bit stinky/nasty (which is actually rare) we cover it in a layer of dirt and leaves. The shelf where they roost is actually where it gets the nastiest, and now only one side since we’ve added an egg box. But with that we just open the back doors and pull it out of the coop with a shovel or hoe and then spread it around the yard a bit.

When the bottom of the coop gets too thick, I look forward to putting it in my compost pile and then use it for gardening. Our soil here is so sandy that I welcome having some good manure.


Meg from FruWiki May 15, 2009 at 7:06 am


I’ve heard of plenty of hens laying well past 4 yrs — though it probably varies a lot with breed and living conditions. Perhaps that’s just when they stop laying regularly? As they age, hens will lay less frequently, but I’d count on more than 4 yrs. Of course, even if they stopped completely, I’d keep our hens. I can’t eat animals with names 🙂

And, sad to say, if you have even just a couple of hens, something will probably happen to at least one of them before they hit chickie menopause. So, then you can stagger the ages a bit, even if you didn’t to start with.


Jeanne May 15, 2009 at 7:25 am

Regarding Meg and Cheryl’s discussion about what to do with old hens, it is a problem in that you don’t want to eat a chicken that old. We tried it once with a rooster who was only about 6 months old. The meat was rubbery and impossible to chew. Most people don’t realize that the chicken you buy in the grocery store is only 10 weeks old or less. Plus they are meat birds, bred to have fat breasts etc.
You could stew an old chicken and make broth.


Meg from FruWiki May 15, 2009 at 8:56 am


I understand your feelings. I’m not vegan, but I think I get it. I definitely believe that we should treat animals humanely while they’re alive, even though I do think that it is alright to kill and eat them (circle of life and all that). In fact, one of the main reasons we got chickens was so that we can ensure that our eggs were humanely produced.

They might not want me to eat their babies, but domesticated chickens don’t really see their eggs as their babies, fertilized or not — at least not until they get a pile going and get broody. Cleo could care less when I take the egg from the nest, or even when I put the cracked ones in the compost pile (always crack them first or they’ll explode). I’ve seen her upset and happy, so I feel like I can read her pretty well, but taking the eggs doesn’t seem to faze her one bit.

Trust me, she is a happy chickie, especially when she gets to scratch out in the yard and get lots of attention.


alunachic May 15, 2009 at 9:54 am

Katy! I applaude your use of the word “Clampett-ey” LOL
The Cement Pond (pool) the Fancy Eatin Table (billiard table) etc came pouring into my head.
Thanks for the wonderful chuckle.

Chickens. Wish I could do that but Mr Kronk the Dog chases everything. Wonder how folks with dogs keep chickens?


Ellen May 15, 2009 at 10:24 am


You should read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. She talks about establishing a coop, and the experience might be great advice for you in planning yours.


Jacquelyn May 15, 2009 at 11:30 am

I love having chickens! Our new chicks are just a couple weeks away from moving outside. Yes, I live in Portland – but I had chickens before I moved to where it was trendy, I swear! 🙂
Chickens make great pets and you can’t beat the eggs and the benefits to your garden.
Great fun!


A Squirrel Most Frugal May 15, 2009 at 12:17 pm

To Lili: Sorry, but I just can’t resist. The grapes don’t want you to eat their babies either… 🙂

This is the way life turns. I think it is better to recognize that and have a respectful attitude towards everything that we consume to sustain our lives and our families.


thenonconsumeradvocate May 15, 2009 at 3:04 pm


Don’t make me pull this blog over . . . .

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


David May 15, 2009 at 8:12 pm

We were in Hawaii a few years and I asked the guide if they ate the chickens that I saw running around the Island wild. They were old and had obviously been running around for years He said you could and here is his recipe: – Get abig pot and fill it with boiling water, catch one of the chickens, pluck it, clean it and put it in the pot with a large rock and boil them together. When the rock is soft, the chicken is ready!


Diana May 16, 2009 at 12:31 am

Several years ago, when I lived in the country, I mentioned to my mom that I had thought about getting a couple of ducks. She brought me 6 chickens. One died not long after. The others survived and thrived (the place had an old coup that just needed overhauling). I loved those chickens!

Here is what I found:

Do you have a place to put the coop waste? It makes wonderful compost, but what are you going to do if you don’t already compost? I never had a problem in the coop as I was able to let them out in the attached yard for a few hours a day. I still had to clean the coop regularly.

I was living by myself and had 5 chickens. That’s a whole lotta eggs, even for someone who bakes. I’m not fond of eggs by themselves. All 5 chickens laid an egg everyday that I had them. Happy chickens will do that. Are you able to use that many eggs? Even if you have just two chickens thats 14 eggs a week and you need at least two to keep each other company.

Buying chicken feed and supplies will probably cost as much or more as buying eggs in the store if you are not buying organic eggs. Even if the eggs are organic, it may cost more.

Are you willing to go outside to check on them every day of the week? They need to be checked at least once a day, if only to look for their eggs.

I would like to have the oppurtunity to have chickens again. My chickens were never noisy and I loved the soft clucks and greetings that they gave me, but all of the above would be a consideration. Also make sure that the coop is built and completed before bringing the chicks home. Mine wasn’t (as they were a surprise, hello Easter!) and they lived in large dog kennels on my enclosed back porch until the coop was finished. That was smelly, messy, and not fun. For all those people that have them in their bathtub, I can’t imagine. Where the heck are you bathing at?


Meg from FruWiki May 16, 2009 at 7:43 am


We have 6 chicks in the guest bath but it’s just temporary until they’re old enough to go to their respective homes (1 outside, 1 to my MIL’s, and 4 to my mom’s). The smell is a bit overpowering despite regular cleaning, especially because we don’t have an outgoing vent in there. I don’t think we’ll try to do 6 chicks at one time again in the bathroom. One or two was fine, four was borderline, but six = poo factory.

Thankfully, we have another bathroom, so no need to worry about us not bathing 😉


Betsy Talbot May 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm

My grandparents had chickens when I was growing up, so our eggs were always brown or greenish. I never saw a white egg until I was in school, and then I wondered what was wrong with it.

Today I live in a townhouse with no yard, so I don’t have chickens. But I do fondly remember having fresh eggs for breakfast at granny’s house on the weekends. Of course, that was back before it was the pinnacle of hipness. 🙂 I can’t wait to see pictures of your new coop.


Paul May 17, 2009 at 6:54 pm

While growing up at home, we had Banty Chickens for many a yr. We allowed them to roam the yard and they roosted in a playhouse we had in the back yard. They definitely gave us a good supply of eggs and were excellent pets, besides. Next door neighbor didn’t like’m as he thought they were coming over into his yard and destroying his flower beds, but in reality his cat was doing the ruining the chickens were keeping the insect and bug population down.
Years later my parents decided to raise about 20 fryer chickens and only kept them about until they were ready for “butchering”. As a child a vowed I would not be much part of the chopping their heads or as an uncle would do, ‘ring their necks’. I did help with plucking the feathers though. I found out that for anyone growing up on a farm that all the various parts of an animal were capable of being edible, even the chicken legs.

Sorry if this posting is a little upsetting. But it’s what a grew up in. I wouldn’t want to advise anyone to raise fryers in their in town back yards though, for obvious reasons.


Julia May 18, 2009 at 6:53 pm

If you are going to eat eggs, “home-grown” is definitely the most humane way. What vegans are trying to spread the word about is how poorly the factory farm egg industry treats chickens:
All I know is, egg-free baking is cheap for me—one box of Ener-G egg replacer lasts months and is the equivalent to about 100 eggs. It costs $6 or so and requires no refrigeration.
No need to pull over the blog, Katy—unless dissenting opinions are not allowed. And that would be pretty boring. Your blog and commenters are definitely not boring.


Kim May 19, 2009 at 7:55 am

We are in our mid and late forties. We recently found a small farm to rent. In fact, this week we celebrate our second year here. It’s been an amazing journey and mostly because of our “ladies” (hens). I love our ladies! We have 40 of them and a small fridge out in front of the coop from which we sell their eggs for $3 per dozen. I can stand for hours outside watching our ladies strut around. Our neighbor works at a pizza shop and brings baked dough from subs home to them. Now, whenever someone is outside, nearly all 40 hens run to surround them, hoping for a treat. They break out of our inadequate fencing quite easily so they strut around our fields and yard, making anyone who drives by slow down, point and smile. And the eggs? Well, there’s really no comparison between fresh eggs and store bought eggs. From what I’ve been reading around the net, community codes are being altered all over to allow chickens. Many have never legislated against them. I highly recommend you get your own. Do yourself a favor and get a lawn chair out there by the coop. Get your tallest iced tea glass, fill it up, and go hang out with the ladies. You might even be able to skip your weekly therapy session after an hour with the ladies.


Leslee August 25, 2012 at 11:28 am

I have a metal gazebo that I want to turn into a chicken coop. I just read your story about the Lady who turned her parrot cage into a chicken coop. I would love to talk to Deb if at all possible to pick her brain for ideas on what she did to make it work. Is there any why you could help me to get her email? I would really appreciate it.

Thanks so much Leslee


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