Spy the Coop

tourdecoopsI’ve always thought it’s got to be a pretty swell life, being a chicken. Assuming you aren’t marked for a neck-wringing and subsequent butter massage and roasting, of course. Or a terrifying group bath. Let me explain.

Growing up, we had a dozen or so chickens, who roamed the garden and orchard all day long, pecking at whatever it is chickens incessantly peck at, and squawking at the back door for the table scraps my mother fed them. It was a leisurely existence.

At night, they were herded into their coop, ’cause we lived in a rough neighborhood filled with shady characters like sneaky neighbor dogs and the occasional coyote or fox. It was a pretty sweet coop. My mother designed it herself, and it had an open floor plan, landscaped sideyard, and a very luxurious roost for the chickens to lay their eggs in, with the requisite trap door so we could then steal their hard-laid eggs and make them into omelettes and crepes and éclair custard. It also had slatted floors so that my mother could give the chickens their weekly bath without drowning them.

See, my mother is a true neat freak, and everyone–the dogs, the goats, the turtle, the rodents, my brothers and I, even the cats, had to be washed regularly. She’d put on inch-thick rubber gloves, grab the cats by the scruff of their necks, soap them up, and dunk them in a plastic juice jug filled with warm water until they were rinsed clean. You’ve never heard such desperate, unholy caterwauling as came from those unfortunate, outraged cats. The dogs and the goats were far more stoic, and I don’t think the turtle even noticed he was being bathed.

But the chickens, they got the shortest of the short straws. It’s hard to wash a chicken. They don’t soap up very well, and they don’t stand still. You can’t tie them to the orchard gate or corral them in the bathtub. You can’t hold them by the scruff of their neck and dunk them in a juice pitcher. So, my mother would pen them up in their slat-footed coop, squirt them with shampoo, then spray them thoroughly with the hose, using the fine spray nozzle, until the suds subsided. We’d watch from afar with our fingers in our ears, horrified and fascinated and delighted all at once. I swear our chickens molted every time they got a bath.

Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of memories tied up in chicken coops. So this Saturday, when they go on sale, I’m going to buy my pass to Growing Gardens’ 7th Annual Tour de Coops, a self-guided chicken coup tour that covers 25 chicken coop palaces in North, Northeast and Southeast Portland. A week later, on Saturday, July 24, tour participants will open their yards and their coops to your inquiring eyes, so that you may learn more and share ideas about urban chicken coopery.

bvillenomadThere will also be an appearance by the Burgerville Nomad, which will sell cage-free egg sandwiches and other breakfast fare from 10am to noon in the parking lot of the Westminster Presbyterian Church (1624 NE Hancock), and you can enter a raffle to win one of two amazing-looking chicken coops (made by The Garden Coop and ModernCoop.com), chicken feed and gift certificates donated by local nurseries and feed stores.


To participate, buy a coop guide booklet, which are on sale from July 17-23, for $15, at the following locations:

Naomi’s Farm Supply
People’s Coop
Urban Farm Store
Garden Fever!
Livingscape Nursery
Hollywood Whole Foods Market

If you have a 2010 Chinook Book, there’s a Tour de Coops ad within, which gives you 20% off the tour booklet if you buy it at one of the above retailers.

This is your chance to see how other people’s chickens live, eat, lay, and perhaps even bathe. See you there!