One of the perks of my last apartment in California was access to seven hens. Really, the perk had more to do with the eggs the chickens produced, but the thought of interacting with hens was strangely thrilling. I’d never been around them before and I was extremely curious.
I imagined making my way to the coop with an egg basket tucked under my arm. Gathering eggs was a nostalgic task I attached to the wholesome life on the prairie I’d read about in the Little House on the Prairie series.
Truth be told, I was thoroughly intimidated by the chickens. Not completely alektorophobic, but when I closed my eyes, I instantly imagined a flashing sharp beak, followed by bloodthirsty talons slicing through the air. How had Laura Ingalls Wilder survived a childhood filled with chickens and egg gathering? My fears were pure fiction, I assured myself. But better to be prepared just in case.
During my early visits to collect eggs from the nesting boxes, I donned thick leather gloves and sunglasses to protect my hands and eyes from injury. The hens eyed me warily and gave me a wide berth as I nervously opened each hatch and extracted the eggs. As I got more experience under my belt, my irrational fears gave way to gratitude for the delicious eggs the chickens produced.
I eventually grew to love the hens and found them to be intelligent, curious and intuitive. I also found their behaviors to be disturbingly true to the adages attached to them — a phrase like pecking order was clearly manifested in the featherless backs of the lowest ranking hens. Though my instinct was to help resolve the obvious dispute, I accepted that they had a very specific way of interacting with their peers.
It seems that the hens, too, grew to accept me hanging around — collecting their eggs, awkwardly fiddling with their food bin or adding more hay to their nesting boxes. What won them over, however, were the rotting plums or figs just beyond their reach that I would scoop up and toss into their coop. If only people were this easy to please.
Here are a few curious facts about chickens: They were first domesticated in Asia several thousand years ago. They can be housetrained, as in trained to use a litter box to live somewhat civilized inside a home. They can be hypnotized. There is an evolutionary link between the chicken and T-rex. Having the T-rex in your ancestry gives you some serious street cred. Maybe this is what’s behind the surge in urban chicken coops nationwide.
In fact, there’s a veritable backyard chicken movement going on. In many cities, you can see some of these creative and fully functioning urban chicken coops firsthand during annual chicken coop tours. Even in Minnesota, where the seasons can be extreme, chickens are flocking to urban neighborhoods.
One neighbor a few blocks down from me built a stunning run around the perimeter of his backyard. After repurposing an old single-car garage as the coop hub, he then used reclaimed wood and other materials to create a run off the coop, accessible to the chickens via a dog door. His two hens can stretch their legs whenever the mood strikes or get a bird’s-eye view of the bocce court or small vineyard just steps from the run.
Another neighbor of mine helped design and build a truly beautiful coop with his adult son who lives a few miles away. Once the hens went into full production, cartons of fresh eggs started appearing at our door – giving a new spin to the traditional sense of a good urban “egging” – here in this urban neighborhood nestled in a city of 300,000 people.
Would you ever consider adding chickens to enhance the value of your rental property?