Saturday, August 13, 2011

tour de coop

One of the things that became abundantly clear in the earliest City Council chicken meetings was the vast amount of misinformation and misconceptions under which many folks (including several City Council members) labor. But the most comprehensive recitation of facts seemed to have limited effect. Facts seem to hold little sway in this debate, strangely. At some point, the best advocate for a chicken is a chicken herself. So the inestimable Linda hatched a plan to take the City Council members on a tour of neighboring communities' coops, demonstrating to them that their worst fears are simply unfounded.

Wednesday night Cheryl, Friends of Richmond Heights chair, and I scoped out the first two coops on the prospective CCCC (City Council Chicken Coop) Tour.

First up was Anne Martin, who has so graciously turned up at two City Council meetings to voice her support for chickens in Richmond Heights--even though she has no personal stake in the outcome. But that is the kind of spirit that seems to animate the chicken community.

Anne lives in a beautiful Clayton neighborhood, in the beautiful, characteristically Clayton house where she grew up. And she happens to have chickens in her beautiful Clayton back yard. Anne is also a wonderful artist and her home and garden are adorned with lots of her inimitable sculptures, many of which incorporate chicken and vegetable themes. Her art plays wittily at the borders of the profane, but what I notice most is the undeniable life force she captures in the animals and food she re-animates in bronze and terra cotta. [And having veered dangerously close to art criticism, I will now return to safer ground, i.e., chickens.]

Anne's flock makes its home in a purchased coop set into a corner of her yard with a run extending behind it and abutting a retaining wall.
The close quarters made it hard to get pictures of her wonderfully diverse flock and her two cheeky roosters (yes, roosters!) but I did manage to capture the coop's weathervane:
Anne's flock peacefully coexists with her exuberant standard poodle. Although they have day-long access to the run, Anne lets her chickens out into her fairly manicured back yard in the early evenings and tolerates their habit of relocating mulch to suit themselves.

Liz, who also lives in what I think of as a classic Clayton house (although it is, technically, in "the city", as we call St. Louis proper in these parts), has a set-up more like what I envision for myself. Cheryl and I followed her out her back door into a yard beautifully landscaped with flowering plants and herbs.

Her four girls live at the back of the yard. During most of the day they have access to a smallish but adequate coop and a small run.

But first thing in the morning and every evening, Liz's girls are turned loose in her vegetable garden.

Like me, Liz uses raised beds, although hers are made of plastic lumber. To protect her plants from the vicious depredation of her hens, Liz has ringed each bed in fencing. At the moment, she has an abundance of melons and has left one hanging on the hen side of the fence for them to attack. The girls have already decimated all the melon leaves that poke through the fencing at hen height. As I watched, one of them jumped up to pull at a leaf just out of reach. Moments later a second popped up and before long all of them had attempted the jack-in-the-box method of grazing. It's priceless, really, and a perfect example of copycat flock dynamics.
Liz's girls, a Buff Orpington, a Barred Rock and two Black Jersey Giants, are sweet and curious. When I took out my phone to photograph them, they crowded close to inspect.

The birds burbled and clucked contentedly as they busied themselves about the yard. I crouched down to their level and extended my hand. Immediately, one of them dove with laser-like accuracy for my wedding ring and I was reminded of all the times the chicks, especially Millie, pecked at my ring, my freckles and any other anomalous spot within their field of vision. Full of nostalgia for my lost girls, I can't wait to have my own flock again. I do love chickens.

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