Tour de Coop was on yesterday, rain or shine, and I was determined to bike the Island to see it, west to south, east to north, and then on over to Bay Hay for a beer and a rooster cookie afterward. Home-raising chickens is the new old thing in the Northwest these days, and the Tour reflected that, with many of the keepers saying they just started raising chickens in the last six months to a year.
My first stop was the Fike-Chin Coop. Jean Chin explained that her coop’s cement floor keeps out coyotes and raccoons and makes cleaning easy. The biggest danger to her chickens, who range freely along with a herd of sheep on her large fenced property, is eagles and hawks. Jean’s son Jack told me all of his chickens’ names. When I asked him if he likes hanging out with them, he responded, “They’re too filthy. But their eggs are clean.” The six young hens and one rooster looked clean and well-cared for to me!
Mounting my bike and heading up the steep hill from the Fike-Chins, I noticed my derailleur wasn’t working right, which meant I only had use of a couple of my gears, and with an unpleasant grinding sound at that. It made riding slower going, but at least it wasn’t raining.
My next stop was Coop de Ville. Charles and Julie Everett’s property also includes a beautiful former Bloom Tour garden and stained glass studio. Their Great Dane Harley roams the grounds, apparently with an eye on the chickens that is less protective than hungry. But the chickens were tucked away safely in their coop, busy producing multicolored eggs for the Everett’s to enjoy.
At Ryan and Paige Nickum’s Cluck Hut I met Betty White. Betty is the smallest of her flock of seven three-month-old hens, but she doesn’t put up with any cockamamy from her clucking cohort. She’s tough, one might even say gristly, and everyone knows it, even John Travolta, who was later renamed Joan Travolta, upon closer inspection by her human keepers. As luck would have it, I ran into a handy fellow visiting from Missoula at the Cluck Hut. He fixed my derailleur and got me back in gear. Thanks again kind stranger!
The Three Hens Coop south of Fort Ward was a simple but efficient affair with three young chickens snug as bugs in their cozy digs. A climbing grape vine embellished the two-story coop, which owner Caroline Krugel said she spotted and purchased on sight at Bay Hay & Feed fortuitously within an hour of its delivery. The coop fits perfectly in her modest backyard, demonstrating nicely that the chicken lifestyle isn’t just for people with lots of land.
After a brief sandwich stop with my family, who met me traveling by car, I hightailed it up to the Fig House, where I was treated to a cheerfully painted new coop, proudly tended by enthusiastic young chicken farmers Deb Henderson and Benjamin Doerr and their daughter Aria. Another example of efficiently used space, the two-story Fig House coop provides ample room for its four young hens, who also have free run of the small backyard.
Next was Sin Gallo: The Little and Lewis Coop. Little and Lewis manage to make their coop fit in stylewise with the sumptuously planted gardens for which they are so well known. Although the coop stands off to the side, close to the garage, the gigantic bamboo poles painted the signature Lewis and Little blue, the planters set up along its front, and the hen with egg necklace sculpture adorning the coop all tell you that this hen house belongs alongside the stone patio with gurgling fountain, tropical plants, and scalloped blue shell planter.
Rustin and Maria Dozeman and their two daughters embraced chicken-loving living this year with their Coopacabana. Originally planning to have three or four chickens, they have expanded their flock quickly to eleven, with no end in sight. Their breeds include Ameraucana, Black Astralorp, Speckled Sussex, Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, Silverlaced Wyandotte, Barred Rock, Light Brahma, Blue Chochin, and two Welsummers. They said they chose the breeds for friendliness, winter hardiness, and robust egg laying. Maria’s go-to chicken resources are Bay Hay & Feed, Bainbridge Island Egg Cooperative, and Rory at Monroe Farm & Feed.
A stretch farther north was Lost Egg Blue, a coop named for a story from Else Holmelund Minarik’s Little Bear series, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Brian and Erin Jennings’ unique coop is ingeniously built to fit under the staircase and deck of their house. Their daughter Katherine introduced me to Olive, a friendly hen who had gracefully endured a long day of big-footed strangers trampling her turf.
Mismarked on the Tour de Coop map, Saxon Cottage took some time finding but was worth it. This large historic property with its spacious coop has been producing eggs since 1915. Colin and Patricia Nash say their chickens are mostly just over a year old but are watched over by two grandmother matrons who endure no cock-and-bull from the youngsters. When I peeked into one of the nesting boxes, I found a quiet hen laying an egg. She politely assented to a photo and then requested a return to her privacy.
Organized by Jo Ann Trick, this was Tour de Coop’s third year on Bainbridge Island. Yesterday’s estimates were that some 300 tickets were sold, with all proceeds going to Helpline House. And, yes, thanks to the Tour I am going against my better judgment and already considering what I will name my coop. I fear it will be Poop Coop, but my family members, chicken enthusiasts, have reassured me that it will be tidy. We’ll see.
See our Chicken Dumpling Photo Gallery for more fun photos of this year’s Tour de Coop!
Photos by Julie Hall and Sarah Lane, 2011.