Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Coop Tour Unscrambles Negative Connotations about Owning Chickens

Live in Cleveland Heights? Your neighbor may have a secret: a feathery, egg-laying friend. Normally, the cluckers would stay cooped up from the public eye, but on June 21 10 poultry enthusiasts opened their backyards for the 2nd Annual Cleveland Heights Coop Tour.

  In 2012, the city of Cleveland Heights hatched a plan to accommodate the birds by lifting a ban on raising chickens, as long as owners keep no roosters and don’t have more than four hens at a time bringing both support and opposition.

“When they made it legal, I just wanted to get people out to see it,” says Matt Wilson, one of the founding members of the Heights Chickeneers, an online group and blog for Cleveland Heights chicken keepers. “A poorly run poultry farm is disgusting,” he says. “It’s tragic.”

The coop tour set out to show how quiet, clean, and charming chickens can be. For folks worried about ethical treatment of animals? Well ... some of these hens lived in coops nicer than my apartment. The coops' architecture was as unique and diverse as the houses they stood behind. Some owners bought theirs ready-to-go from a farm store,while others had theirs made by local woodworkers (Timothy Riffle and Tim McLoughlin both build custom coops in the Heights) and one couple won theirs in a raffle at the Cleveland Garlic Festival. Maggie Schaffer and her husband built theirs  an $1,000-plus adobe complete with an electric sliding door, a tall run in the back, an electrical cord to heat water in freezing weather, and Plexiglas covering the windows for protection against winter winds.

If watching chickens gallivant and flutter around urban backyards wasn’t enough, the tour offered an incentive: Each destination handed out a sticker, and at the end of the tour, the Bottlehouse Brewery on Lee Road entered everyone with four or more stickers in a raffle to win a themed gift basket or backyard eggs. If you flashed your stickers at the table, you’d get $2 off of an order for a croque madame: a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do this was to dispel the idea that chickens are bad or noisy or stinky,” says Culey. The hens were nothing of the sort; they were fluffy and clean, social and whimsical. Minus the fluffy part, so were their owners: friendly, engaging people just looking to unscramble unfair negative notions of chicken farming.

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