Uncommonwealth: Coop tour sets out to prove chickens are good neighbors

The chickens in the backyard coop of Jill and Keith Haas will be part of the Tour de Coops, the annual celebration of encouragement of home chicken-keeping.
The chickens in the backyard coop of Jill and Keith Haas will be part of the Tour de Coops, the annual celebration of encouragement of home chicken-keeping. Herald-Leader

The Gainesway subdivision backyard of Keith and Jill Haas, filled with chickens and their accompanying coops, a thriving vegetable garden and new perennials, is quiet and pretty much odorless.

Even though the day is damp with humidity, the chickens quietly go about their business, providing eggs straight from the source for the Haas family.

Jill Haas' chickens, varied in breed and size, — some fully grown, some just a few weeks old — are quieter than newborn puppies. They hunt, peck and take "dirt baths" by rolling in the dust.

"They serve so many purposes," said Jill Haas, who has had chicken coops for three years. "We get eggs, meat, fertilizer. They're like a keystone animal."

Dispelling many of the myths surrounding urban chicken-keeping — that the birds are loud, smelly and disruptive — is part of the purpose of the upcoming Cluck Tour de Coops, said Jeremy Porter, programs director of the Lexington nonprofit Seedleaf.

No one knows exactly how many Lexington-area residents have taken up urban chicken-keeping, but interest is high.

"It doesn't have to be just for folks who have lots of money or time," Porter said.

Chicken-keeping encourages people to learn to put together simple structures for coops, and "just about every chicken keeper has some form of a garden."

Last year's Tour de Coops, the organization's fourth, sold 300 tickets for its self-guided tour. Porter said the tour probably hosted about 400 people because the ticketed number did not include children 12 and younger, who were admitted free.

"We have been growing every year," he said.

Southern States in Lexington, a farm supply store, sold 2,000 chicks this spring, he said.

"That's probably at least several hundred chicken keepers," Porter said.

But not all chickens are bought locally. Ideal Poultry Breeding Farms in Texas and Mount Healthy Hatcheries of Ohio are favorite sources among chicken-keepers, according to Porter and Haas. The Haas coop complex will be one of the tour stops.

"The city ordinances are very neighbor-friendly and neighbor-oriented," Porter said. "People think these are smelly barnyard animals. Sometimes we just have to deconstruct the myth. I think chickens make good neighbors."

Seedleaf, a nonprofit that promotes growing, cooking and recycling local food, offers master community gardener and community composter training. On the third Thursday of every month from April through November, in partnership with Woodland Christian Church, Seedleaf gathers whatever produce is in season and cooks seasonal soup, which is given to a local feeding organization and shared with participants.

For potential chicken coop owners, Seedleaf offers information-sharing and free initial consultations to those who want to establish their own.

Coop locations for the tour are all over Lexington, and will include neighborhoods from Joyland in north Lexington to Todds Road to the Tates Creek Road area.

Employment Solutions, which has a chicken coop at its site, will host an after-tour party for tour participants on Aug. 31 at its offices at 1084 Whipple Court. Food trucks will be available, and a raffle will distribute a chicken coop.

Before you buy chickens and build a coop, Porter suggests you check with your neighborhood association, because some deed restrictions don't allow for poultry cultivation.

Some coop owners find that urban chicken farming is not for them, but Porter said that for others, "there's a sense of people being connected with their own food and their own food culture."