Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh’s Tour d’Coop offers peek into urban chicken farming

Mordecai residents Siena Stevens and Adam Bible get 56 fresh eggs a week from their backyard chicken coop, just a mile away from the skyscrapers of downtown.

Since last August, hens Martha Stewart, Lucille Ball, Peg Bundy and five of their sisters have kept Bible and Stevens’ refrigerator stocked with enough left over to sell – and contributed to their social life, too.

“People you wouldn’t otherwise have a conversation with, you will if you both have chickens,” Stevens said.

Their backyard coop will be one of many around Raleigh open to public view Saturday in this year’s Tour d’Coop event. Now in its seventh year, the “Parade of Combs and their homes” aims to encourage backyard hen-raising by example.

“The first question people always ask is, ‘Is that legal?’ ” said Cynthia Deis, Tour d’Coop spokeswoman and keeper of six chickens in a backyard coop on Glenwood Avenue just outside downtown for the past 16 years. “Yes. It is.”

Tickets are available online or at a handful of select locations around Raleigh for a suggested $10 or the donation of canned goods. All profits from the tour benefit Urban Ministries of Wake County. Last year’s event raised $15,000 for the nonprofit.

This year’s expanded tour incorporates a variety of nontraditional poultry-producing locales, from snug downtown backyards where efficiency is key, to sprawling suburban gardens. Coop addresses are not released until the day of the tour, because the coops are at private homes.

“People think coops only exist in quirky Oakwood or Five Points,” Deis said. “The truth is, they can fit nicely in any kind of yard.”

Bible built their large coop from shiny wood and repurposed lumber, with sliding doors on the nesting box and a whimsical chicken-shaped door handle. Their neighbor, Tom Hayes, placed his in the back corner of his garden, multilevel and spacious, made from bricks and old wood that give it a more rustic feel.

The benefits of backyard chickens outweigh the few inconveniences, Bible and Hayes agree. Chickens eat weeds from your garden while leaving the vegetables, and their droppings are good for compost. Sure, the coop needs to be raked out and a $20 bag of chicken feed purchased from the hardware store each month, but it’s hard to argue against fresh eggs every morning, Bible said.

Anyone with interest and a little dedication can do it, enthusiasts claim. Bible is a freelance writer and editor by trade. Stevens is a nursing student at Wake Tech Community College. Hayes is a woodworker.

Since last August, Bible and Stevens have gotten a crash course on the ins and outs of hen-raising, from what to do for an “egg-bound” hen (give it a warm bath so the stuck egg releases), to how to distract a “broody” hen with baby fever (a couple days in a smaller cage usually does it).

And getting to know the hens is part of the fun. Each has their own particular set of quirks, Hayes said, from Luna the industrious digger who works while the others rest, to friendly, curious Cosmo, always the first to greet him when he checks on the coop.

“The same way people like to garden when they see how easy it is to plant this tomato plant and get delicious tomatoes, the same goes for chickens when you see how really easy they are,” Hayes said. “And tomatoes are just plants, but chickens are entertainment.”

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