Welcome to the Peep Show: The Rise of Urban Chicken Coop Tours

Chicken coops aren't the only thing on the rise - city tours of them are booming too.
In Ciara O'Rourke's backyard chickens are free to roam.
Aug 2, 2011
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Garden tours are so 2005. The fad that's making its way to the top of the pecking order? Urban chicken tours.

Jody Noble-Choder, an urban chicken keeper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, recently opened her backyard to 400 visitors, allowing them to explore the mesh-enclosed chicken run and coop that she purchased to house five egg-laying inhabitants: Buffy-the-Wormslayer, Attila-the-Hen, Motherclucker, Bonita and Juanita.

Noble-Choder told The Wall Street Journal that the coop touring trend is a "coming out of the closet" for some chicken keepers who have previously kept low profiles, either because of prohibitive city ordinances or negative responses from neighbors. Despite being advantageous in many ways—producing fresh eggs each morning, eating bugs, and fertiziling lawns—the critters aren't exactly quiet and cities haven't historically taken kindly to city-dwelling chicken owners.

With cities like Pittsburgh lifting bans on chicken keeping, the trend has surged. Rob Ludlow, the owner of backyardchickens.com, a rapidly growing international community of chicken enthusiasts, told WSJ that his Facebook group exceeded 100,000 members on July 27—a 100 percent uptick from last year.

Tours like the one Noble-Choder participated in have sprung up as well. Austin, Texas, has the Funky Chicken Coop Tour; Phoenix, Arizona, has a Tour de Coops; Dallas, Texas, has A Peep at the Coops, and Seattle, Washington—rumored to be the birthplace of the trend back in 2005—hosts the annual Tilth's Chicken Coop and Urban Farm Tour.

Ciara O'Rourke, a 25-year-old urban chicken keeper in Austin, hasn't participated in Austin's tour, but she's definitely noticed the sense of community among chicken keepers in the city that prides itself on staying "weird." The feed store she frequents has weekly meet-ups for chicken owners, and within her neighborhood, the hens have become a conduit for friendly neighbor-to-neighbor exchanges. To compensate for the hens' cawing, O'Rourke and her boyfriend started offering eggs to their neighbor, who responded in kind with homemade tamales. That kind of exchange has since become regular. "It's a nice way to get to know those around you and interact with them," O'Rourke tells TakePart.

Parenting hens isn't free of the occasional hiccup—O'Rourke says they have lost a few chicks to predators, and the cawing of the birds is a mild irritation—but ultimately, it's worth it. "We love our chickens," says O'Rourke. "We've grown attached to them. Plus, it's a great feeling to know where our eggs are coming from, and that the animals are treated well."

Photo: Ciara O'Rourke
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