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Lifestyles of the clucking and feathered

The coops and Chick-Mansions of Juneau

Posted: August 18, 2013 - 12:00am
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Bryan Hoshide holds Martha up while their youngest son leans in for a peck on the lips. He decided it was "yucky."  Melissa Griffiths | Juneau Empire
Melissa Griffiths | Juneau Empire
Bryan Hoshide holds Martha up while their youngest son leans in for a peck on the lips. He decided it was "yucky."

From a floating coop on a houseboat to hen houses with flower boxes, basic rectangular boxes to towering chicken condos, salvaged materials or fresh lumber — coops in Juneau run the gamut. Many chickens are living large, but no matter the size of the coop, Juneau’s chickens seem to be living well.

Predominantly egg-layers, Juneau’s chickens require a few key luxuries in their coops, including a nesting area or laying box, as well as the universally appreciated roosts in their cozy or castle-like coops.

It seems chicken-keeping is on the rise in Juneau in recent years and months, with some families still patiently waiting for the first egg.

“We’re hoping to get some eggs, they haven’t started laying yet, it usually takes about four to six months,” Kevin Maier said of the few hens he and his family keep in the flats.

Erin Hanson and Andrew Heist just got their first egg. To encourage laying, Erin said they placed golf balls in the nesting boxes — fake eggs are common for this practice as well.

Once they’re going, many breeds of chicken are regular layers.

“We have five birds and we get four or five eggs a day,” Bret Connell said of the brood he and Jorden Nigro keep, though Nigro added it will slow down soon when the chickens molt.

Laying slows in the winter chicken-keepers have said, and while molting. And eventually, with age, they stop laying entirely.

Hannah and Bryan Hoshide have a couple non-layers they’ve kept around, since many in Juneau view their chickens as productive pets.

“We have a couple girls, one that aged out, she’s two. Then there’s one that never laid, she’s our charity case, because she’s blind and deaf and we just don’t have the heart to kill her.”

Others are more utilitarian about their flocks and have had some chicken dinners. When April Hotchkiss discovered she had acquired a couple roosters — when they started crowing — and she couldn’t get rid of them by other means, fried chicken made the menu, she said.

“We just had to put an end to their life on Saturday,” Hotchkiss said, though she couldn’t quite get up the nerve herself. “I finally found a hunter riding his bicycle down the street and I was like, ‘Can you help for a second here?’ I was able to get everything else done, I just couldn’t kill them.”

Alicia Gillis recently introduced to her flock a breed called Golden Nugget, a few of which went to Hanson and Heist after they built their coop. Gillis called this a dual-purpose breed, meaty and productive layers. They are apparently also cold-hardy, which is a good quality in a chicken destined to live its life in Alaska.

Keeping the chickens warm is another dictator of how the coops look, with many insulated against the weather and others featuring lamps for both light and heat through the winter. Nigro and Connell have a thermostat set up in their insulated coop to turn the heat lamp on when it gets too cold.

To protect chickens from the elements, some coops in Juneau are raised, allowing the chickens a place to peck and scratch outdoors without being doused in rain. Some coops have a roof extending over the chicken run, a precaution as much to keep the run from becoming a mud slick as to keep the chickens dry, Maier said.

Maier and his wife, Shayna Rohwer, built their coop of almost entirely salvaged materials, with the exception of the plastic roof over the run and some the metal corner pieces. The paint they used was, of course, left over from painting their own house, so they have a color-coordinated coop.

Connell and Nigro’s coop is painted to match their Sixth Street home and even has a flower box beneath the window.

“One thing about building a chicken coop where everyone can see it is you kind of want it to be at least somewhat attractive. You can’t really miss it, you know,” Nigro said.

A lot of the coops had windows, which weren’t just for decor, but served to let some light into coops that would otherwise be dark. Hotchkiss said she used glass from picture frames, while Maier and others used old house windows that had since been replaced with likely more energy-efficient models.

The coops around Juneau range in size from quite compact — on the back of a houseboat or tucked on the side of a house with a fence a few feet away — to quite large. Brittany Honsinger uses a shed as a coop, so it also works well for storage. Abby and David Lowell built a combination shed and coop, with a designated spot for the chickens and a designated spot for the things they wanted out of the garage.

When Marci Driver and Bob Bellagh built their coop, they decided to add it to existing structures. The large coop shares a wall with a wood storage shed and opens into a chicken run that is also neighborhood compost.

A lot of chicken owners also compost, for a couple reasons. The chickens enjoy eating meal scraps — and they’ll eat anything — plus their waste adds to the compost. Many who keep chickens also keep gardens and now can keep their soil well-fertilized.

Feeding the chickens scraps can also help make the endeavor more cost-effective. Maier was surprised to find that chickens will eat a quarter-pound of food a day; with four chickens, that’s a pound a day from a 40 lb. bag that costs $50 from Swampy Acres, where many chicken-keepers get both chickens and feed.

Gillis has started a small business distributing an organic chicken feed in Juneau, after making the switch and discovering she could get wholesale prices on a pallet.

Driver said they don’t really buy feed for the chickens at all, with the neighborhood’s scraps coming in, and Maier said adding scraps to the chickens’ diet cut down on the feed and on the waste they created.

Michelle and Rich Morris keep a few hens and their daughter, Michiko, loves feeding the chickens weeds or bits of fern, maybe as much as she enjoys collecting the eggs.

Between building and maintaining a coop and feeding the chickens, if chickens are pets who lay eggs — read expensive — they’re money savers, or even money-makers.

Brittany Honsinger gets about a half a dozen eggs a day and said she sells them. She also has a couple geese, and sells some of those eggs too. For Honsinger, it’s financially the right decision, as well as being fun.

Pets or poultry, another key element to keeping chickens is keeping them alive, safe from predators. Bears, dogs, eagles and, Hanson said, martens or minks may find chicken a tasty treat. These chickens need protecting.

Joanne Hosey-Schmidt’s hen house is surrounded by chain-link fencing and has additional netting around the bottom perimeter. It’s also closed off from the top. It has the feel of a maximum security chicken facility, but the birds were skittish and may have been quite appreciative of the barrier between them and the rest of the world. Many in neighborhoods that see many bears have invested in electric fences. Hanson and Heist invested straight away and watched the fence in action, fending off a bear almost immediately after getting their chickens. Others got electric fences a little later, after losing some chickens to a bear or a loose dog.

Gillis has a large, fenced in yard and additional fenced in areas for the chickens. The coop is closed off with lattice fencing. In addition to protecting her chickens, though, Gillis protects their landscaping from the pecking and scratching, though she recommends anyone in a garden look into ducks, who will eat all those pesky slugs.

Honsinger decided against an electric fence, worried about her 3-year-old child, and instead leaves the protection to her geese. She said geese aren’t for everyone or for every neighborhood, but in the right setting, they seem to be effective at keeping the bears and other predators from picking off her flock.

Thinking about chickens? There’s a lot to consider, but it is a trend that seems to be really gaining traction. Jane Ritter Edwards decided to get chickens when she retired, building a coop from scratch, without plans. She said she’d never built anything before, but she clearly was proud of her little coop despite joking about the features that may have come about accidentally. It doesn’t take much know-how to build a solid coop, and chickens don’t seem nearly as picky as humans about the appearance. Many hopeful chicken-keepers looked online for plans or inspiration and just started building; Jessie Schoonover’s husband Earl built a pretty little coop in a day. In Maier’s case, in the question of ‘Which came first, the chicken or the coop?’ — the chicks lived in the kitchen for a spell while the coop was constructed.

Before making any decisions about chickens, check out the restrictions that may apply based on your zoning at juneau.org/cddftp/documents/Keepingchickens.pdf and consider visiting the UAF Cooperative Extension Service in Juneau, either online at www.uaf.edu/ces/districts/juneau/ or at their office in the Bill Ray Center.

 

-- Contact Neighbors Editor Melissa Griffiths at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.

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