Check In on the Chickens

The public is invited to see what it’s like to keep poultry in a Vancouver backyard

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Can I have chickens?

Chickens are permitted in Vancouver and Clark County. Roosters, however, are not permitted in Vancouver city limits.

Trisha Kraft, a Clark County animal control officer, said most of the chicken-related calls her office gets are for chickens that have flown their coops, are running loose or are pecking in a neighbor’s garden.

“Chickens can be difficult to catch,” especially in an urban area, Kraft said.

Her advice to folks thinking about raising chickens is to keep them in an enclosed and secure area — that also keeps predators at bay. Clip their wings to keep them from fence-hopping and pecking at a neighbor’s tempting garden patch. And tend to general housekeeping — keep their pens clean and be sure they have plenty of food and water.

“You need to be mindful of your neighbors,” Kraft said.

If you go

What: Coop du Jour Tour.

Where: A tour of Vancouver chicken coops.

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 30.

Cost: $5 per person, $15 for four people. Admission is free for children 12 and younger.

Information: 360-699-4991 or http://houghfnd.ejoinme.org/?tabid=280234.

“Chick, chick, chick, chick, chick,” Sherry Mowatt calls out, walking toward the chicken coop topped with a terra-cotta rooster, where a pair of Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze over a wire-enclosed chicken run.

Mowatt, 59, a school bus driver and fiber artist, jostles open the salvaged house door that she turned into her coop’s front door. Her chickens lay eggs in straw in the shelves of a pair of vintage cabinets. With the door open, they cluck and stream into the yard, where they wander, pecking at grass and bugs.

Inside the vinyl-floored chicken house, which cost about $200 to build, Mowatt points out the poultry-themed artwork that dots the walls.

“Chickens like art, too,” she says with a grin.

In fact, you could call Mowatt’s hens something of an art flock, with discerning tastes.

When she first decorated the coop, the chickens continually pecked down one of the pictures. Mowatt says she finally gave in, replaced it with another poultry portrait, and the chickens have been content with their decor since.

Mowatt and 15 other urban chicken hipsters will be part of Coop du Jour, a Vancouver chicken coop tour, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 30. Admission to the event, which benefits the Hough Foundation, is $5 per person or $15 for four, and free for children 12 years and younger. Tickets are available at Mint Tea, 2014 Main St., and Neighbors Market, 1707 Main St. Coop maps and a wristband for the self-guided tour, which will feature coop owners clucking chicken, will be available on the day of the event at Mint Tea.

Vancouver is ready

Jenna Eckert, co-owner of Mint Tea and organizer of the event, said the idea sprang to life over glasses of wine with friends. They were discussing a similar tour in Portland and figured that Vancouver residents, with an increasing interest in sustainability and back to basics, were ready for their own coop tour.

In 2010, the first year of the event, more than 200 people toured Vancouver coops, netting about $2,200 for the Hough Foundation. Eckert expects to double the coop visitors this year.

The coops are clustered together, making it bikeable or walkable.

“It’s family-friendly and a way to meet neighbors,” Eckert said.

Susan and Jim Harris will have their chickens — Tracleen, The Indigo Girls and the remaining Pointer Sister (the other Pointer Sister met her poultry maker) — ready for the tour. The couple spent about $1,000 to build their chicken coop, nestled next to an old apple tree. A stained-glass window fronts the coop and a rain water-catch system keeps the chickens in fresh drink.

Susan Harris estimates she and Jim spend an hour or so on chicken maintenance chores each week, a figure echoed by others who tend urban chicken flocks.

But the thing you quickly learn about the chicken set is that while chicken eggs are cool, the thought of a chicken dinner is about as welcome as eating a puppy or kitten.

“These have names,” Jim Harris said. “It’s hard to eat a chicken with a name.”

Eileen Cowen, 33, let her 4-year-old name the family’s four hens: Gus, Planet, Coco and Guitar.

Cowen and others say the chickens add to the garden’s compost cycle. Chicken manure is the most obvious addition. But their scratching helps turn a compost pile and ready it for the garden.

But the chicken’s appetites have a drawback: They love Cowen’s plump blueberries, which she shields from the invasion of pecking beaks with chicken wire.

Still, opening the hen house, where one of her chickens had just laid an egg, was like finding a treasure.

“They’re like pets that give you things back,” Cowen said. “I’ll take them over cats any day.”