Little Forest Hills artist Janet Reynolds lets her flock of Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds frolic in her backyard under supervision.

Little Forest Hills artist Janet Reynolds lets her flock of Barred Rocks and Red Stars frolic in her backyard under supervision. (Photo: Jo England)

I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this home tour is the smallest and most unique in Dallas. It’s one of those events that has people saying “Only in East Dallas!” That’s what I love about it, too. If you haven’t already heard, A Peep at The Coops is an annual chicken coop tour that will lead you through nine lovely coops and gardens throughout East Dallas’ most fun and funky neighborhoods.

The Sunday, May 3, coop tour is a fundraiser for Stonewall Jackson Elementary’s garden program. It’s the perfect event for the chicken-curious folks considering their own birds but aren’t quite sold on it yet. And it’s a budget-friendly family outing, too, as you can purchase a map to the coops on tour for just $10. There’s a companion bike-led tour from the kind folks at Transit Bikes where you can pedal to the close-by coops on an easy-to-ride route, plus a raffle for a gorgeous modern coop designed by Mark Domiteaux, AIA.

This modern, mobile chicken coop will be raffled off to benefit Stonewall Gardens.

This modern, mobile chicken coop will be raffled off to benefit Stonewall Gardens.

We got a sneak peep at two coops yesterday. Jump for more!

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Michael Cook inside his chicken "ark" his partner, Chris, built for their Oak Cliff home.

Perhaps I’m biased because my flock wasn’t featured in the June 2012 D Magazine story by Michelle Saunders, but it feels like East Dallas was a little over-represented. There are plenty more avid chicken keepers in Oak Cliff, specifically in the little nook just north of Ledbetter called Hideaway Valley. That’s where you’ll find Michael Cook, who not only has a flock of heritage hens in his backyard, but keeps — get this — silkworms!

Michael Cook raises silkworms, which are actually caterpillars, and harvests their cocoons for their fiber.

Michael tends to his own blog, dubbed “Wormspit” after how caterpillars create silk, and gives occasional updates on his organic garden, his silkworms, and his flock. Cook has been harvesting and spinning silk for more than a decade, but chicken keeping is a new hobby for him.

Cook keeps black copper Marans, which lay dark brown eggs.

“We started in 2010 with five Ameraucana chicks about a week old,” Cook said. ” Three of them turned out to be roosters, so we took them back to the man who sold them to us, which was part of our deal when we got them.”

From there, Cook has tried his hand at hatching chicks, and now has three French Marans, two Americaunas, one Rhode Island red, and another little mixed breed sold to them by a man in Quinlan.

“He purchased her as part of a mixed lot, so he didn’t know what breed she was,” Cook said. “After looking at pictures, I think she’s a breed called Golden Phoenix.  We called her Sue Sylvester, because she’s blond, mannish, and a little strident.”

Michael Cook raises birds, bees, worms, and vegetables in his Oak Cliff backyard.

For Cook and his partner, Chris, chicken keeping was an extension of their organic garden, where they also keep bees. Chris built their very classy chicken tractor, too.

“We based it on a style called an “Ark,” popular in England and parts of Europe; it is supposed to be moveable, but it ended up being too heavy to move easily, so it sits in one spot, and we just move it a couple of times a year to remove the compost from beneath it,” Cook said.

Of course, Cook loves keeping chickens for myriad reasons, but first and foremost is cheap entertainment. They also help him dispose of pests from his huge garden.

“We have always been ‘those weird guys,'” Cook said. “I’ve always had many strange hobbies, and chickens fit right in.  The eggs are now a standard present for whenever we go visiting – we package them up in beautiful clear containers to show off the cool colors, tuck in a couple of bars of homemade soap, and they’re always a hit. ”

So, how do most people react when they hear that Cook is rearing birds and bees (and worms!) all in his Oak Cliff backyard?

Cook also raises bees, which pollinate his extensive vegetable garden.

“I interact with a lot of people who are in various ways part of a more organic, hand-made, grow-your-own counter-culture.  If I am picking up the vegetables from the Urban Acres co-op and somebody offers me eggs and we get into a conversation about chickens, it’s perfectly normal. If I’m at a festival reeling silk, and I start talking with somebody there about the silkworms, and the chickens come up in conversation, it’s just another facet of my obvious weirdness,” Cook said. ” The main thing that people are surprised to hear, is that we don’t live in the country — they can’t picture all this happening in a little quarter-acre neighborhood lot in Oak Cliff.”

Want to keep chickens but don't want to build your own coop? Williams Sonoma is selling the Bentley of chicken tractors.

City Chickens have officially gone mainstream. If the idea of building your own coop seems expensive, daunting, and well, impossible, you can now just order one from Williams-Sonoma.

The chicken coops, which are actually chicken tractors because of their mobility, are part of the store’s new agrarian line.  And there are beekeeping supplies there, too, as well as some of the flashiest trowels I have ever laid eyes on.

Now, two of the toniest areas of the good ol’ DF-Dub don’t even allow backyard chickens. But since it’s A-OK in Dallas, how can we keep city chickens classy? Where do we draw the line?

Well, according to an in-the-know Realtor, a recent Oak Lawn Heights sale had the buyers putting a provision in their contract for a super tall and sturdy fence to keep the neighbor’s chicken coop AND GOAT out of sight and out of mind.

“At first I was a little taken back,” said the buyer, “however, I have seen similar stories on the news and Martha Stewart about how the coops can be kept nicely and are safe (from a health standpoint).  As long as there are no roosters, I was not that worried about the noise.”

But what about the goat? A city goat? Well, apparently they are a thing.

What do you think? Should we draw the line at goats, or can urban goat keeping be classy, too?

Shaffer calls his chicken coop "Palais du Poulets"

Clay Stapp & Co. Realtor Alan Shaffer and his partner had heard tons of buzz about backyard chicken keeping making a comeback before they decided to take the plunge. Of course, both Shaffer and his partner, Juan Barreto, had grown up with family birds.

“My grandparents, great grandparents, and later our family took over their flock as they got older,” Shaffer said. “Juan also had a flock growing up in Puerto Rico.”

So it was no big leap to build their own coop in their Kessler Plaza backyard.

Shaffer's backyard has a vegetable garden, a goldfish pond, a rain barrel, and, of course, a chicken coop.

“We just wanted to go greener,” Shaffer said. ” We use the droppings in our compost pile, which feeds our garden. We feed the chickens the excess greens and veggies from the garden.”

Shaffer said they found the plans for Palais du Poulet on BackyardChickens.com. The coop and run, which they built and finished themselves, is pretty amazing. Talk about giving the girls a worthy roost: Cedar shingles, plenty of natural light via hand-cut windows, and top it all of with a coat of Martha Stewart “Barn Red!” Shaffer then literally topped it all off with a chicken weathervane! So classy!

With the chicken coop in place, they just kept getting greener and greener!

“We also put in a rain barrel which we use to water the garden,” Shaffer said. “We put in an apple tree, fig trees, raised bed garden plots and a fish pond — that one’s just for pleasure, not eating the fish!”

Right now, Shaffer — aka The Condo Guy — has five Silver Laced Wyandottes. The chickens are a heritage breed, which has been around since the 1870s. They are truly great birds with wonderful personalities. I should know — I used to have a Golden Laced Wyandotte hen named Effa Manley.

Shaffer has five Silver Laced Wyandotte hens.

“Fresh eggs are amazing,” Shaffer said. “They are so much better than the store-bought ones.  The hens are fun to watch and just have around.”

They don’t keep the girls cooped up all the time, Shaffer said. But when they’re out in the yard, Alan and Juan have to keep a close eye on them.

“They can mess up the garden in a hurry, as Juan found out one day when he left them out overnight while I was out of town,” Shaffer mused. “They had full run of the yard for a couple of hours before going to roost.  He had a mess to clean up before I got home!”

I guess some people still think of chicken keeping as a low-brow country exploit. For instance, in the Park Cities, it’s strictly verboten. But as I see it, Shaffer’s gorgeous coop and beautiful birds can be an asset to a neighborhood.

What do you think?