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 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.
“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.”
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?
“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.”