In the 11 years I have lived in East Dallas, I have had chickens for eight of them. When we first started out as urban chicken keepers, the trend was still relatively new, and the places from which you might score chicken feed were still limited. Today you can run down to Gecko Hardware and grab a 50-pound bag of (non-GMO, soy free!) hen scratch — and maybe a couple of chicks if you can talk your partner into it! – all in one fell swoop.
And just as there were few chicken keepers when we started out on our fowl odyssey, there were few coops. As life with hens has caught on, not only have coops popped up all over East Dallas, but they’ve upped the ante in style, too.
If you want to get some ideas on why chicken keeping has become so popular among Lake and Garden District residents, get a eye full of some amazing digs for chicks from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 1, for the annual Peep at the Coops tour. The headquarters for the tour has moved to Moss Haven Farm in Lake Highlands this year, but there is still a raffle for a chicken coop of your very own!
Of course, once you start keeping chickens, it’s rather addicting. Just ask Tina Westmoreland, whose House of Chicks is on this year’s tour.
“I cannot say if there was one thing that made me interested in keeping chickens, but about four years ago I started talking about it and it took me three years to convince my husband I was serious!” Westmoreland said. “I thought I would be a fun hobby and we like to eat eggs!”
Yes, the eggs are a lovely and delicious byproduct of hen keeping, but raising chickens is about education for Tiffany Lipsett.
“When we started talking about chickens, we wanted to give our children the opportunity to learn about where our food comes from,” Lipsett said. “Everyone has a different job to do. The kids collect eggs and scoop feed out of buckets. The adults clean the coop and provide clean water. We all take turns holding and checking on their health.”
But what both Lipsett and Westmoreland soon discovered is that their feathered friends also provide an endless source of entertainment.
“What we learned, pretty quickly, is that the Lipsett Ladies are hilarious,” Lipsett said. “Chickens have personalities and opinions about how they should be raised. Seriously, I get yelled at if I don’t give them what they want. They know how to handle their humans!”
“Matilda is the head girl! She always eats first!” Westmoreland exclaimed. “Guinevere is the princess of the bunch. She always seems above the group when I come out to say hi and will wait til everyone is done gobbling treats before she will partake. Rock Star makes a lot of noise after she lays an egg so everyone know what she has done her duty.”
Of course, it takes a lot of work to raise these birds, though once you find your stride and routine, it all evens out. One of the biggest challenges for chicken keepers is designing and building a coop. The Lipsetts started out with a small pre-fab coop and six hens, but quickly outgrew it. They found an art studio that was no longer usable after rain damage and decided to enlist John Ramos of Urban Chicken to retrofit it. Westmoreland, though, went a different route.
“My husband Matt and I built our coop,” says Westmoreland. It was a learning process, for course. “One of the best things we did was use wood screws instead of nails. We had to redo some parts and this made it much easier to take apart and put back together. I also had electricity put out by the coop. This was a splurge but with it for light in the winter and fans in the summer.”
Of course, some people start small and then realize they need a bigger coop for their burgeoning chicken addiction.
“Do your research and build the biggest coop you can afford. You will want more!” Westmoreland advises. “I know a lot of people get the chickens first then start thinking about the coop but it really should be the other way around.”
“Plan for bigger than you think you need, and always add two more chickens to what number you think you want your flock to be,” she said. “And then, add three more. That might be the number of your first flock. Then plan to add a few more.”
Sounds about right!
If you’re looking for something to do Sunday, head over to Moss Haven Farm to score your tour map for just $10. All proceeds go to support outdoor learning and agricultural education provided by the farm.
If Executive Editor Joanna England could house hunt forever, she absolutely would. Instead she covers the North Texas housing market and the economy for CandysDirt.com. While she started out with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, Joanna's work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News as well as several local media outlets. When she's not knitting or hooping, or enjoying White Rock Lake, she's behind the lens of her camera. She lives in East Dallas with her husband, son, and their furry and feathered menagerie.