The afternoon I headed out on the Parade of Coops, a gentle mist was falling which I assumed would keep the crowds away this obscure Twin Cities event. I was wrong.
The blurb in the Star Tribune, which my mother-in-law had spotted and thoughtfully e-mailed to me, had said that chicken enthusiasts should meet at an address in Seward where we could get the addresses for the rest of the tour. Like the organizers, I imagined a manageable group of a dozen or so. During the course of my visit to the first yard, no less than 60 to 70 people ventured into the backyard to gawk at the chickens, to ask the owners how they keep the water from freezing in the winter, and enjoy warm tomato soup and zucchini bread.
The organizer, a young man in a jaunty plaid cap, quickly ran out of address lists and had to run off several more batches on the family's home computer. It was a long wait but it was free and a means to see other people's backyards without being creepy.
I only had time to visit two more homes. Each had four or five chickens, although some had permits for many more than that. All of them had children, as if raising chickens was a way to teach caregiving to their own offspring. All collected their eggs and ate them and all had charming coops. One of them had a dog, which, being a herding and not hunting dog, got along fine with the chickens and did not appear tempted to bite and shake them. They ate the eggs, but their children had grown too attached to the feathery critters to kill and eat them. Indeed, one of their daughters pet and held her chicken, perching it on her shoulder for visitors to admire.
At the third and final house I visited, the owner explained that he and his wife's reasons for having chickens had evolved over time. Initially they named them and kept them as pseudo-pets. Now they ate their eggs (they get about one or two a day) and when the chickens egg-laying months are behind them, they slaughter and eat them. In the corner of their yard, they were canning tomatoes over their turkey fryer. They had me sold. This is the attitude with which I would one day keep animals.
One of the things that struck me and that I keep trying to tell my husband is that none of the coops took up much space. One of the families had a very small backyard and the coop definitely dominated it, but they still had room for tomatoes and piles of firewood. The other two yards were large -- they both had extensive vegetable gardens, but also enough room for the kids to run around.
I also try to remind my husband that his pop-overs get extra pop with farm fresh eggs. How much fresher can you get than your own backyard?