Coop tour brings city-dwelling chickens out of their nests

Oct. 19, 2013 @ 07:23 PM

Ruby Rosebud and Sukie were living the life of Riley on Saturday as they scratched around the backyard at 1002 Oakland Ave. in West Durham.

The chickens weren’t trespassing: They’re part of the Dastur family, enjoying the free run of the yard.

Ruby and Sukie were part of the Bull City Coop Tour, sponsored by Bull City Chickens, a Durham-based organization that promotes urban chicken-raising. The self-guided tour of nine homes offered an up-close peek into the living quarters of some of Durham’s feathered residents.

Ten-year-old Alena Dastur, a fifth-grader at E.K. Powe Elementary School, raised Sukie with her teacher in the second grade. The family took Sukie home, and added Ruby Rosebud later.

The chickens usually stay in a coop built by Alena’s father, Cyrus Dastur, but they get special privileges when the family can supervise them.

Otherwise, they’re vulnerable to hawk attacks, and could damage the lawn and plants.

But for the Dasturs, having two egg-producing chickens is educational and fun.

“I like Ruby because she’s really social and they’re both really smart,” Alena said. “Sometimes, we have breakfast in the backyard and they’ll try to steal food from our hands. They jump on the table. Once, my sister was holding her biscuit out with one hand, and Ruby jumped up and grabbed it away and ate it.”

Sukie isn’t as social, she said.

“But when you’re gardening, they both love to just come up and scratch around, and get in your way.”

Cyrus said they’ve had the two chickens for about three years, taking advantage of a Durham city ordinance that allows city dwellers to have chickens in their yards.

At a home on Monmouth Avenue in Old North Durham, Richard Ross and Amy Pine have enjoyed fresh eggs from their backyard since April 2011.

Ross built a coop, with Pine’s supervision, and they now have seven chickens producing three to five eggs a day. The surplus goes to their friends and neighbors, many of whom have stopped buying “store” eggs.

“The chickens make a lot of noise when they’re laying an egg — one of them likes to cluck to let everyone know,” Ross said.

Pine loves collecting a warm egg and having it on toast.

“It’s delicious,” she said. “They’re really good eggs, and you can tell the difference.”

Ross likes the idea of urban homesteading. A software developer, he did some farming as a Peace Corp volunteer in Africa and decided to try his hand at chickens when he moved to Durham.

“I like having the eggs and being able to give them to friends,” he said.

One person who reaps the benefits is next-door neighbor Charlotte Hampton.

“We love having the chickens next door, and when they go out of town, we chicken sit,” she said. “The payoff is fresh eggs.”

Hampton said the difference in homegrown and store-bought eggs is dramatic.

“I didn’t realize how spoiled I was until I recently bought eggs at a store,” she said. “The flavor, color and texture weren’t there. I’m loving these fresh eggs.”

She believes one reason the eggs taste better is that the chickens are raised in a healthy environment.

“I know there’s no chemicals in them,” she said. “I know that they’re healthy, they’re loved and looked after. It’s just like people — when they’re happy at work, they’re more productive, and I’m sure that translates to chickens.”

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