Real Estate

Cluck, cluck! It's time for the Tour de Coop

Local gardeners, beekeepers and owners of chicken coops open their homes

Sharon Erickson can barely remember a time when her family didn't raise chickens.

Her family moved into its Barron Park home in 1958 -- and she returned with her husband Leif Erickson in 1992 and raised their two sons there as well.

With a large backyard, brimming with assorted vegetable beds, there's been plenty of room for the 8-foot by 16-foot covered coop in the back corner. Six hens, including two Barred Rocks, an Araucuna, a Rhode Island Red, a White Silkie and one of unknown origin, quietly peck away at the hen scratch (corn and millet) that Erickson tosses out each day.

The Erickson coop is just one of 30 that will be included on the self-guided, accessible via bike routes, third annual Silicon Valley Tour de Coop, this Sunday.

Those who register for the free event will receive a list of coops included on the tour, which extends from Redwood City to San Jose, as well as suggested bike routes.

"Ours is not an elegant coop," Erickson said. "It was nailed together probably 20 years ago."

The simple wood-framed cage, covered on all sides and the top with -- of course -- chicken wire, offers a roomy space for the hens. At the back is the Little Red Hen House where they go to lay their eggs, a multicolored assortment because of the mix of breeds.

The best part about raising chickens, Erickson said, is those eggs.

"They are an orange-golden color that you cannot buy in a store," she said. "Once you've tasted them you can't go back."

She added that in winter the hens' laying slows down (just in time for holiday baking), so she's forced to buy additional eggs. "But they're never as good as these ladies'."

And when she cleans the cage, she simply adds the chicken poop -- "great because it has nitrogen," she said -- to her compost pile, which ultimately feeds her vegetable and fruit production.

"You use less water to grow your own food than when you buy it," she said, noting that this is just one way to do one's part in conserving water.

Most chickens live about four or five years, so the size of Erickson flock fluctuates over time. When a hen gets too old to produce eggs, she sends her to her brother's ranch to live out her life roaming free. Then she may raise a new chick and slowly introduce her to the coop.

Chickens are really very easy to raise, Erickson said, and she can even leave them for a week, with a lidded, automatic water dispenser (like for dogs) and some laying mash in a food container. Neighbors are eager to check on them -- and take home the fresh eggs, she said.

Her chickens tend to be less tame than when her boys were home to treat them more like pets, she said. With two people working full-time, "it's not like anyone's talking to them all day," she said.

Sometimes she lets them run loose in the garden, where they make a meal of snails and slugs, but they return to their coop at night where they're safe from skunks and racoons. She's even had to stack up some boards at the base of the coop to deter unwanted predators.

Chickens are a lot easier to deal with than dogs, Erickson said. "You don't have to walk them; you can come out and talk to them anytime. You just have to periodically clean the cage."

The hens are also a big draw when doing Facetime or Skype with her granddaughters in Boston; she brings her laptop outside to show them how their favorites are doing.

Several bike routes are suggested on the website, including a flat, 15-mile route with six coops, two parks and a hidden bicycle passageway. Two routes are designed for people arriving at the California Avenue Caltrain station with their bikes: a flat 11-mile route reaching four Palo Alto coops and a 16-mile route to five Palo Alto and Menlo Park coops.

Two post-tour gathering events will begin at 4 p.m., including one in Mountain View. Specific information is available to those who register.

The Silicon Valley Tour de Coop is sponsored by Slow Food South Bay, the local chapter of Slow Food USA.

What: Silicon Valley Tour de Coop 2014

When: Sunday, Sept. 21, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: 30 urban homesteads, including 10 in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View

Cost: Free

Info: Tour de Coop 2014

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.

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