These Dallas birds aren't merely cooped up. They're laying in the lap of luxury.
Richard Rogers and Dennis Stark
Little Forest Hills
To hear Richard Rogers, a nurse, describe in detail the personality of each of the dozen hens he shares with Dennis Stark, you would never guess that only two years ago he couldn’t imagine owning even one. “At first I thought they were kind of gross,” Rogers says. “I don’t even like birds. They kind of scare me!” But after observing a friend’s coop up close, he was transported back to childhood trips to his grandmother’s house in Tyler, where she kept huge chicken coops. Those fond memories led him to an online search. He found a coop that he liked, and, after modifying the design, close friend Tommy Renner got to work building the 1,000-square-foot coop that houses 11 of their 12 chickens. After completing the large coop, they collaborated on a smaller one (pictured) that they use to isolate a chicken that is having problems with the rest of the flock. Stark charts egg production with detailed records that Rogers says are not as complicated as they sound. “It’s bizarre to have them in Dallas, but there’s something very grounding about them,” he says. “It takes me back to my roots.”
Michelle Nichols and Greg DePrisco
Late last fall, Michelle Nichols, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern, and husband Greg dePrisco, director of ER radiology at Baylor, began building their coop. They were interested in teaching their 3-year-old daughter, Trinity, about animal husbandry, and they wanted to incorporate more organic eggs into their diet. They already had a garden and three hives of bees, so they figured that chickens were the next logical step. Their coop, which has a run attached to it, is a joint effort between their family and a friend who works in construction. It was primarily built from salvaged lumber. The coop is just as elaborate on the inside as it is on the outside, featuring cedar paneling and a floor made of three removable mesh wire frames that allow the droppings to fall directly to the ground below, which is covered in compost. Because dePrisco was once a roofer, the henhouse also features roof vents that allow hot air to escape.
Tommy Renner and Jim Cooper
Little Forest Hills
Nurse Tommy Renner grew up with chickens, so 11 years ago, he decided to revisit his childhood and raise his own. A skilled carpenter, he designed and built a multilevel joint chicken coop and rabbit hutch that was modeled after an 1890 Victorian house he restored in Waxahachie. The five-level house is home to 10 chickens and two bunnies. The house is built of pine siding with a red tin roof, and the front door is an antique door from Pennsylvania, complete with the original stained-glass windows. Because it gets so hot in the summer, the rabbits’ section is air-conditioned, and a window provides extra ventilation. Inside, the chickens have four nesting boxes and a roost, and a covered run outside protects them from predators. Renner and partner Jim Cooper, an international travel host, get approximately three dozen eggs a week from the birds, many of which they give away. Despite the coop’s elaborate facade, Renner insists that he still has much more to do before it is completed. He plans to add molding on the door and either stained glass or wood carving in the eaves.
Damon Petr, owner of the courier service Allied Delivery, always envisioned that his garden would include chickens. So in 2009, after six years of gardening, he went on a chicken coop tour in Dallas and realized that he was ready to take his garden to the next level. He built a small coop, but after only six months, he was ready to upgrade to a bigger one that could be accessed from the inside for easier cleanup. He sketched out a spacious design and built it over three weeks with a high school buddy, using rough cedar from a fencing company and donated cedar shingles for the roof. The coop features four nesting boxes and two trap doors for easy egg collection. But the most unique feature is the run. A 22-foot-long tunnel connects the coop to the 50-foot run, which goes the entire length of his house, ensuring that his and daughter Zoë’s 12 hens have plenty of room to roam.
Crystalyn and Christopher Robin Roberts
Crystalyn Roberts, a community organizer and stay-at-home mom of two young children, wanted to educate her kids about the important role animals play in leading a healthy, natural lifestyle. So she and husband Christopher, an industrial designer, recently built a coop and bought six hens. Christopher altered basic plans he received from a friend to customize their colorful coop, elongating the run and changing the roof. Because the chickens don’t have free rein of their backyard (the Robertses have a vegetable garden that the birds would devour), Christopher built a long run (painted blue) as well as a fenced-in yard to ensure that the hens would have enough space. A door and bird-size ladder connect the run to the henhouse, the orange box where the chickens nest and roost. “I know you can buy local, free-range eggs, but I feel like if we raise our own, it’s somehow more humane,” Crystalyn says.
Nicole and Jeff Whittington
The Whittingtons had wanted chickens for years but were always too busy to follow through. “We finally got the house, got settled, and realized it was doable,” recalls Nicole, a judicial support specialist of the bankruptcy court of the Northern District of Texas. When a friend had several extra chickens she was looking to find homes for, Nicole and husband Jeff, a producer for KERA, realized that was the final push they needed. They built their coop with donated shipping crates and lumber scraps abandoned at construction sites. The Whittingtons’ coop features a slanted, corrugated tin roof that can be opened to easily clean the nesting boxes, while another door at the front can be opened to get the eggs. Most unique, however, is the transom window above the door separating the run from the nesting area. The chickens like to hop up on the windowsill and perch there. While Nicole admits that some of the coops available today are pretty impressive, she believes they are more for the owner’s benefit than the chickens’. “I’ve seen beautiful coops that look like little gingerbread houses, and that’s wonderful,” Nicole says. “But the chickens just don’t care.”
Lisa and Jason Druebert
When a friend of a friend was moving and had a playhouse he needed to get rid of, Jason Druebert, an IT consultant, realized it would be perfect for the chicken coop his wife, Lisa, a middle school teacher, had always wanted. The only problem was that the playhouse was completely taken apart and the instructions had long since gone missing. Reassembling without any blueprint was a process that took all weekend, Jason says, but the repurposed playhouse-coop turned out just fine. Some of the stained-cedar playhouse’s features seem to be made for a coop, such as the Dutch door that makes collecting eggs easy and the side windows and flap that allow ventilation during the summer. Inside are two nesting boxes and a roost made from a closet rod. While the Drueberts eat some of their eggs and give some away, they also barter with them, trading eggs for wine with a local wine broker. Although Jason originally had misgivings about raising chickens, he has since changed his mind, saying, “It’s just like having a pet bird, but you get eggs from them and they live outside, so there’s less mess.”
Carrie and Jason Lackey
One year ago, Carrie Lackey, a nursing student, finally convinced her husband, Jason, a landscape designer, that they needed to raise chickens. “She kept telling me how good it was for the environment, but I procrastinated for a while,” Jason says. They spent $6 on their first coop, dubbed The Clampett Coop after the backward Beverly Hillbillies clan. The family soon realized, however, that taking care of chickens was easy and rewarding, so they have since upgraded to two new coops, built by Jason and painted by Carrie. Each coop was constructed with new and repurposed materials, including leftover shingles donated from a local roofing company. In the past two years, the Lackeys have had more than 100 chickens pass through their property (they buy them as chicks, raise them, then sell them).