My neighbor and I had been talking about getting chickens. Although we live right in the city of Detroit, there is an abundance of space, and urban agriculture has caught on here like wildfire. Communities of would-be farmers have crystallized around movements like the Garden Resource Program, which sponsors plant distributions, farmers market participation, gardening classes, bee-keeping groups and more. Over the last several years, Phil and I have (re)established home gardens and worked to keep them active around the year. We have had plentiful yields, even selling occasional overflows of organic produce to local shops and at market. Expanding into poultry would be an exciting move towards self-sufficiency. We were acquainted with an underground network of chicken keepers (poultry are illegal within the city limits) who were eager to share extra chicks as well as wisdom. Once we vocalized our interest in a flock, the pressure was on to get started. A friend had a new batch of baby chicks and was ready to send some our way.
Although I am a powerful magnet for wayward animals and would normally have jumped at the chance to house a group of fine, feathery ladies, an upcoming commitment required me to avoid any dependents upon which a landlord might look askance. Phil, on the other hand, was ready to commit. The flock would therefore be located at his home, situated on a lush city property of very generous proportions. These would be happy chickens, and I would be able to assist with their care. We agreed to take some of our friend's chicks knowing that they would not be moved for several more weeks. This left plenty of time to design and build the chicken coop, a step which turned out to be deceptively simple.
One dark and rainy Wednesday we set out to measure the far corner of his yard. It is bounded by two 10 foot high walls of cement block that have foundations approximately four feet in depth. The area is graded with course stones. An avid salvager, Phil had already located fence pieces that might be incorporated into a pen. He mocked up a rectangular enclosure of about 14 by 18 feet and proposed a coop tucked into the corner of the cement walls, covered by a roof that sloped down towards the gently shaded outdoor run.
Upon saturation from the pouring rain, we retreated to the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee and transfer our soggy measurements onto something more substantial. He stood at the window as we drew, checking to see that the pen was positioned for optimal visibility from the kitchen table. Those in a rural setting may find it odd, but in this urban context, the visual accessibility of the chickens was almost a quality of life concern. By looking past the pond full of golden fish, past the leafy garden plot, and into a picturesque yard of chickens about their business, one might occasionally forget that he or she is surrounded by a troubled city. For Phil, a homicide detective that works nights for the Detroit PD, this was an unspoken but understandable priority.
While we had both the knowledge and the materials to start construction on the coop immediately, it didn't happen. The plan became more and more elaborate (although charming and nearly maintenance-free, at least in theory), and our time to build was constrained by other projects. The keeper of the chicks reminded us once or twice that they were getting big enough to move to their new home, but still we took our time with plans for the coop and avoided a committed date to pick up the chickens. Avoidance does not work well in this city; suffice it to say, we all frequent the same restaurants. Sure enough, sooner rather than later, we had to take the plunge. On May 21st at 10:30pm, as our friend was cheerfully departing town for a holiday weekend in Nashville, I found myself standing outside her house with a pet carrier full of little chickens.
Today is May 22nd, and as I am typing this, I can hear them chirping in my bathroom. The cats and the dog, normally adversarial, have taken a united interest in getting inside the room. They have been camped outside the door since the chickens arrived. Each time I pass through the hallway, I receive very earnest looks regarding their need for thumbed assistance in the turning of the knob. This weekend, the chicken coop will rise to the top of the Projects list.