Chick-Lit, Move over Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google.

Chick-Lit, Move over Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google.

By Evy Warshawski

Make way for http://www.backyardchickens.com, a social networking site with everything you ever needed to know about clucks and coops!

According to the environmental research organization, Worldwatch Institute, “Raising chickens is an extension of an urban farming movement that has gathered popularity nationwide.  Home-based agriculture … avoids the energy usage and carbon emissions typically associated with transporting food.”

“Raising chickens is more popular now,” said Tim Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Feed & Supply, and purveyor of hen houses and peeps (baby chicks). “It is our own way of being green and knowing the eggs are fresh.”

Chickens rule at Wilsons.  Check out the plump, white, fiberglass (cocky) rooster (strutting next to the giant Hereford cow) that has guarded the entrance for more than 30 years.

When Michelle and Scott Carmichael moved into their new Napa house a dozen years ago, the former owners left an intact coop on the property.

Three kids, one large Bernese mountain dog and seven hyper chickens later, the Carmichael’s spacious backyard, a mix of lush vegetable gardens and dirt sandbox, has evolved into a veritable playground where “the girls” rule the roost!

The Carmichael family is part of a growing trend of Napa Valley backyard poultry farmers who reap – and savor — the benefits of maintaining a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.

“Raising chickens has become a family affair,” said Michelle.  “They’re fairly easy to manage; though one recently got out and ended up at a neighbor’s front door.”

Watching Jackson (age 9), Tanner (age 6) and Sawyer (age 4) chase, and be chased by, this lively, cackling flock, it’s comforting to know that the wood-slatted hen house – artfully re-designed by the family’s construction business — provides the brood with a safe and solid refuge in which to eat, sleep, avoid the occasional fox, and lay those golden eggs.

What is the “scoop” on the coop?  Contrary to popular belief, these birds are very particular about their housing needs.   They require protection from inclement weather, potential predators, and their own

“itchy feet” (they love to wander).    They thrive on tight confinement (there is a pecking order) and have night blindness.  At sunset, their slowing metabolism makes them vulnerable to predators such as owls, snakes and raccoons.

It was only a matter of time before the word “designer” became attached to cage innovations fit for a princess.  Local landscape architect, Jo Goodwin’s “Hen Haven” is made of recycled materials and combines coop, shed and sitting area, where, she admits, she often lounges with her young peeps and listens to Giants games!

“It turned out so cute,” she said, “complete with a Queen Anne upholstered chair and crystal chandelier cleaned from the dump.”  Because she lives in a rural area, fraught with nature’s pillagers, Goodwin describes her “fancy shed” as a Fort Knox, complete with automatic doors, beacon lights and fully screened throughout.

“It’s the Coop de Ville,” she said.

Be careful when you start a conversation with Napa-based poultry mavens.  Next thing you know, they’ll be sharing photos, inviting you to tour their fashionable coops or gifting organic eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast.  All agree that the rewarding benefits of raising chemical-free chickens, as growing an organic vegetable garden or harvesting backyard fruit trees, far outweigh the liabilities.

“Although their eggs are bigger than their brains,” said Michelle Carmichael, “our chickens not only provide eggs and garden fertilizer, but eat much of what would otherwise be thrown away from the family’s table.  They are our very special backyard pets.”

If you are interested in joining the ranks of urban poultry farmers, be sure to first read the rules and regulations provided by Napa County’s Local Food Advisory Council at http://www.countyofnapa.org/LFAC.

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