These outbuildings can amuse and enhance while providing shelter for the family fowl.
"Raising chickens is a different hobby now than it was in the past," said Matthew Wolpe, who with fellow designer Kevin McElroy wrote "Reinventing the Chicken Coop." (Storey Publishing, 2012).
Many of those who choose to raise backyard chickens today "are urban dwellers with no traditional (poultry) background — people bringing a fresh approach who want their chicken coops to be more like accessories to their houses," he said. "They believe the coops should be at the front of the house rather than hidden."
Once you have the essentials down — the egg boxes, a screened run, a perch, ventilation and feeding stations — a chicken coop can be whatever you want it to be, Wolpe said in a phone interview from Oakland, Calif.
"As long as it functions well for chickens and their owners, it can be anything," he said. "We think people should go nuts."
Chicken coops look best when designed to fit a particular yard or setting. That also leaves room for innovative ways to collect eggs or more easily move manure into compost systems.
"Anything from technical to esthetic to wacky," Wolpe said.
Jenny Patty-Caldwell used a coffin-shaped door and cedar shakes reminiscent of fairy-tale houses or Dr. Seuss when creating her family's small "Crooked Coop" in Clinton, Wash.
The Gnome-like home was a popular stop on a recent self-guided Whidbey Island Coop Tour that featured a half-dozen eye-catching chicken houses and open-air enclosures or runs. Some incorporated folk art, others used recycled materials (a homemade truck canopy, flooring from a former Seattle department store), and several featured skylights and systems for diverting and using rainwater.
Still others have installed solar power in their coops, along with timers that turn lights on and off and open and close doors. Many coops have been built with wheels so they can be manoeuvred around lawns. That's an efficient way to fertilize, too.
"People want interesting coops but still very utilitarian," said Marci Ameluxen, a 4-H poultry club leader and one of Whidbey Island's annual coop tour organizers. "In Portland (Ore.) on their coop tour, I've seen pictures of Victorian gingerbread coops and Manhattan skyline coops."
Williams-Sonoma, the San Francisco-based retailer of kitchenware and home furnishings, launched an agrarian product line a year ago featuring designer chicken coops.
"We're selling them from Seattle to Boston to Florida," said Allison O'Connor, the company's vice-president of merchandising.
The marketing program was developed in part to satisfy customer demand for safe, wholesome foods, O'Connor said.
"Having farm fresh eggs is a new experience for a great many people," she said. "People are looking at chickens more as family pets — as extensions of their family. We're up to nine coops (designs) now and will be introducing a couple more next month."
For more about building chicken coops, see this Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension fact sheet:
You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape.net