The Pecking Order

In the midst of Justin Miller’s backyard stands an elegant multi-level structure. A tin roof with skylights sits atop wooden beams, toys dangle about to prevent boredom and, down below, happy chickens squawk under a sign that reads: “I love my girls.” Miller introduces his chickens—Victoria, Mildred and Bathsheba Everdeen to name a few.

Miller discovered chicken-keeping in a 3-hour class at NC State. Thinking it would be an interesting hobby and a bit of a challenge, he made his way down to The Urban Chicken and purchased eight one-day-old chicks, raising them in his guest room for their first six weeks, holding and playing with them daily. Of the original eight, two ended up being roosters and were re-homed, though Miller does now have a daughter of one of the roosters and calls it his “grandchicken.”

Nine chickens currently reside in “The Eggplant,” the coop made from the scrap material left behind when Miller tore down the house previously existing on his property and built a new one. He took pride in repurposing material and securing the coop in what he calls the chicken equivalent of Fort Knox, providing ample protection from predators.

Miller, who has become a vegetarian since he began keeping chickens, says he can see parallels between his birds and other domestic animals like dogs. They love treats and come when called, and each has their own personality, down to the squawk.

“This group of chickens is like a group of high school girls,” says Miller. “There is a definite ‘pecking order,’ and Victoria is on top.” He also recently added Theodore Pig Newton to the mix, who he says gets along well with the girls, occasionally sharing a watermelon.

Fed on spent grain from local breweries, vegetable scraps from the farmer’s market and other goodies that Miller provides like Cheerios and heads of iceberg lettuce, Victoria and her gang’s home is just one example of the kind of coop featured on Raleigh’s Tour D’Coop, the city’s annual chicken coop tour.

What started as fun idea over a couple of beers among neighbors has turned into a full-feathered event more than a decade later. Tour D’Coop has morphed from a few backyards into 20 to 30 sites, complete with a bike route, bonus animals like pigs and rabbits, food trucks, informational vendors and a Hive Hike for bee enthusiasts.

“It’s impossible to see them all,” says M’Liss Koopman, Chair of Tour D’Coop. “Every year I try. We feature all different kinds of coops. Sometimes they stand out for the creativity, sometimes for features and sometimes beauty.” Because hosts come and go, each year offers up something new for visitors.

“People have multiple reasons for coming and for being on the tour,” says Koopman, who makes sure all new coop hosts on the tour maintain proper care of their chickens. “Some want to support Urban Ministries, some are looking for coop designs or want to raise chickens, some want to get out with their families, or they have sustainability interests like rain barrels, composting or bees.”

Profits from Tour D’Coop channel directly into Urban Ministries of Wake County, which serves more than 25,000 low-income Wake County residents each year.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit tourdcoop.com.

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