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Palaces for poultry

  • Erick Woods feeds bread to his chickens in front of the chicken coop he calls "The Prancing Poultry" at his home in Sebastopol. Woods and Linda Kryla, who built two houses for their hens themselves, find watching the antics of their little flock entertaining. (ALVIN JORNADA / PD)

Erick Woods and Linda Kryla like nothing better on a lazy weekend than to kick back on lawn chairs with a glass of wine and proudly watch their brood.

With a tray table between them and a supply of bread, they toss out crumbs and watch the show, which typically entails a lot of scratching, pecking, dust rolling and clucking.

“It's an endless amount of fun. It's one of the most enjoyable things we do,” confesses Woods, an electronics technician at Agilent by day, and unashamed chicken spoiler by night.

He and Kryla built for their laying hens a pair of houses so princely they've been featured in two magazines for poultry lovers. Both have the half-timbered look of Merry Olde England, and are embellished with balconies, ramps, walkways, a stone stairway and even a wrought-iron porch light powered by the sun. A long exercise ramp they called the “gymnasium” provided an entertaining ramp until it rotted. Woods plans to rebuild it this summer. Nothing is too good for his girls.

It's a kind of lavish anthropomorphic excess that would have shocked Petaluma's old-time chicken ranchers, whose idea of a coop was a shack with a shed roof.

But the growing popularity of backyard homesteading has given rise to a redefinition of the old chicken coop, from ramshackle outbuilding to design element in the landscape. Williams-Sonoma now features an “Agrarian Line” of upscale coops, including a custom-milled cedar barn complete with planter box for $1,499.95.

There's something about a chicken coop, however, that inspires the creativity and whimsy of weekend do-it-yourselfers, who are having fun designing and building their own henhouses.

Jacquie Lee painted her Redwood Valley chicken coops in homage to the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose style has been compared to Antoni Gaudi. Yoga therapist Gayatri Shelton-Ostadi has in her Sonoma County backyard a chicken stupa, reminiscent of a Buddhist reliquary. And then there is Sebastopol permaculturist Erik Ohlsen, who took an old boat trailer and built his “SS Chicken Ark” on top of it, capable of housing 100 chickens and rolling them from field to field that they can help fertilize.

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