Los Altos chicken enthusiasts cluck about inaugural Tour de Coop

Photo Ellie Van Houte/Town Crier

Los Altos Hills resident Scott Vanderlip prepares his chicken coop for the inaugural Tour de Coop Oct. 27.

Los Altos’ feathered population is burgeoning, and local owners have devised creative ways to house their cherished chickens.

Between 10 and 20 families plan to showcase their chicken coops 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 in the inaugural Silicon Valley Tour de Coop, a cycling tour. Short 2- to 5-mile routes and longer routes of 20 miles will allow cyclists of all skill levels to join backyard chicken owners, or “coopsters,” to examine hen houses, honeybee hives and urban gardens in Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto.

“Raising chickens is a great way for neighbors to share and connect with a common activity that not only creates fabulous eggs, but also builds community,” said Los Altos Hills resident Scott Vanderlip.

According to Vanderlip, the city of Davis’ successful Tour de Cluck inspired him to organize the Tour de Coop.

In addition to promoting the benefits of chicken ownership, Vanderlip said he hopes the tour will connect coopsters and make them feel they are part of a movement bigger than their own backyards.

Vanderlip estimated that residents of every five to 10 homes in Los Altos Hills own flocks of chickens. The town’s 1-acre zoning allows property owners to maintain chickens, goats, cows, horses and other large animals. The city of Los Altos permits homeowners to raise one hen for every 1,000 square feet of space.

People are attracted to backyard chickens, Vanderlip noted, because they’re inexpensive – $3 or $4 per chick.

“It’s a nice, closed system in our own little yard,” said Vanderlip, touting the advantages of owning chickens. “You can’t get any more local than going out to your backyard to get an egg. … You could live on two eggs a day.”

In addition to environmental benefits, some chicken owners find joy in the relationships they build with their feathered friends.

“When we’re in the garden, they wander around our feet. … They’re right there waiting to get a bug or worm,” Vanderlip said.

He added that his oldest hen, Doodle, has the ability to perceive danger – she has survived two attacks by wild animals and outlived all of her mates in older flocks. Vanderlip said his chickens embody human characteristics.

“They look you in the eye,” he said. “There’s some intelligence there.

Urban homesteading

Los Altos resident Ron Hess pulls three light-brown eggs from nests of hay in a pint-sized coop he constructed for his brood of seven Barred Rock hens.

The coop, painted to match the Hess home, is equipped with a ladder, trap doors, operable windows, rain gutters on a shingled roof and a compact fluorescent light to comfort the chickens at night. Hess and his wife, Terese Tricamo, treat their hens like they would their own children.

Hess and Tricamo acquired their flock in April, inspired in part by Hess’ family roots in Mennonite farming. The couple compare their efforts to urban homesteading – a sustainable-living concept that incorporates farming techniques to increase self-sufficiency.

“If you do the work, it’s a great payoff,” said Hess, who added that he enjoys producing quality food and feeling connected to the ecosystem.

Their chickens provide eggs and garden fertilizer, and the family also maintains a beehive for pollinating the flowers, fruit trees and vegetables in their garden, improvised compost piles and a grain grinder for processing their harvest in the future.

Raising chickens poses challenges – unexpected predators strike the greatest fear in the hens and owners, according to Hess – but for the most part, the payoff outweighs the inconveniences.

“It’s 4 p.m. and I haven’t gone shopping,” Tricamo said. “I can grab some eggs, pick onions and tomatoes from the backyard and make quiche.”

Hess and Tricamo said they look forward to sharing their flock with Tour De Coop participants. They plan to entice visitors with zucchini and pumpkin bread made from this year’s harvest and their hens’ eggs.

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