Oh, most fowl! Urban chickens take over PortlandIt's official: the chicken came before the egg.

At least that's the finding of British researchers at Sheffield University. But here in Portland, Ore., we've known for years what comes first: the coop.

Portland ordinances allow residents to keep three chickens (or ducks or rabbits or pygmy goats) without a permit. As a result, Portland has the highest urban chicken population per capita in the country. (Not that Chicago wants to be outdone: See Lou Carlozo's piece on that city's first urban chicken consultant.)

There are enough hen houses in Portland to warrant the Tour de Coops, a fundraiser for the organic gardening group GrowingGardens. Recently, I was one of 400 who visited 25 coops, running all over town like chickens with our heads cut off.

While home gardeners cite the ease of growing their own food, I found their standards of sustainability intimidating. One coop owner built everything from scavenged material hauled in by bicycle. If they could work hemp in there somewhere, they'd hit the Bourgeois Bohemian Trifecta.

Other resourceful cooping mechanisms included a gazebo that once housed a hot tub, while another re-purposed a child's discarded plastic climb and slide playhouse.

Of course, this being the People's Republic of Portland, Tibetan prayer flags were a recurrent design motif.

Included on the tour was the modest home of Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who also raises bees in addition to his chickens, Alma, Alma, and Alma (named by his Chief of Staff's 4-year-old daughter whose name, coincidentally, is Alma). While a number of tour-goers were thrilled to get face time with the mayor, even more got excited meeting Barbara Kilarski, the author of Keep Chickens!

The Musical!

Okay, it's not a musical, but the exclamation point is in the title and reflects Kilarski's enthusiasm.

Kilarski also writes for Chickens magazine. I wasn't aware chickens read magazines, but apparently they need something to do while they're sitting on those eggs.

As for the human readers, they definitely could win the chicken category on Jeopardy. ("Alex, I'll take "Fowl Minded for one thousand ... ")

"They're the most low-maintenance pet," one owner told me. Perhaps, but when you try to snuggle them, they peck your eyes out.

Apparently the color of a hen's eggs is determined by the color of her ears. Not that I'd ever given chicken ears any thought, but I would've thought they'd be something chickens didn't have, like lips. Or nuggets.

The chickerati see the urban coop arrangement as a win-win: hens escape the cruelty of corporate farms in which even "free-range" can mean cramped quarters, and owners can cook up a three-egg omelet every morning without even crossing the road.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

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