Thursday, March 31, 2011

Building Chicken Coops at Tillers International

Jack Gesmundo, Bruce Kroeze, Steve Nitsch, Betty Hawkins, Janet DeZwaan, Bill Brislen, Barbara Jenness and Jim Hott
photo by Lori Evesque

See video below.

Drills were buzzing and hammers were swinging recently as three teams of participants built their very own chicken coop at the Don and Hilda Meyer Woodshop of Tillers International in Scotts.

This was the first of several classes Tillers will hold this year to teach area residents about raising, processing and cooking chickens. 

“This is so awesome,” exclaimed Barbara Jenness as her husband, Jim Hott, completed nailing on the steel roof of her coop.  “I just love it.”

Jenness and Hott own a goat dairy in Byron Center and wanted to add chickens so they could have their own farm fresh eggs. 

Dick Roosenberg assists Betty Hawkins (L) and Janet DeZwann (R)
photo by Lori Evesque 
“It would take a long time for me to learn this many things [about construction] if I were just to read about it,” said Betty Hawkins of Kalamazoo.  She wanted to know how to use carpenter’s tools as much as she hopes to raise chickens sometime in the future.  Besides, she read about how much fun chickens are and that home-raised eggs are healthy.   

The chicken coop is a two-story 68"x42"x64" mansion complete with an enclosed grazing area beneath the living space with a ramp for the chickens to enter at night in order to keep them safe from predators.  It also has a nesting box where the chickens lay their eggs and an opening slot where the eggs may be gathered.  The coop holds up to six chickens. 

“The design is a work in progress,” said Dick Roosenberg, executive director of Tillers.

Roosenberg worked with Jack Gesmundo, president of the Tillers Board; Robert Burdick, Tillers construction coordinator; and volunteer Bill Brislen to build a test coop with a rounded roofline.  They subsequently decided participants would instead build a coop with a gambrel roof that provides more space at the top.  The four men were also on hand throughout the weekend to assist participants at each step.

Students learned how to assemble the vast array of parts for the coop, which had been pre-cut due to time and space constraints in the woodshop, the need for precise cutting and the uncertainty over the skill level of participants. 

Participants were also treated to a delicious lunch in the stone mill house that has kitchen and dining room facilities as well as Tillers offices.

Raising chickens is part of a nationwide trend regarding food safety and the desire to eat locally produced items. 

“There is an interest by urban, suburban and rural people in knowing where their food comes from,” said Lori Evesque, education coordinator at Tillers.  “We have learned that growing our own fruits and vegetables is one way to know this.  The next logical step is to find a local farmer who raises chickens for meat or eggs and treats the birds in an ethical manner.  For some people, the best way to do this is to raise them themselves.”

Several municipalities have already cleared the way for keeping chickens in residential areas, said local attorney Suzanne Klein of Beck, Bowser, Chalmers, Klein, Shinar, VanWagoner, PLLC.  These include Kalamazoo, Portage, Parchment, Oshtemo Township and Texas Township.  Residents should check with their municipality for specific guidelines on ordinances.

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