The month of May brings many things to Des Moines; warmer weather, green grass and of course, Bike Month. Bike culture is something that has seen remarkable growth in the state of Iowa. From major annual events such as the cross- state ride RAGBRAI, to the expansion of local bike trails, it seems everyone is looking for a reason to ride. This year, a new event took place that combined the rapidly expanding interests in local food and bike culture; the first annual Des Moines Urban Tour de Cluck.
While coop tours have been successfully done in various parts of the country, the Urban Tour de Cluck is the first of its kind to take place in Central Iowa. The event was coordinated by Beth Hicks of Urban Community Concepts. After raising backyard chickens of her own for years, she decided she wanted to see what else Des Moines had to offer in terms of coops. After some research, Beth was able to find a dozen urban chicken owners willing to open up their yards to allow us to see the ins and outs of raising poultry in the city. Appropriately, the tour started at The Chicken Coop Bar and Grill, in West Des Moines and led to the 12 coops over a 30-mile loop throughout the metropolitan area.
As a volunteer, I was stationed at one of the coops to help answer questions from the visiting cyclists about raising poultry. My host for the event owns five hens of varying breeds. Her coop is brilliantly designed using recycled materials including old cabinet doors. Her hens are nearing 3 years of age, but she is still to get enough eggs from them for personal enjoyment. In addition to the eggs, she composts the manure and shavings to use in her garden as a fertilizer. Forages and table scraps are provided to the hens as supplemental nutrition. In addition to the extra nutrition, it provides an activity to keep the hens busy. She has had problems with various predators investigating her coop throughout the day, but has built it strong enough to keep any and all pests out. The host noted that she loves to sit on her porch while listening to the small flock go about its day.
Many of the cyclists that stopped by asked if Cathy had any problems with her flock being too noisy for animals generally located within the city limits. This query was answered not long after by her neighbor’s arrival and surprise to learn that she had chickens! Clearly, if managed well, a small chicken coop can be almost undetectable to neighbors, while supplying a household with plenty of delicious eggs. (A hen will lay about 3-5 eggs per week, depending on the breed. Most growers enjoy giving away excess eggs so their neighbors can enjoy the bounty as well.)
All in all, the first annual Tour de Cluck was deemed a success. Over 70 happy cyclists joined in for the ride, observing various coop designs, while hopefully learning a thing or two. Proceeds were donated to three local, sustainability nonprofits. Many of the visitors I talked to mentioned how they would like to have their own coop someday. For those who want to raise a backyard flock, ATTRA provides plenty of resources to help get started. To learn more, contact us at attra.org or by phone at (877)-327-6379.