CU student works to build a better chicken coop

The black chicken coop on display inside the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art is sleek, like a chicken-house-of-the-future. The air slats that ring the wooden coop are perfectly parallel, and the square nest boxes that line the back are uniform.

Even the tiny ladder that allows the chickens to climb up to the ledge where they’d sleep looks like it was made with precision — which it was.

But the idea behind University of Colorado senior Jeff Troutman’s coop is decidedly down-to-earth. The architecture student set out to build a chicken-house that could be manufactured easily and inexpensively — and sold at an affordable price to Boulder’s burgeoning set of urban hen-keepers.

“I would love to see it become a functional coop in people’s backyards,” he said.

Keeping a flock of chickens next to the lawnmower shed is a practice that’s taking off across the country and across Colorado, as more and more cities make allowances for backyard birds. Boulder allows them, as do Superior and Longmont.

For proponents like Troutman, who, as a renter, has never had a flock of his own, backyard chicken-keeping is partly about knowing where your food comes from — and where your waste goes.

“That’s the idea behind this — to create a cycle, instead of this throw-out culture,” he said.

Troutman is one of six CU students who has worked with Boulder-based Urban Hens, an organization that promotes chickens-in-the-city, and a few other organizations over the past year to design functional chicken coops as an independent study with CU architecture professor Rob Pyatt. Pyatt said he was looking for a hands-on project he could do with his students, and building a better chicken coop seemed perfect.

“It’s part of our local culture,” Pyatt said of Boulder. “People want to have backyard hens or gardens, but they don’t know how.”

Last spring, a group of five students built the first coop, a nine-foot-tall half-circle-shaped structure with wire-and-wood sides and an aluminum roof. It’s now on display outside BMOCA as part of an exhibit that pairs architectural and artistic renderings of chicken coops built by CU students.

“We tried to make a coop that you could basically install in the backyard and make it easy for people to have chickens and get into the groove,” said CU senior architecture major Brittany Taylor.

The group eventually built three more coops and installed them around town. There’s one at Pyatt’s house; one at Community Roots Urban Gardens, a multi-plot urban gardening project in Boulder; one at the North Boulder Egg Cooperative, a project involving seven neighbors and six chickens; and one at Shawnee Gardens, a Boulder assisted-living center.

There are also plans to install a coop at Park Hill Elementary School in Denver.

Troutman worked on his project separately. His idea was to use digital fabrication to make a coop that could be easily collapsed, shipped and reassembled. He also wanted to his coop to be easy to clean, and able to thwart predators while encouraging interaction between humans and chickens.

Because the coop is built with the help of high-tech machinery, it will be quick to reproduce, Troutman said, which will drive down the cost. He’s not sure yet how he’ll sell the coops or how much they’ll cost but he’s hoping the price tag won’t be more than a couple hundred dollars.

“There’s a social entrepreneurship element to it that’s engaging,” Troutman said.

Plus, Troutman said, he loves the thought of helping bring more chickens to Boulder: “I find the idea of localized farming fascinating.”

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