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Backyard Barnyard

Domenica Protheroe holds her “head hen” Ruby Sunday afternoon. A local advocate for the backyard chicken movement, Protheroe brought home her four-chicken flock last spring. She’s built a predator-safe coop and is working on waterproofing the chicken run.

Domenica Protheroe holds her “head hen” Ruby Sunday afternoon. A local advocate for the backyard chicken movement, Protheroe brought home her four-chicken flock last spring. She’s built a predator-safe coop and is working on waterproofing the chicken run. Photo by Jolene Guzman.

MONMOUTH — When Domenica Protheroe started her flock of four hens last April, she was more than ready to make a home for her family’s new additions.

A central player in the M-I Chicken Revolution, she began lobbying in 2011 to make backyard flocks in Monmouth and Independence legal after moving to Monmouth in 2009, so she was uniquely informed to raise her new chickens, named Ruby, Cozzi, Toto and Rose.

Most people wouldn’t have to fight to change city codes before starting a flock, but the backyard chicken advocate stressed being ready ahead of time is the first step every new urban flock owner should take.

Much like putting a nursery together before a new baby is born, Protheroe suggests building a brooder, coop and chicken run before picking out your little cheepers. She also advised to be familiar with your city’s chicken laws and learn as much about proper care and feeding beforehand.

“Be prepared before you bring the girls home,” she said.

When set up properly, Protheroe said chickens are truly no-fuss pets, taking as little as five minutes each day to care for, with 20-minute cleaning chores each week. However, she does have one caveat to that estimate.

“You may find you are spending a lot more time in the garden because they are so entertaining,” she said.

Urban chickens — those raised in backyards within cities — are becoming increasingly popular, riding the local food movement wave. In Polk County, Dallas, Independence and Monmouth made recent changes to their city codes, allowing for backyard coops. Falls City has long made room for chickens within its city limits.

Following that recent popularity, events such as Old Mill Feed & Garden’s “Chick Day” and area “coop tours” are attracting increasing interest.

Protheroe said for those who want to know where and how their food is raised, chickens are an ideal option.

“I think they are an extension of the garden,” she said. “There is nothing more local than your backyard.”

Chickens, however, are not like other pets, especially if you want them to make your breakfast for you, to paraphrase the title of an M-I Revolution educational seminar.

Protheroe said her routine begins at daybreak, when she opens her coop and feeds “the girls.” At dusk, she hustles them back into the coop to close them in for the night, keeping them safe from predators.

“Their care is actually simpler than for my dog,” she said.

Resources on proper nutrition for chickens of any age are available at local libraries and feed stores for those looking for guidance. Protheroe said it doesn’t hurt to attend a seminar or coop tour for more expert advice.

This won’t be news to anyone who has spent a winter or two in Oregon, but keeping chicken coops and runs dry is a concern during the rainy season.

Protheroe has had to modify her coop a few times this winter to keep her flock dry and comfortable. She said prospective chicken owners should build coops expecting soaking rain during winter and spring.

As to making sure to keep up with the “chicken house cleaning,” Protheroe offers this general rule of — ah, nose — as a guide.

“When you open the coop or run door, it should smell as clean as outside,” she said. “If it doesn’t, it’s time to clean it.”

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