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Coop tour will get people clucking with an up-close look at the world of chickens

Kelly Uhlig holds a Teri Barred Rock hen outside the family’s coops near Langley. The farm is one of the locations on the Whidbey Island Coop Tour, coming on Saturday, April 30. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Kelly Uhlig holds a Teri Barred Rock hen outside the family’s coops near Langley. The farm is one of the locations on the Whidbey Island Coop Tour, coming on Saturday, April 30.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

Kelly Uhlig finds chickens irresistible, and thinks you will, too.

“I love having chickens wandering around,” she said Monday. “They’re fun.”

“Chickens aren’t very smart, but they’re amusing,” she added. “And I really enjoy the eggs.”

Uhlig, 16, is chief chicken honcho for her parents, Pam and Gary Uhlig, who operate Sonshine Farm on Crawford Road, just off Highway 525 near Langley.

The Uhlig family is one of six Whidbey poultry keepers who will open their farms and back yards this weekend to show off their chickens and coops.

The second annual Whidbey Island Coop Tour is sponsored by the Rock’n Doodle 4-H Poultry Club to spread the chicken culture and raise money for club projects.

The self-guided tour will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 30. Tickets and tour maps are $10 per person or carpool, and are available at Bayview Farm & Garden at Bayview Corner, and Skagit Farmers Supply in Freeland and Oak Harbor.

“It’s a fun way to provide education about raising chickens, and to get 4-H members out talking to the public,” said Marci Ameluxen, co-leader of the club and spokeswoman for the tour.

“In Whidbey Island’s climate, you can grow just about any kind of chickens,” Ameluxen said. “You just have to decide if you want eggs or meat.”

She said chickens raised for meat have a lifespan of eight to 10 weeks; egg producers start laying at six months, “but there’s not enough meat on them to eat.”

“More and more people enjoy raising chickens, and knowing where their food comes from,” Ameluxen said.

She said the tour will feature more than a dozen chicken varieties, “plus turkeys.”

“People are really interested in chickens these days,” she added. “When we conduct classes, they’re lining up out the door.”

The tour will offer a variety of feathery experiences.

Visitors to the Nattress family farm can see heritage Narragansett turkeys as well as chickens housed in colorful mini coops. Host and professional chef Vincent Nattress will discuss his research on egg and meat breeds.

Meanwhile, Karin Watson of Langley will show off her backyard “secret garden” chicken compound, featuring a circular pen hidden among the trees.

Also in Langley, John Goertzel will display his coop of an unusual design that a neighbor helped him to build.

And at Sonshine Farm, the Uhligs will show how chickens can be raised and processed for meat cleanly and safely, and experts will demonstrate slaughtering and plucking techniques.

Also at Sonshine Farm on Saturday will be a child-friendly petting area with goats and alpacas, hosted by the Inca Pride Alpaca 4-H club.

At every location on the tour, hosts and coop owners will be available to share their chicken experiences, Ameluxen said.

Pam Uhlig, Kelly’s mother, said the family moved to Whidbey from the San Francisco Bay area about 10 years ago, with chicken raising in mind.

They started out with a mail-order box of two dozen chicks. “We wanted to try different varieties,” she said.

They converted a playhouse on the property to a coop, then eventually added a second one, which they call the chicken palace. The family has about 40 chickens on hand in anticipation of the coop tour, but usually keeps the flock at about 25, Uhlig said.

She said people can start out with two chickens and supply themselves with a continuous flow of fresh eggs.

Uhlig said the chickens have been a boon for Kelly, who has worked with them since 2002.

“The whole thing is a great learning process,” she said. “And we can’t go back to store-bought eggs now.”

“Pecking order, ruffled feathers — everything in the movie ‘Chicken Run’ is true,” Uhlig added. “Chickens provide a lot of entertainment.”

For more information about the coop tour, visit http://whidbeyislandcooptour.org. For information about the Rock’n Doodle 4-H Poultry Club, e-mail RocknDoodle@whidbey.com.

 

 

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