A chicken roost grows near Troost

Theodore Bunch and the coop.

by Mark G. Dillon, Editor of The Hyde Parker

There’s a new chicken roost a block from Troost, and yesterday mother hen Portabella and nine chicks were blessed.

Art teacher Theodore Bunch and his girlfriend Eva Louise Hall have built a 10-chicken coop adjacent to the St. James Catholic Church Community Garden next to their home at 3923 Harrison St.

Following Sunday Mass, parishioners led by Fr. Garry Richmeier offered their best wishes and prayers to the new flock as children held the chicks — Rhode Island Reds, Bard Plymouth Rocks and Black Sex Lynx breed birds.

The coop is a two-story, 800-lb. teal plywood frame hexagon with a central atrium and plastic cone skylight that provides alcoves for five pairs of birds. It will be complemented by an outdoor enclosed run area near the garden, which has been upgraded this year.

“We wanted a design that was reminiscent of a cathedral,” says Bunch, a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and a Flint Hills, Kansas native. One child named the bird he held Peter.

“We are excited to be doing this.  St. James has been great to work with,” says Hall, who will be one the coop’s primary caretakers.  She and Bunch purchased their Harrison Street home, whose backyard is near the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store on Troost, last fall.

Lead hen Portabella, a one-year-old Speckled Cornish hen named for her brown, mushroomed colored plumage, currently lays two brown or speckled eggs per day.  At full production, the coop’s output is expected to be 10 eggs a day, Bunch says.

“We have to be careful about gathering the eggs. Portabella can get upset if she sees us taking them and she’s been hiding them lately,” Hall adds.  A egg distribution plan is being developed, Hall noted, and long-term they might consider a community breakfast.

Having backyard chickens is something that the City of Kansas blessed two years ago when it revised its livestock ordinance to permit urban property owners to raise up to 15 full grown chickens and 50 baby chicks if they can obtain the written permission of property owners 50 feet away.

Bunch teaches art to at risk youth at Gillis House, a unit of the Cornerstone of Care social services organization based in Old Hyde Park. Raised on a farm near Atchison, he’s an urban agriculture advocate who a few years ago designed a chicken coop on wheels because the city’s prior ordinance prohibited “permanent” backyard coop buildings.

City regulators aren’t the only ones who might snoop at the coop.  Bunch and Hall built a double- lock and are adding an overhead screen to prevent the area’s raccoons, possums, loose dogs and cats from getting near the birds.  Overhead, other potential dangers to consider were owls and Central Hyde Park’s resident cooper hawk, also known as a chicken hawk.

The St. James garden will get a boost from the roost, Hall says, as chicken droppings will be composted , providing fertilizer for the garden.

The coop is to be an all-female operation. Roosters are only needed to fertilize eggs, not for a hen to lay.  So, to minimize noise, Hall said no roosters will be housed at the coop.  The City’s ordinance permits roosters, but cocks are not allowed to crow within 300 feet of another residence.

In a Saturday interview with The Hyde Parker, Portabella said she will aim to be a good neighbor. However, she reportedly expressed concern about the City of Kansas City’s recent willingness to accept variances for low-end chain retailing in Midtown.

“We are saturated with places such as KFC and Church’s Fried Chicken that stereotype consumer demand.  I would have a beef if Chick-Fil-A were to move in, ” she clucked. “We will cross the road to bring together all the hens and roosters in our community to oppose this kind of development.”

“Since we don’t have a Hen House in South Hyde Park, my sisters and I will work hard to lay a foundation that we hope will inspire others in the community to create fresh local grocery alternatives,”  she added.

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