Annual Sewickley Valley chicken coop tour doubles in size

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 7:08 p.m.

Eleanor Klingbeil, 7, said she has invited her friends over to her house many times — to see her chickens.

“They say they think it would be fun to have chickens,” she said, as her sister, Stephanie, 5, checked the coop at their Sewickley home for eggs and visited with three orange Buff Orpingtons.

On Sept. 8, more people will be invited to visit with the sisters' chickens during the second annual Italian GardenProject's and Fern Hollow Nature Center's Sewick's Chicks tour.

Their home will be one of 12 on the tour — more than double the amount last year.

Mary Menniti, Italian GardenProject founder, said owning chickens has become more popular.

But, I'm always surprised to see how many people have chickens in Sewickley,” she said. “It is interesting to see how each coop is unique and to see a variety of breeds.”

Her organization teamed up with Fern Hollow for the event, she said, because both have a mission of helping people get in touch with the natural world.

“Raising chickens and gathering fresh eggs daily promotes a connection with nature and food,” she said.

The event began in 2011, when Menniti conducted a tour with about 15 people who she thought would be interested. “We had such a great time, I decided to do it as a public event the next year,” she said.

Jennifer Klingbeil, mother of Eleanor and Stephanie, said buying the chickens for her family, including her husband, Markus, was her idea. Before moving to Sewickley about a year ago, the family lived in Australia for four years for Markus' work.

Some friends there owned chickens.

“I thought, ‘OK, that's cute, but no way.' Then, they told me that whatever the kids won't eat, they toss out for the chickens, and the chickens then lay eggs. I liked that, and you don't need a rooster for them to lay eggs,” she said.

So, she ordered the chickens through a catalog, and they came in the mail in May this year.

“When we went to pick them up at the post office, they weren't the only chickens back there, which cracked me up,” she said.

The chickens now lay three eggs every day, which Klingbeil uses or gives to friends.

The chickens often get fed leftover oatmeal, popcorn, corn on the cob and cream of wheat, and Klingbeil buys organic chicken food.

“They make fun pets. They like to be held and petted,” Klingbeil said.

And, there is very little maintenance.

She says she just “scoops the poop” from an elevated, wooden, Amish-built coop and enclosed yard area which are attached by a ramp Markus built. She cleans out the chickens' Peck & Play enclosed mesh structure (sort of like a chicken playpen) in another part of the yard.

Klingbeil said although she was a little worried about how the chickens would stay outside during the cold weather, she learned from a chicken-owning neighbor that the birds are “cold hardy.”

There are heat lamps that can be put into their coop, but chickens owners have to be careful the lamps don't become fire hazards, Klingbeil said. One model of chicken water dish features a heating element that keeps the water from freezing.

“And, the coop is on wheels, so I figure if it really gets bitter out, we can always take them inside,” she said.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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