Backyard chickens are no longer a thing of the past.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders, communities across the country have seen a boom in interest in keeping chickens for eggs. Austin is no exception, and the City Council has even made an effort in recent years to ease ordinances related to backyard chickens.
It was in this environment that Coop, an Austin-based company for all things chicken maintenance, was formed.
We spoke with founders Jordan Barnes and AJ Forsythe about how they’re working to get more backyard chickens in Austin.
Not just a hobby
Jordan and AJ, who went to rival high schools in Dallas and moved to Silicon Valley around the same time, are longtime friends. The Texans routinely ran into each other in California’s tech scene, and worked on a previous project together.
As Jordan tells it, the two began yearning for a project that had meaning to them.
“At this point in our careers… we were ready to do something more meaningful, and that was kind of the intersection of experience and passion,” Jordan said. “It feels net good on the earth and on people, and is really helping us reconnect with things in a kind of deeper way.”
The two hatched a plan to help chicken newbies care for their own backyard flock. Why? Several reasons.
For one, each chicken can provide roughly six eggs each week. Couple that with rising egg prices, and in the long term, a backyard coop can be a cost-saver for a family. The eggs are also believed to be more nutritious, and to top it all off, chickens are an excellent garbage disposal. Some studies have found an individual chicken can consume ~83 pounds of leftover food each year, diverting waste from a landfill and cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions.
“This isn’t just a silly hobby,” Jordan said. “It really is something that you can use to very easily start delivering fresh food to your family.”
AJ and Jordan were intentional in choosing Austin as their home base.
The Capital City as a culture is already chicken-friendly, AJ said, but the city government is welcoming to the practice, as well. In 2017, Austin City Council launched a $75 rebate for chicken owners, as part of the city’s ongoing zero waste efforts.
“This is something they really are encouraging people to do,” Jordan said. “It’s better for local ecosystems.”
If you’re hoping to set up your own flock, you’re in luck, as Austin allows chickens in most parts of the city. Here’s are some tips for getting started:
- Review city ordinances related to backyard poultry (Generally, they allow enclosures for two or more chickens at least 30 feet from adjacent residences or businesses.).
- Check with your HOA on whether chickens are allowed in your neighborhood.
- Do some research ahead of time with Austin Resource Recovery’s chicken keeping guide.
- Take a class on chicken keeping from the city or from Coop.
- Pick out a coop and some chickens, and wait for the eggs to roll in.
Coop offers a range of services for chicken owners, including a flock check-in for people who may be out of town or away from their homes. “Chicken tenders,” as the company calls them, will come in and make sure all your birds are safe and healthy, as well as water plants, send photos, and feed. The company also offers cleaning services and coop detailing.
Tenders are currently available for hire in eight cities: Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Denver, Oklahoma City, Miami, Tampa, and Atlanta.
This is an exciting month for Coop, as they’re also launching their smart coop at SXSW. Some details about the product are yet to be revealed, Jordan said, but it will have app-controlled cameras, automatic doors, and be double-insulated, like a Yeti cooler.
The team is excited about the growing interest in backyard chickens, and has a lofty goal for the future of “yard farming”: to get one in five American households farming eggs in their own backyard.
AJ, who has been caring for chickens since 2006, said he’s excited to be working in a field that combines technology, agriculture, and the joy of helping others spend time with animals.
“This is the most fun project I’ve ever worked on,” AJ said.