The art of chicken keeping

Les Larson stands outside his chicken coop with one of his pigeons. Water, food, and climate control are all carefully monitored. (photos by Linda Baumeister/Review)

Larson’s birds enjoy cuddling up with him when they get the chance.

Ramps, ledges, and openings provide the chickens with ready access to the inside coop, screened shelter, or the outdoors.

It’s a backyard hobby that’s catching on in east metro

Ever wondered what it might be like to keep chickens in your backyard?

Oakdale resident Les Larson will be sharing his knowledge of raising poultry at the Oakdale Discovery Center June 8. Interested residents can head to the center to find out more about chicken keeping -- an activity that’s allowed in Oakdale with a permit.

Larson, who also serves on the city’s planning commission, keeps chickens, pigeons and doves at his Oakdale home. Over the years, Larson has mastered what he refers to as “the art of chicken keeping,” and says people might be surprised to discover how easy it can be to keep chickens when using certain “tricks of the trade.”

Larson will lead a free “Chicken Keeping 101” class on Saturday, June 8, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Discovery Center, 4444 Hadley Ave. N.

The class will focus on chicken coop construction, chicken comfort, safety, sanitation and how to keep the hobby affordable.

Those who plan to attend should call 651-747-3860 at least one day in advance to reserve a spot.

An intricate design

Larson’s backyard hosts a skillfully designed coop for the poultry and an aviary for his pet birds.

His elaborate system isn’t necessary for the average chicken keeper, he explains, but anyone who plans to keep chickens should provide a decent-sized coop for the birds to sleep and eat in and a space bigger than just a simple cage for them to exercise.

Larson allows his chickens to roam in his yard when he believes it’s safe from predators, and also has what he refers to as a “chicken station” in his backyard -- an old truck topper that the chickens can hang out underneath when they feel like it.

Larson says though he loves his birds, he especially enjoys the design-aspect of chicken keeping. As a former productions engineer for UNIVAC, Larson says he enjoys building all the different elements needed, like the coop and aviary -- both of which he built himself.

Larson has a thermostatic heater inside the coop that can be controlled from inside his house, and he has also installed reflective roofing with solar correlated panels to keep the temperature inside the coop cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. That addition has allowed him to keep his expenses down to just a few dollars a year, Larson adds.

The coop also must function as a place of safety for the chickens, which can be vulnerable to attacks from predators such as raccoons, foxes, red-tailed hawks and neighborhood dogs and cats.

So he can always see what’s happening inside the coup, Larson has installed surveillance cameras that he can watch from inside his home.

He’s even in the process of building a chicken feeder that keeps out mice and chipmunks. When the chickens stand on a small bar outside the feeder, their weight will pull down a lever that opens the feeder. Once the chickens step off, the feeder will close.

Larson notes that the coop can require hardly any maintenance if owners do certain things, such as using sand flooring instead of commonly used straw, hay and newspapers. Larson has also installed a wire mesh floor in the coup, which makes it easy to clean.

All of these little details make keeping chicken easier, Larson explains. “They all work together.”

For the love of the birds

Larson’s chickens aren’t the standard white egg-producing chickens that most people keep. Instead, he has multiple breeds of chickens, which have distinctive markings and colored feathers, as well as personalities.

Larson doesn’t keep chickens for the eggs, he explains, since they generally only produce about one egg a day.

And though chickens are useful because they eat bugs in the yard, Larson says he has also formed close bonds with his birds, including his fancy pet doves and pigeons. Some will snuggle up to him, sit on his arm, sleep on his chest and even nibble on his ear.

“I like having them around.” Larson says. “They’re my roving lawn ornaments.”

Simon, a Modena pigeon, even rides in the car and goes to a variety of places with Larson. He’s also known to find little hiding spots around the house, but loves snuggling up to Larson when he gets the chance.

Another bird that’s close to Larson’s heart is Velcro -- a pigeon that Larson jokingly says is living on her “sixth life.”

She once left the yard to go flying with her beloved partner, another pigeon named 2.5, a homing pigeon that can travel at much higher speeds and for longer distances than Velcro. And when 2.5 returned alone that day, Larson said he assumed Velcro, a trusting and vulnerable bird, wouldn’t make it back alive.

But the next morning, 2.5 was anxiously waiting at the door of the aviary and speedily took off to find her pal as soon as Larson opened the door.

A few hours later, 2.5 returned, with Velcro at her side. “They’re madly in love,” Larson says with a chuckle.

Alex Holmquist can be reached at or 651-748-7822.

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