HERMISTON — Here’s a twist on the age-old question of which came first: the chicken or the egg?
If you’re a well-established chicken farmer or a newcomer to the agrarian practice, a safe, sturdy chicken coop is needed and likely should come first.
Enter logger, homebuilder, truck driver and family man Lee Carlson, 81, whose career history includes building them.
Carlson is not one to sit still, he said, calling himself a workaholic who can’t stand to stay in the house.
“I’ve been self-employed most of my life,” he said. “If I don’t have work, I create work.”
Speaking by telephone from his home several miles outside Hermiston on a spring-like day, as he described it, Carlson said he builds and sells chicken coops regularly. His work dovetails with a growing trend of people raising chickens as one way to beat inflation, lead a sustainable life and put food on the table.
From rural residents to backyard city dwellers who may need instruction, guidelines for how to raise chickens are available online, from health care to agriculture companies.
Nationwide, according to the nonprofit, independent news outlet The Conversation, more communities are allowing residents to raise chickens. Nearly 1% of all U.S. households in a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey reported owning backyard fowl in 2014, and 4% more planned to start within five years, per a Conversation article.
Carlson’s skills and interest in helping others combine at a cultural time when more people are becoming responsible for their farm-to-table lifestyle, especially of a popular protein source.
Building chicken coops goes back to the days that a now-23-year-old grandson was a child, Carlson said.
“It’s just been a hobby,” he said, adding that it’s become a lot more than that at this stage of his life.
“I enjoy it. It’s a good service to the public,” he said.
In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, he built about 40 coops. Last year that number dropped to 10, and this year, he said he’s built and sold 10 chicken coops so far.
He focuses on two styles: a tractor coop that has wheels to easily guide it and can hold six to eight chickens, and a larger coop that takes two people to move around the yard.
He builds the coops on a jig, which makes it an efficient process. Carlson said he knows what materials he needs and his experience in the building trades makes the work go quickly and well.
Building chicken coops can be a seasonal business, to coincide with the spring to summer hatching or growing season for chickens.
He builds a “quality product,” he said. Only twice in 15 years has he ever redone a coop for a customer. He guarantees his work, he said. The cost of a coop varies as “it depends on the price of materials,” he said.
Carlson was concerned if people would pay for the coops, which range from $450 to $650. But he continues to receive orders. Sometimes, a bit of bartering can reduce the cost.
“I’ll do the material, and they’ll trade out the labor,” he said.
Meanwhile, Carlson said he’s feeling the economic pinch of inflation. He and his wife, Donna, would like to travel more in their motor home, but gas and food prices have risen. Longer trips to see the countryside may need to happen at a later date.
Carlson, born in 1942 in Ronan, Montana, moved as a 4-month-old infant with his family to west of Portland. His mother’s family hailed from southern Tennessee. And his grandchildren — Clayton and Tyler — have watched the coops being built over the years.
“I try to pass it on,” he said.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.