In 2006, Dan Cohen’s son bought a house nearby with a chicken coop in the backyard. After a while, Cohen’s wife got tired of going over and collecting eggs from his house, so she asked her husband, a carpenter, to build her a chicken coop in their own yard. One day later, the coop was finished.
At the time, Cohen laughed when his wife suggested he sell the coops. After all, he specialized in building furniture, making cabinets and working in museums; he attended art school with Jeff Koons and had a background in architectural model making.
But it was around that time that the economy began to falter, so Cohen started investigating the market for chicken coops. He posted the coop in his backyard online as a sample of his work, and the response was overwhelming.
“I got 20 to 30 emails a day,” he says. “I realized I’d found something here. I’d never gotten that kind of response from anything I’d ever done, so I knew there was a need for quality chicken coops.”
Cohen is no stranger to raising chickens himself, having kept a flock himself as a kid, so he knew quite a bit about backyard structures already. He developed a couple of designs and started building in the workshop behind his house in 2007 and 2008. From there, he created a website to market his coops, and within six months he outgrew his workshop, leasing additional space for building. Green Chicken Coop was born.
“We are thrilled to bits,” he says of his partnership with Williams-Sonoma, which has allowed his coops to reach a wider audience. “We’re building coops as fast and as well as we can right here in Bay City, Michigan, and all of our employees are local to us. We do everything here; we don’t order anything from outside. We’ve come up with the perfect solution for chicken coops, with ventilations and enclosed runs so the chickens can roam outside during the day.”
In addition to the high-quality design, Green Chicken Coop uses only certifiable materials, including wood from local trees and low-VOC colorants. “It’s not only important for the customer to operate in a sustainable way, but it helps the chickens. There are no harmful chemicals in the wood; even the linoleum we use is made of plant-based products. It’s as pure as you can get raising chickens in your own yard.”
More people are raising chickens in their yards that in previous years, a trend that Cohen attributes to raised awareness of factory farming practices and nutrition. As many as 25 percent of Cohen’s customers have never kept chickens before, and he loves educating them and keeping up with them as they enjoy keeping their own flocks.
“Most families raised chickens 100 years ago, but that dwindled away with factory farming,” he says. “The philosophy of nourishing yourself from your own backyard is amazing, and the health benefits of these eggs you’re producing in your backyard is far superior to anything you can buy commercially.”
Cohen has one of each of his seven coop models in his own backyard, keeping chickens for his family. Observing them helps him continue to learn about their needs and improve his designs.
And aside from that, of course, he has the luxury of keeping chickens. “It’s just fun,” he laughs. “You have pets that produce food for you — my cocker spaniel doesn’t do that. It’s a satisfying feeling to keep chickens just like our grandparents did.”
For Cohen, the most rewarding aspect of starting Green Chicken Coop has been his interactions with the hundreds of people he’s introduced to raising chickens. Even many urban environments have seen an increase in new owners, with local communities starting chicken keeping groups, coop tours and gatherings to discuss techniques.
“I hear back from them, and it’s become a big part of their lives,” he says of his customers. “It makes them feel like they’re in tune with the earth. It’s so easy to grab a dozen eggs at the store, but people who raise their own chickens would never do that. Once you start keeping chickens, you’re going to be keeping them for a long, long time — you provide for them so they provide for you.”