Buff Orpington…Rhode Island Red…Plymouth Barred Rock… To the growing number of urban chicken owners seeking good laying breeds and friendly hens, these names are familiar favorites.

Georgie at the Growhouse

If you’re interested in something a little more exotic, however, visit the poultry on exhibit at the Arizona State Fair October 17-21. Large chickens and bantams are kept in the Agriculture Center in the southeast quadrant of the fairgrounds, just north of the Cattle Barn.

There you’ll find chickens entered for competition – from intriguing Silver Penciled Wyandottes to glossy black Australorps, and from the rare gold-speckled Sicilian Buttercup to the fluffy Polish Frizzle. Look for the unassuming Araucanas and Americanas, known for their eggshells of green and blue.

Chickens are also classed by their style and shape of comb (single or rose) and whether they’re clean-legged or feather-legged (think of chickens in feathered trousers).

For a closer look, visit the Fair’s Great American Petting Zoo for the entire run of the fair (through Nov. 4) for hands-on experiences with chickens, as well as ducks, llamas, donkeys, deer, pigs, and more.

To take home your own prize-winning bird, stick around for the auction on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m., when kids from nine to 19 sell their animals – you’ll be seeing the best, healthiest livestock.

The next step is the Valley’s Tour de Coops on November 10, organized by the Valley Permaculture Alliance (VPA). A ticket for the family-friendly self-guided Tour provides a map to featured coops, offering a glimpse into the world of local backyard chickens in urban settings.

Diving for bugs at the Growhouse

It’s an especially useful opportunity for folks interested in the benefits of home-grown eggs, recycling kitchen and garden scraps, and free chicken-generated fertilizer, says VPA chicken educator Rachel Bess. “People want to know about more sustainable, more locally-engaged, and more self-sufficient city living, and the variety of sites on the Tour show the possibilities of poultry raising and organic gardening.”

What’s the best aspect of backyard chickens? All the emotional benefits of friendly, sociable pets who clearly communicate with humans and each other – creatures who need love and daily care but provide affection in return.

According to Jessi Bloom, author of Free-Range Chicken Gardens, “Chickens offer a sense of humility and peace, which helps keep me grounded. They have complex social lives and distinct personalities, and they really do take care of each other but still have occasional tiffs.”

A few other chicken resources:

  • For a glimpse of two happy neighborhood hens, stop by the Roosevelt Growhouse at Garfield and 6th Street, a tiny miracle of inner-city gardening and edible landscaping.
  • The Western Ranchman Store sells chicks, feed, equipment and supplies in a cheerful, family-operated environment.
  • The Chicken and Egg Page, a great general resource from Mother Earth News, which also offers the free “Community Chickens” e-newsletter.
  • BackyardChickens.com offers a learning center, a community forum to exchange ideas and encouragement, a library of coop designs, a guide to breeds, and reviews of both breeds and supplies.
  • My Pet Chicken provides a breed selector tool and sells supplies, chickens, and gifts.
  • For the true feathered fan: check out the chicken pages at Petexpectations, a tiny online business run by avowed chicken-hugger Jill Klancic from her E-I-E-I-O Farm.
  • Want to go a step beyond the coop and bring your chickens inside as house pets? Consider a chicken diaper – believe it or not, it’s a booming business riding the crest of house-chicken popularity.

Photography by Katrina Becker