The Silicon Valley elite’s latest status symbol: Chickens

The Silicon Valley elite’s latest status symbol: Chickens

Johan Land has a life that stands out even amongst Silicon Valley’s tech elite: He’s the lead product supervisor at Waymo (previously referred to as Google’s self-driving automobile challenge), a job that retains him glued to laptop screens and fixated on the longer term.

Excelling at his work, Land stated, requires an obsessive concentrate on it. However sustaining that zeal – particularly along with his fourth little one on the way in which means figuring out when to detach. Land’s secret to success: stress-free with a glass of wine within the again yard alongside his spouse, children and the household’s 13 chickens and three sheep.

It’s senseless, he stated, however removed from banal.

“It’s an enchanting factor to sit down and watch the animals as a result of as a substitute of taking a look at a display, you’re wanting on the life cycle,” Land stated. “It’s very completely different from the summary work that I do.”

In America’s rural and working-class areas, holding chickens has lengthy been a thrifty approach to offer recent eggs. Lately, the follow has emerged as an unlikely badge of city modishness. However within the Bay Space – the place the nation’s preeminent native meals motion overlaps with the nation’s tech elite – egg-laying chickens are actually a stylish, eco-conscious humblebrag on par with driving a Tesla.

In true Silicon Valley trend, hen house owners strategy their birds as any savvy enterprise capitalist may: By throwing plenty of cash at a promising flock (spending as a lot as $20,000 for high-tech coops). By charting their productiveness (quantity and shade of eggs). And by discovering new methods to optimize their birds’ happiness – in addition to their very own.

Christie Hemm Klok for The Washington PostMatt Van Horn with eggs within the kitchen.Like all profitable start-up, broods aren’t constructed a lot as reverse engineered. Selections about breed choice are resolved by utilizing engineering matrices and spreadsheets that seize “YoY development.” Some hen house owners speak about their more and more extravagant birds like software program updates, referring to them as “Gen 1,” “Gen 2,” “Gen three” and so forth. They preserve the hen brokers of the area busy discovering ever extra novel birds.

“At Amazon, every time we construct something we write the press launch first and determine what we would like the top to be and I convey the identical mentality to the yard chickens,” stated Ken Value, the director of Amazon Go, who spent a decade in San Francisco earlier than shifting to Seattle. Value, 49, has had six chickens over the previous eight years and is already “succession planning” for his subsequent “refresh.”

“We’re shifting towards a extra sustainable price construction,” he famous – zeroing in on the chickens that produce probably the most eggs with the least feed.

Whereas the remainder of the nation spends $15 on an bizarre hen at their native feed retailer, Silicon Valley residents may spend greater than $350 for one heritage breed, a designation for uncommon, nonindustrial birds with genetic strains that may be traced again generations. They’re deciding on for fascinating persona traits (reminiscent of being affectionate and calm – the lap chickens which are mild sufficient for a kid to cuddle), rarity, magnificence and the power to supply extremely coveted, coloured eggs.

All of it occurs in cutting-edge coops, with exorbitant veterinarian payments and a gentle eating regimen of natural salmon, watermelon and steak.

New house owners may begin off with a normal breed like a Leghorn, a Barred Rock or Rhode Island Crimson earlier than upgrading to one thing extra unique and decorative like a Silkie, a Jersey Large, golden laced bearded Polish hen or a Dorking, an endangered British breed with a candy disposition and roots that stretch again to the Roman empire.

Christie Hemm Klok for The Washington PostBreakfast dishes made by Sadie and Matt Van Horn in San Francisco.Additionally widespread are Easter Eggers, a sort of hen with a gene that enables it to supply pale blue eggs.

A typical flock is round 4 or 5 birds, however those that “go loopy” can find yourself with 15 or 20. In pampered Silicon Valley situations, house owners say their birds can stay greater than a decade.

As an alternative of cobbling collectively a plywood coop with supplies from the native ironmongery store, the uncommon birds of Silicon Valley are hiring contractors to construct $20,000 coops utilizing reclaimed supplies or dear redwood that matches their human houses. Others go for a Williams-Sonoma coop – chemical free and made out of sustainable pink pine – that has been referred to as the “Vary Rover of hen cribs.” Coops are additionally outfitted with photo voltaic panels, automated doorways and electrical lighting – in addition to video cameras that permit house owners to examine on their beloved birds remotely.

Invoice Michel, a hen proprietor in Redwood Metropolis, enjoys sharing movies of his cluckers inside their coop with anybody who will watch.

“Greatest time is ‘bedtime’” Michel suggested by e mail, pinpointing one of many video’s climactic moments. “They jostle for place earlier than settling down.”


Christie Hemm Klok for The Washington PostMatt Van Horn palms a freshly laid egg to his daughter Sadie.Michel makes use of “Coop Tender,” a system that enables house owners to regulate their coops through smartphone, dictating temperature, air flow and lighting.

The system consists of an automated door and “predator movement detection” that activates a safety mild and sends house owners a textual content when hazard lurks. Regardless of their relative privilege, even these chickens are circled by predators like hawks, coyotes, raccoons and bobcats.

At the very least one proprietor plans to rework his coop into an Airbnb for people as soon as the abode’s feathered inhabitants die, in keeping with Scott Vanderlip, whose annual Silicon Valley tour – Tour de Coop – has drawn as many as 2,500 contributors some years.

“My timber framed, Gingerbread coop is beautiful: wired for electrical, plumbed for water, incorporating classic home windows and doorways,” Laura Menard, a proud proprietor from an upscale Silicon Valley suburb, famous over e mail.

Silicon Valley chickens are sometimes thought of “family members,” defined Moira Hanes, noting that she refuses to eat baked hen from Entire Meals in entrance of her three birds. A Berkeley professor registered her one-eyed particular wants rooster, Gwennie, as an emotional assist animal. Due to his cross beak incapacity, she feeds him child meals combined with grain. He additionally will get a weekly bathtub and a blow dry – “which he LOVES,” she stated in an e mail.

Christie Hemm Klok for The Washington PostMatt Van Horn’s hen, “Queen Elizabeth.”It’s not unusual right here to see chickens roaming of their house owners’ houses and even roosting in bedrooms, typically with diapers on, in keeping with Leslie Citroen, 54, one of many Bay Space’s most wanted “hen whisperers,” who does every part from promoting upscale chickens and constructing coops to offering session to yard chicken house owners. Her providers price $225 an hour. Need a coop and walk-in pen (referred to as a run)? You may anticipate to pay $four,000 to $5,000 for the standard setup.

Citroen has had 1000’s of consumers over time, she stated, giving her a front-row seat to the Bay Space’s rising obsession.

A 2002 examine (the newest obtainable) by the California Division of Meals and Agriculture put the quantity at 62,000, however some specialists consider the up to date figures may double that quantity because of the “chicken-mania” that’s “sweeping the Bay Space,” because the Mercury Information put it.

At the very least certainly one of Citroen’s shoppers has a private chef who cooks for her chickens. As a result of they eat their birds’ eggs – if not the birds – hen well being is a high precedence, Citroen stated. Her shoppers spend “1000’s” for surgical procedures and X-rays to maintain them alive after predator assaults and diseases.

Typically, in fact, nothing will be completed, like when a beloved hen met its finish in a yard pool in Marin County.

“The proprietor referred to as me crying,” Citroen stated. “She was devastated.”

Citroen’s shoppers are often males of their 30s and 40s, with younger households. After spending their days in entrance of computer systems, they lengthy for a connection to nature. What they need most of all, she stated, is a “rainbow assortment” of lovely, coloured eggs in varied shades of blue, olive inexperienced and speckled brown.


“As a result of it shouts out, ‘These eggs didn’t come from Entire Meals or Walmart – these eggs got here from my again yard,’” Citroen stated. “It’s a complete standing image.”

Citroen’s 19-year-old son, Luca, who grew up across the household enterprise, places it this fashion: “Having the ability to say you may have chickens says, ‘I’ve a again yard,’ and having a again yard says, ‘I’ve area.’ And having area means you may have cash, particularly relating to Silicon Valley actual property.”

Christie Hemm Klok for The Washington PostMatt Van Horn’s hen, “Bear,” is held by his 2-year-old daughter, Sadie.“We’re obsessive about chickens and it’s embarrassing,” stated Amina Azhar-Graham, a Costa County investigator who credit her household’s 10 birds with squelching her want for extra youngsters together with her husband, Justin, a software program engineer. “We spend an insane sum of money. We thought we’d feed them leftovers, however our chickens find yourself consuming grilled salmon, steak, recent lettuce and natural watermelon.”

Watching the chickens is among the household’s favourite actions. They name it: “Hillbilly tv.”

“We’re typical Bay-area folks,” she added, “we’ll spend something if it’s labeled ‘heirloom’ or ‘heritage.’”

There was a time, not way back, when Matt Van Horn and his spouse, Lauren, would arrive at a cocktail party with a pleasant bottle of wine in hand – often a zinfandel from their favourite winery in close by Napa.

However recently the Van Horns usually tend to supply one thing they take into account extra spectacular. They arrive bearing a six-pack – of eggs.

Not simply any eggs, however a handpicked, coffee-colored assortment laid by Queen Elizabeth, Bear or one of many Van Horns’ different heritage breed chickens, inhabitants of a comfy coop on the household’s yard deck overlooking Sutro Forest. As a last contact, every carton is stamped with the household’s specifically designed seal of approval: “VH SF Eggs.”

It’s very earthy and artisanal. Not what you may think from this in any other case type-A, tech-industry energy couple.

She labored on strategic partnerships at Fb earlier than quitting to boost their 2-year-old daughter full-time. He co-founded June, which makes internet-connected ovens. The couple have eight Alexas of their house. Van Horn – who calls himself an “entrepreneurial futurist” – live-streamed his marriage proposal to his spouse.

However like Johan Land and different high-stress, high-success tech insiders, the chickens do extra than simply bawk.

“It’s very nice to have this tactile really feel of filling the chickens’ meals, filling their water, feeding them and petting them,” stated Van Horn, who was launched to chickens by his firm’s senior electrical engineer. “Experiencing them is a approach of getting away from the know-how that’s in our lives a lot of the time.”