Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Case for Urban Chickens!

My husband and I were planning on keeping a few chickens in our backyard. We have no immediate neighbours, and across the back alley, our elderly neighbour Lily was excited about the idea. She even relished hearing roosters crowing until I told her that our plan did not include the keeping of male chickens.

But, a closer look at our bylaws stopped us in our tracks. The city bylaws have a hefty fine attached to them for anyone who decides to keep chickens against the law: up to $10,000 and a year in jail. Not something we were willing to risk for a few eggs, pest control and compost material. This brought me to plan B. Having already partially constructed a coop for our backyard, I felt partially committed to see this idea through. I did not intend to help spearhead this initiative, but when a good friend of mine also wanted to keep chickens in her backyard, we decided to team up and make a proposal to they city. Researching the benefits and need for urban chicken keeping has moved it out of the realm of wanting my own personal interests accommodated. Being able to provide food for ourselves - all of us - is a basic human right.

Photo by UncommonMuse.

While the presentation was well received and the council made a motion to do further due diligence, I worry that we might not have persuaded them. Ultimately, it has to do with the view that chickens are farm animals, and allowing them in a city environment is inviting noise, odor and pests. While keeping chickens can be all of those things, it also doesn't have to be any of them. It boils down to the care and responsibility of the owner. And there's the rub. One bad apple can spoil the barrel and council's concern - and quite possibly many in society - isn't so much over the majority of people who will practice responsible stewardship, but over the few that will not.

No system is perfect and even the best set of bylaws will not prevent infractions. The question is, do we deny urban chicken keeping for those that want it out of fear over the few that might cause the city extra work, or could we turn urban chicken keeping into something the city can be proud of? Could we look at infractions as a possible revenue stream to offset any additional work? Could those of us with backyard chickens open our yards to school children for tours and teaching - set a positive example to the next generation? Could we encourage citizens to take a more proactive approach in looking after their own food supply? In times of need, a city that is more self-reliant can then put their efforts where they matter most.

Why should we add to the city's burden of dealing with stray cats and runaway dogs? Because chickens are more than pets. They provide a source of nourishment high in protein, they recycle garden waste, provide nitrogen rich compost, and they're pest control all in one tiny little package with small space requirements. If we mimic what we see in nature - plants and animals together - in our backyard, we get permaculture - a self-sustaining system for growing and providing ourselves with food. And where our food comes from in the future is something we should all be more concerned about. It's great to have a garden, but what happens when rising oil prices change the cost and availability of fertilizers and compost? Chickens help maintain a garden's fertility without the need for outside inputs. Essentially, they help close the loop.

Perhaps this all sounds a bit lofty. However, if you consider that it takes on average 10 calories of fuel to produce just one calorie of food, rising oil prices means that producing food closer to home is only going to become more import in the near future. These are issues citizens should be concerned with now. As a wise man once said, "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark." Likewise, we won't benefit from initiatives like urban chicken keeping unless they are already in place when it matters.

This article is linked to Traditional Tuesdays, Real Food Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursday, A Moderate Life, Preparedness Challenge and Fight Back Friday and Barn Hop.

18 comments:

The Improbable Farmer said...

Good Luck! I love having chickens. They are so easy to care for and as long as you do some regular maintenance they don't smell/bring pests from what I can tell.

Shanon Hilton said...

Thanks! I'm not feeling very hopeful that we'll have any chickens this year. But, if it gets approved, we'll be more than ready for them next year!

captainbayinghound said...

We have chickens and are currently in process to apply for the permit that actually allows us to keep them. They are treated as agricultural animals here too. In my mind they are pets with benefits and certainly no more of a drag on society as my dogs, who do not require permits. I will be interested to see how your proposal to the city pans out!

Betty @ Little Farm in the Big City said...

I wish you a lot of luck in your endeavor! We have a group in a neighboring town that is working hard to get the ordinances changed to allow homeowners to have chickens in their backyards. It looks quite promising so far! Check out the Mother Earth News website for more information about changing the chicken laws in your area. It's very useful!

ssm said...

Wow, that's inspiring how much work you're going through. We have chickens and it's truly wonderful, so I hope it goes through!

Crystal Rassi said...

As beneficial as having chickens might be on a personal level, city neighbors may not agree. And although I'm in favor of organic eggs and free range chickens, I don't think a city back yard constitutes enough for "free range". Plus, if my neighbors had chickens I would be quite annoyed by the noise and smell-I can barely stand noisy, yappy dogs. There's even the argument (actually seen on the show "dirty jobs", where a town did permit the keeping of chickens, and when one or two got out, they became "pests". The town had to create a new job just to catch the free running chickens. It's not like they'll move for cars off the road if they get out like cats and dogs do. So I would vote no for city keeping of these animals. If the city says yes to the chickens, then will it be pigs next?

I think it would be great to perhaps encourage the city to have a plot of land that is designated to personal chicken keeping (like community gardens). Then you may not have to worry about those few bad apples that don't take care of their animals properly in the privacy of their own yards.

So - good luck!

Shanon Hilton said...

First, in regards to the free ranging concern, I have two words: chicken tractors! We designed our coop to not only fit into our 4x8 garden beds, but to be moved around the yard. It's an open air concept enclosed by chicken wire and an enclosed coop off the ground. I assure you, these hens be raised more humanely and would have far more free-ranging square feet than most store bought 'free-ranged' eggs. And, they wouldn't likely escape to become a nuisance to the city.

Clucking hens don't make a lot of noise, but of course, I think part of being a good neighbour would be talking to them about your plans first.

As for the smell, it could be argued either way. I could certainly see that if you have previously ben exposed to the smells from agribusiness, you'd be turned off by the idea. However, I also know that if chicken waste and bedding are dealt with properly, there should be NO smell.

Lastly, I think the idea of urban chickens leading to other livestock is a pretty common concern. But, let's be honest, even if people wanted other 'farm' animals, I don't see it being something readily excepted by most communities due to lot size constraints to begin with. However, unlike cows and pigs, chickens don't need a lot of space. And if you consider their nutritional requirements, they make a far more efficient source of protein than any large livestock animal!

The Improbable Farmer said...

In Portland, we seem to have created peace with neighborhoods that have covenants (against chickens) and those of us who want to have the freedom to have them. I think that those who feel the need for the restrictions move to those areas. I purposely picked an area without limits because I knew I wanted chickens and I'm not the manicured lawn kind of gal.

I have a chicken tractor but I also let the girls roam around when I'm outside with them. I've found that a few free eggs to the neighbors goes a long ways towards a few morning squawks.

Shanon Hilton said...

Covenants are not a bad idea for certain areas of the city, really. Thanks for the suggestion. I agree with you on the sharing of eggs too!

Betsy said...

I have been looking into my own city's code to try and find out if we're allowed to keep chickens or not. I couldn't find anything pertaining to it in the code so I emailed them my question. They haven't responded yet which makes me nervous. Other cities in my state which are more urban than this one allows them with parameters (no roosters, limited amount of chickens, coop must be so many feet from neighboring homes, etc) so I'm hoping to get a favorable answer. If not, I just might follow your example and take a stand myself. Bravo for doing so!

Merry said...

Same issue in my town, except, when citizens brought up the possibility, we were told that the city now intends, since we expressed the desire to have chickens in the city limits, now the city intends to tighten the ordinance even more so that there are no exceptions, ever. What a world!

Deb W said...

I live in a town where it is perfectly legal to have chickens - but the homeowner's association says no! I still have 2 - both bantams - that I keep inside in repurposed rabbit cages! (I also raise Angora rabbits for spinning fiber) I specifically chose breeds that are docile and tolerate dooping well. They don't lay well though - the tradeoff. It is just me, so I don't need that many eggs. Really, it is no more difficult keeping them inside than a Parrot - probably easier!

Our journey said...

We are going through the same thing! ugh It is so irritating because they are giving us the run around.
I hope it comes out great for you and you are allowed! :)

~katie

Shanon Hilton said...

Thank you to all who've commented so far. I really appreciate hearing what's happening in other communities!

Right now, our local newspaper is running an online poll, asking whether or not our citizens should be allowed to have chickens in the city. It will run next week in the local paper and I would love for the poll numbers to be pro-chicken! Right now it's pretty close to 50-50. It ultimately won't have any official weight with the city's final decision, but I'm hoping that it might make them stop and think should they see that more people are open to the idea of urban chickens.

If anyone feels inclined to cast their vote on our behalf, I'd really appreciate it! The link to the online poll is:

http://www.yorktonthisweek.com/article/20110601/YORKTON0302/110609963/-1/yorkton0302/editorial-city-chickens-may-have-merit

Scroll down, you will find it on the right hand side of the page!

Alana Jo said...

Good luck!

roefam95 said...

We are fighting the same battle. In January, the council voted to change the existing ordinance and allow chickens, then, they abruptly changed their minds because of some complaints of people on the streets of our small farming community. I organized a petition and with only hitting about 1/4 of our community, we got 70 signatures in favor of chickens. One new councilman wanted said that he only saw "yes" votes, but wanted to know where the "no" votes were. (Not sure he understands a petition.) In short, they are worried about the one bad apple. So, now I am seeking the help of the media and am going to see if they will be willing to do a 2 year trial run like some other major cities. Good luck. We have been fighting this since Oct. 2010.

SparingChange said...

I wish you the best. I hope you can get a few. We got 6 this year for the first time (2 died within 24 hours - the last one got taken by an animal last week). They are fun and soothing to watch.

Good luck!!!

Stuff and Nonsense said...

we are considering acquiring a few heirloom breed laying hens for our backyard and have been given to understand that where we live, up to 6 chickens can be considered pets...have to verify that for myself first...but we live in a small, civil-war era town that's fairly laid back...our backdoor neighbors have 3 big dogs, two of which are roaming pit bulls that frequently wander into other's yards...which is far more offensive to me than a few well contained cluckers...we'll see!