Friday, February 29, 2008

shook chook lays a really big egg

Turns out the recent 4.8 earthquake in the UK had a rather big effect on at least one chook that got unexpectedly shook: a super-sized egg.

Love the quote from the owner: "We have had big ones before but this one is an absolute stonker.”

I'm not quite up to date on my Queen's English, but I believe "stonker" means "this one here in my left hand, I mean, the one on the right as you look at me."

Given all the seismic activity here in the Bay Area, I wonder how big our own chickens' eggs will be the morning after the highly anticipated BIG ONE hits?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

how to craft urban chicken ordinances/laws

The La Cañada Valley Sun reports the City Council of La Cañada Flintridge, California, (in the north part of the greater Los Angeles metro area; pop: ~21,000; map) will be reviewing (to pass?!) the following urban chicken ordinance at their March meeting:
The ordinance allows residents of all single family dwellings to have up to three hens, with larger lots allowing for more hens (roosters still being prohibited within the city) in increments of three, up to a maximum of 20 chickens or a mix of farm fowl. Ducks and geese would not be allowed on lots smaller than 15,001 square feet.

To be consistent with Los Angeles County municipal code, La Cañada farm fowl owners would be required to provide shelter for their animals; however, the animals would not be required to be confined in their coops, as exercise is important to the health of the fowl, city staff determined based on county and other area legislation.
In reading the article, you'll see the planning mission has done a great job of creating a sensible ordinance out of something that was a bit more draconian.

Here's hoping this ordinance provides a template for other townships to consider. Maybe we can create a reference list of the different types of ordinances/laws in place that permit urban chickens so that others seeking such laws have something useful to start from.

Here in Redwood City, CA, the code (Chapter 5, "Animals and Fowl") reads:


It is hereby declared to be a nuisance for any person or persons other than a licensed veterinarian and except as specifically provided in this Article, and it shall be unlawful to keep, maintain or feed within confined or unconfined areas live chickens, roosters over four (4) months of age, geese, ducks, turkeys, or similar fowl or rabbits; provided, that a maximum of three (3) chickens or three (3) rabbits, or a combination thereof not exceeding three (3), may be kept, maintained or fed as pets within confined clean coops or cages. (Ord. No. 1618, § 3, 1-6-1975; Ord. No. 1883, § 27, 11-7-1983; Ord. No. 1922, § 5, 10-14-1985; Ord. No. 2178, § 2, 8-9-1999)
What's the wording of your local ordinance?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Update on Greensboro, NC urban chicken ordinance

And in more Carolina chooks news:

Jordan Green has written a thorough column for Yes! Weekly on the plight of urban chickens in Greensboro, North Carolina (population: ~238,000; see it on a map). Our protagonists, Brian Talbert and Amy Williams, "respectively a school maintenance director and a student at Elon University School of Law, had been keeping three Rhode Island Red hens in the backyard of their home in Greensboro's Lindley Park for several months unbeknownst to most of their neighbors."

And then they had to replace one of their hens, and they chose to get a rooster. And when Elvis (the rooster) began to do what roosters do best, everything seems to have fallen apart from there: the noise complaint, the investigation, the citation, the fighting back (sound familiar to other urban chicken legalization plights?)

What strikes me as the critical faux pas in the whole situation is Talbert and William's decision to introduce a rooster into the backyard mix.

There's a reason most urban chicken ordinances forbid the keeping of roosters in city limits: the noise at dawn (and other parts of the day, but the early crowing tends to be the most annoying). Our Redwood City chickens are mighty quiet (and at their loudest are a lot more quiet than the neighborhood dogs), so even if they were illegal here, I doubt anyone but our direct neighbors would notice them.

But now that Elvis has ratted them out, they're forced to make a decision: the ordinance they've violated technically forbids them having a coop on their property, not the occupants of said coop. So, they could keep their chickens, sans shelter, in the yard, but that's pretty much an invitation for even more trouble with the exposure to predators and the ability to escape into other yards. So they're giving up their chickens.

But the fight doesn't stop there:

For Williams and Talbert, a principle is at stake. By raising their own poultry, they see themselves as circumventing a factory farming system that confines animals to claustrophobic cages and pumps them full of drugs before slaughter. They know at least two other households in Greensboro where chickens are raised. They'll comply with the order, but they want to change it to forge a path so that others can come behind.
From the story, it seems there's quite the underground chicken movement in Greensboro.

Here's hoping the movement can come above ground soon, but they'll have to turn the momentum created by the City Council in nearby Chapel Hill.
Last June, a Chapel Hill resident petitioned to amend the town's land use management ordinance to permit chickens in residential neighborhoods. The planning department recommended against changing the current regulations in September, expressing concern in a memo to Town Manager Roger L. Stancil about "incidents with family pets" and opining that "an amendment to the town's ordinances permitting chicken in more residential zoning districts would result in increased land use conflicts between neighbors, involving greater demands on staff resources."

Heaven forbid we create more work.

Meet the Chicken Man of Chester, SC

The Herald Online has a nice little story about Stephen Hunter's efforts to keep chickens within the city limits of Chester, South Carolina, a small town of about 6,000 people in the north central part of the state (see a bigger map)

The ordinance in question (note: I'm still trying to find the exact ordinance) seems to treat all "livestock" the same in banning it from city limits: doesn't matter if the livestock is a horse a cow a pig or a chicken. They're all banned by law.

Hunter is asking city leaders to change this law ,passed in 1995, to accommodate his small flock of 23 Barred Rock (like Sophia and ZsuZsu!) hens which "he keeps inside a renovated henhouse behind his 19th-century Victorian, the fourth house on the left past City Hall." (talk about urban chickens!)

From the sounds of it, Hunter's got a strong case to support the ordinance change:
  • He lives on a 2-acre lot and restored the 19th Century Victorian and its outbuildings (including the hen house)
  • The Barred Rocks are the same type of chickens that were historically raised on the property
  • Most of the 15 eggs he gets from the chickens each day are donated to a children's home in Rock Hill.
Couldn't ask for a better test case, no?

Hunter says, "People are really coming out about it. They're becoming more active and concerned. And I really like that. I think, if for no other reason, this gives people something positive to talk about for Chester."

The Council is set to vote next Tuesday evening (March 4) to decide whether to look into changing the ordinance or leaving it alone. I look forward to reporting on Hunter's success next week in getting the Council to re-examine the issue.

Go Stephen!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hanavan's Halifax chickens moving out

The Canadian Press is reporting Linda Hanavan will give away her chickens tomorrow.

The month-long extension she got from the City Council wasn't extended past the end of this coming week, so she's sending her chooks in the short-term to Heliotrust, a farm conservation center.

From there, the chickens will go to the Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum where they'll remain on display for the duration.

Props to Linda for doing the right thing and playing by the rules. Here's hoping the study the Council has commissioned will come back positive and Linda's chooks can return home.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Save the Chickens! (via Mother Earth News)

Quick post this evening to point you to a nice long article by John Vivian over on Mother Earth News exhorting us to Save the Chickens!

If you'd rather avoid the dread "next page" format, you can use this printer-friendly (and ad-free) version instead.

A year ago, I'd have paid good money to get pointed to as comprehensive an article as this one. Glad I could save you the trouble.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Viroqua, Wisconsin, holds off passing urban chicken ban

The Vernon County Broadcaster reports the Viroqua City Council has held off passing a new ordinance that would ban chickens in the city (population ~4400).

Viroqua Resident Drew Shonka presented a petition of 72 signatures to the City Council.
“It requests that the city and its residents support residents to have the freedom to do with their property as they wish,” said Shonka.

Shonka said he recognized there are issues related to health and safety of others and property values, but hoped the city could work the issue out and come to a solution that allows those who have animals like chickens to continue in their lifestyle. Shonka asked that the city clearly define and set acceptable limits on “nondangerous and nonpolluting animals such as chickens.”
Seems like a very sane and logical approach to dealing with the issue.

And I also like the framework presented by Leigh Anders:

Anders asked if there was a particular incident that caused the council to look at the issue of animals in the city. Anders said she got a list of animal complaints for 2007 from the Viroqua Police Department and of 40 calls total, 29 were related to dogs, eight were about cats, one was about a woodchuck, one was about an opossum and one about a chicken...

“I really advocate responsible pet ownership,” said Anders. “We have had a dog issue on my block for quite sometime now..., but my stream of logic isn’t…, well there is a dog problem we need to get rid of all dogs in Viroqua.”
Here's hoping level heads prevail and the proposed ordinance is completely dropped from consideration.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mandating cage-free eggs by law?

The Humane Society of the United States is trying to put an initiative on the ballot here in California this November to ban the use of cages in raising laying hens. Considering Californians purchased 8.2 billion eggs in 2006, you can imagine a successful initiative would have a rather large effect on the $6 Billion egg industry.

What's the fuss? The Sacramento Bee has created a great info-graphic showing the difference between caged and cage-free henhouses. You can see why the cage-free eggs cost more at the store: the space requirements are greater and that means the literal overhead costs are higher.

But are cage-free chickens really better off than their caged sisters? It's not as simple an answer as you'd think.

A team of researchers led by Joy Mench of UC Davis, and Janice Swanson and Paul Thompson, both of Michigan State University is getting $400,000 from the American Egg Board to do the planning phase of a study to find what are the most humane and commercially viable methods for housing egg-laying chickens.

"The primary drawback of a conventional cage system is that it restricts the hen's movement and some of her natural behaviors," said Mench, an animal science professor and director of UC Davis' Center for Animal Welfare.

However, Mench says that hens that roam free of cages, in barns or outside, are more likely to fall victim to cannibalism or to health problems associated with increased exposure to their manure. Furthermore, most laying hens suffer from osteoporosis, and cage-free hens are more likely than caged hens to break bones while moving through the barn or on the range. Mench also notes that the cage-free systems are expensive and would likely result in higher egg prices for consumers.

While there are no simple answers, Mench suggests that one of the most promising alternatives appears to be "furnished cages," which European producers have begun to use in recent years. These larger cages provide areas where hens can nest, perch and dust-bathe -- all important natural behaviors. The cost of producing eggs in furnished cages is comparable to conventional cages, according to Mench.

According to animal behavior experts, a contented chicken only needs room for a dust bath, a nest and a place to perch. Thanks to our Eglu we've got all three of these in our backyard for Sophia and ZsuZsu. No wonder their eggs are so good and plentiful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

keeping chickens in Montana

There's a fun little video in New West magazine showing the urban chickens of West Central Spokane, under the auspices of an article named Urban Livestock: a Tender Issue.

Watch the video over on the New West site, and in the accompanying article, you can see that the good folks of Missoula, MT (subjects of previous posts here and here) are now allowed to keep up to six hens (no roosters).

Glad to see they're formally permitting urban chickens in Missoula (for a $15 annual permit fee).

Looking forward to seeing what's going on in North Carolina.

Halifax Urban Chicken Rally Results

It seems as though there was a good showing at the Halifax City Hall yesterday. The Nova Scotia News reports:

The protesters’ signs outside city hall said “Halifax Welcomes Chickens" but what unfolds over the next few weeks could prove otherwise.

A small group of people — some wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Urban Chickens are Cool" — staged a peaceful demonstration at the Grand Parade on Monday night just as a meeting of the Peninsula community council was get­ting underway.

Their protest, which included an im­promptu chicken dance, was in support of Louise Hanavan, who has run afoul of city bylaws for keeping chickens on her property.

And then the report on what happened inside City Hall

On Monday night, Coun. Sheila Fougere (Connaught-Quinpool) re­ceived support from her three counter­parts on the community council for a staff report on the practice of urban farming in this municipality and in other locations where it’s permitted.

The councillor has looked into it and discovered that certain rules are al­ready in place.

Other North American jurisdictions that permit urban farming have re­quirements like minimum lot sizes and set distances between chicken coops and the nearest residence.

So it looks like there's hope! If you're on Facebook and live in Halifax, be sure to join the FB petition group (it's only open to those members of the Halifax network... I can only give moral support and promotion).

Oh, and I gotta get me one of them "Urban Chickens are Cool" shirts (still looking for pictures), anyone know how? Please let me know via that comments.

UPDATE: The CBC's got an article on the rally as well. And they've added the bit that "That report, and any recommendations to councillors, is not expected for another six to seven months." I wonder if they'll grant a stay to Louise Hanavan's chickens until the report is filed and reviewed? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

another month for Hanavan's Halifax chickens

Louise Hanavan has been given an extra month with her chooks while the Halifax Council considers the issue of urban chickens.

The folks over at the Ecology Action Centre are helping motivate folks to sign a petition, and Hanavan's inviting fellow urban chicken farmers to rally at City Hall on February 11.

It's a bit of a stretch to get there from here in California, so I'll plan to be there in spirit instead.

I'll keep you posted on how things go.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

traveling while the chooks stay home

We just got back from our second annual trip to Disneyland over Super Bowl weekend, and it meant leaving our chooks at home for four days with a sometime chicken sitter.

She'd agreed to watch the chickens (feed and water them daily) on two conditions: 1) she could keep any eggs she found in the nest and 2) she could play our Wii while we were gone.

She did a great job, but unfortunately, I didn't tell her we wouldn't be returning home until late Monday night. She thought we'd be coming home late Sunday.

So the chickens got a little hungrier than they'd like, and I learned what the chooks do if their eggs aren't collected daily.

By the time I got to the Eglu at 9:30pm, the shine of the flashlight showed their food bowl was down to a fine layer of food dust, and they were about half-way through their water. Normally when I don't get to them until after dark, they just hang out in the coop while I fill their bowls.

Not last night: as soon as they saw the shine of my light, they were out in the run squawking at me (chiding me?) to fill up their bowls. No sooner had I filled the food bowl up all the way than they dove in to start munching away in a frenzied manner. I had to wonder just how long it'd been since they finished off their food. No matter... they seemed happy and were still eating away after I'd collected the (three!) eggs in their nest.

When I lifted away the nesting box lid, I saw a single egg in the nest and was about to replace the lid when I caught a glimpse of another egg all the way on the other side of the coop.


I shined the light in to illuminate the whole coop and sure enough, there were two eggs that had been pushed to the other side of the coop away from the nest, for a total of three in the coop. I guess the girls decided the nest was a bit too crowded with three eggs AND two chooks, so they moved the wingless ones out of the nest to make room to snuggle in the cold.

So, while the girls were a little hungry and a little cramped, they seem to have weathered our absence just fine. And when LeftCoastMom let them free range in the backyard for an hour today, the girls got to gorge themselves on fat worms and fresh lettuce and stretch their legs a bit.

It's good to be home again.


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