Tuesday, April 29, 2008

urban chicken laws: how to write your own

If you're thinking of approaching your local city council in an effort to make urban chickens legal where you live, you're likely to get a lot more traction if you can come to the table with sample legal codes from other municipalities (and maybe even your own proposed code, to boot).

Where can you find such things? By using the Municipal Code Corporation's online (and searchable!) municode library.

Here's how it works. Let's say you want the exact municipal code for keeping chickens in the city of San Francisco.
  1. Go to the online municode library
  2. Click on the state of California on the pretty map
  3. Scroll down to the link for "San Francicso" and click it
  4. At the top of that San Francisco page, click the "Search all of the San Francisco, California codes we host" link
  5. In the search box at the top of the page, type "chickens" (I usually search on the plural, as the singular "chicken" tends to bring up a lot of ordinances related to food, not pets. your mileage may vary, though)
Within a couple seconds, you get four results, and can choose the one that gives you this:

(a) Number of animals. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to keep or feed, or cause to be kept or fed, or permit to be kept or fed, on any premises over which any such person, firm or corporation may have control within residential districts, (1) more than three dogs of age six months or older without obtaining a proper permit and license to operate a dog kennel as defined in Section 220 of the San Francisco Business and Tax Regulations Code, and (2) more than a total of four of the following in any combination: dogs of age six months or older unless part of a dog kennel, hares, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, doves, pigeons, game birds of any species, or cats. Nothing in this section, however, shall prohibit the feeding of any wild bird not specifically prohibited by this section unless such feeding creates a public health nuisance.

(b) Enclosures. Any person, firm or corporation, keeping, feeding, or causing to be kept or fed, or permitting to be kept or fed, on premises over which such person, firm or corporation may have control, four or less hares, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, doves, pigeons, parrots of any species, game birds of any species or wild animals of any species except those animals prohibited by Section 50 of this Code, shall keep same in coops or enclosures that are approved by the Director of Public Health. Where the coops or enclosures are located on the outside of or on top of any buildings, premises or structures, the coops or enclosures shall be not less than 20 feet from any door or window of any building used for human habitation.

(c) Prohibition. It shall be unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to engage in the business of keeping, feeding, or breeding any hares, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, doves, pigeons, parrots of any species, game birds of any species, dogs, cats, for commercial purposes, within the residential districts.

(d) Commercial Purposes. It is hereby declared to be unlawful to conduct for commercial purposes any establishment in which dogs, cats, hares, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, doves, pigeons, parrots of any species, game birds of any species, are kept and maintained in the commercial or industrial districts without first obtaining from the Department of Public Health a permit so to do.

No permit shall be issued by the Department to any person, firm or corporation, to keep or maintain for commercial purposes any of the above named fowl, animals or birds within the commercial or industrial districts, unless said person, firm or corporation has complied in full with the following requirements:
(1) It shall be unlawful to establish hereafter any place of business for the sale of the fowl, animals or birds specified above within 25 feet of any door, window or other opening of any dwelling, apartment house or hotel if live fowl, animals or birds intended for sale are kept therein; provided, however, that this restriction shall not apply if a wall, ceiling, floor or other impermeable barrier between the place of business and such habitation will prevent odors and noise from disturbing the occupants of the habitation. It shall be unlawful to keep said live fowl, animals or birds in any basement, sub-basement or cellar in any place of business unless such basement, sub-basement or cellar is adequately ventilated, as approved by the Director of Public Health and is also adequately lighted, completely rodent-proofed and complies fully with the sanitary requirements set forth in Section 440 of this Code.
(2) The floors of all such premises must be of waterproof material, smooth and of durable construction properly drained to the sewer. These floor surfaces shall be coved at the juncture of the floor and wall with a 3/8-inch minimum radius coving and shall extend up the wall at least four inches.
(3) The premises shall be rodent-proof, all openings properly fly-screened, and adequate provision must be made for the elimination of all odors.
(4) The walls and ceilings of all such premises must be of durable, smooth, nonabsorbent, washable surface, and be light-colored.
(5) In all premises where slaughtering of fowl, birds or animals is carried on in connection with the keeping of said fowl, birds or animals, the killing room must be entirely separate from that part of the premises occupied by the live fowl, animals or birds.
Refrigerating equipment must be installed for the reception of the dressed fowl, birds or animals, properly connected to the sewer. Toilet and lavatory facilities for the use of the employees engaged in the handling and slaughtering of such birds, animals or fowl must be installed in conformity with the provisions of the San Francisco Plumbing Code.

(e) Exceptions. The terms and provisions of this Section shall not apply to the keeping, liberation for exercise, or racing of homing or carrier pigeons which are not raised or kept for the market or for commercial purposes, and the lofts or pigeons houses wherein said homing or carrier pigeons are kept are elevated at least three feet above the ground or other foundation upon post-legs or pillars completely surrounded or covered by smooth, jointless galvanized sheet metal and within not less than 20 feet from the door or window of any building used for human habitation, and the entire floor and sides for at least two feet extending upwards from the bottom of the floor of said lofts or pigeons houses, are covered or protected by galvanized iron or its equivalent, concrete or 18 gauge wire mesh of not more than 1/2-inch and the interior of said lofts or pigeons houses, wherein such carrier or homing pigeons are kept, are registered by the owners thereof with the Department of Public Health and the said lofts or pigeon houses shall be inspected by the Department at least once a year.

(f) Definition. For the purposes of this Section, the terms "residential district," "commercial district," and "industrial district" shall have the same meanings as those found in the San Francisco Planning Code.

(Amended by Ord. 256- 90, App. 6/29/90; Ord. 185-00, File No. 000335, App. 8/11/2000; Ord. 125-01, File No. 010269, App. 6/15/2001)
voilá! More than enough info to craft your own ordinance (or get your council better informed for writing their own).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Cost of backyard eggs about to rise?

We're about to hit the bottom of another 50 pound bag of chicken feed, and that means it's time to head on over to the San Mateo Pet Supply store to get another.

I can only hope it's the same $11.99 for 50# of layer crumbles as its always been, but I have a sneaking suspicion the price will have gone up.

Why? The latest story in USA Today (courtesy Google News alters, I don't subscribe) titled "Buyers shell out for eggs as producer costs rise."

What has driven egg prices up 35% in the last twelve weeks?

Just about everything, says Thomas Elam, president of FarmEcon, an agricultural consulting firm in Carmel, Ind. Start with the cost of chicken feed, which consists of about 57% corn and 26% soybeans. The rest is animal fats and minerals, such as calcium, which keep eggshells strong.

The cost of corn and soybeans isn't chicken feed these days. Start with the cost of fertilizer needed to grow the crops, up 27.1% the past 12 months, in part because of rising energy prices. A big part of the cost of producing potash, a fertilizer ingredient, is the price of natural gas, up 24.3% the past 12 months.

Corn prices also have soared because of global demand from China and India. And, because of biofuel mandates from the government and the high price of gasoline, corn is increasingly being used to make ethanol fuel. The more corn that goes into making ethanol, the less that's available for chicken feed — and that drives up prices, too.

Soybean prices have risen even more than corn prices in the past 12 months, in part because many farmers switched from planting soybeans to corn last year. Many farmers are rotating back to soybeans this year, Elam says, in part because it costs less to produce an acre of soybeans than an acre of corn. But that, in turn, will push up corn prices this year.

Yes, we're only dealing with small-scale feeding here in our own backyard, so any cost increase will not hit us too hard.

Given the fact I haven't even bothered to look at the price of eggs in the store recently, I can only wonder how much money we're saving having our own hens.

I'll do the research and follow up in a post later this week.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

another issue in the urban chicken debate

I came across this letter to the editor on the Packet web site (news for central New Jersey) from Craig D Evans, writing about the Hightstown Borough Council's recent decision to ban urban chickens from Hightstown, NJ (pop ~5300, see on larger map).

Mr. Evans makes a rather interesting point about the economics behind the arbitrary passing of the ordinance to ban chickens, pointing out the years invested in raising backyard flocks as well as the money put into building and maintaining coops. The way Mr. Evans tells it, there's a small group who've bent the ear of the Council and pushed for the change regardless its impact on the existing flocks.

What really caught my eye was this passage in his letter:
The passing of legislation that deprives citizens of their investment in property, that were lawful at the time of their acquisition, is a questionable practice under any circumstances. Doing so in the absence of any clear finding of a public danger or menace is an abuse of power. If, as Councilman Bond suggests, the ordinance is unenforceable, this act is foolish.
I hadn't thought about the investment side of this argument before. I'd only been looking at it from the side of "let's make urban chickens legal because they aren't now."

Here's hoping there aren't any other townships looking at criminalizing urban chickens. But if they do, let's hope Mr Evans' pointing out the deprivation of investment in property is a compelling argument to give the legislators pause.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Sophia and ZsuZsu!

pullets or cockerels?
pullets or cockerels?,
originally uploaded by thomas pix.
And happy Earth Day to you all!

It's a little hard to believe our two hens were born a year ago today (or so I estimate). Even though the girls are only a year old today, the urban chicken experience has lasted a little longer (see the one year recap here)

When I picked the girls up from Half Moon Bay Feed and Fuel in April 2007, I had no idea what a delightful adventure we'd be embarking upon. I just knew I had to catalog it here on the blog so others wouldn't be going into the experience as blind as we did.

We've been flooded in eggs since last Fall, and the volume of weeds in our yard this Spring is decidedly lower than it was but one year ago. Our girls have been on CBC radio, they have their own Facebook fan page and are even now tweeting on Twitter (with a little help from yours truly, natch). And here on the Urban Chickens blog, we're about to hit the 21,000 page view mark (tonight?) which is enormously gratifying that you care about urban chickens enough to visit once, twice, weekly or daily.

I've gotten lots of emails telling me our foray into urban chicken farming has inspired others to do the same, and hopefully with the coverage of urban chicken ordinance efforts elsewhere, we can add even more fans to the urban chicken movement.

Seeing how far we've come since last Earth Day gives me great hope for the road ahead. Who knows what the next year will hold for us?

In any case, it's great to have you along for the ride with us. We'll save a slice of worm cake for your chooks to enjoy, too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

the sound of one hen crowing

Here's the sound that comes from our backyard each day (usually sometime after 9am, but happens in the afternoon, too).

Anyone else have hens that make the same crowing sound? (I can confirm she's a hen, btw, and not a rooster)

Ann Arbor Urban Chickens? up to the City Council

As previously reported here and updated here, the Ann Arbor City Council is going to discuss the issue of allowing Ann Arbor residents to keep urban chickens.

This coming Monday, Ann Arbor's City Council will discuss City Council Member Steve Kunselman's proposal that includes the following details:
  • City residents would need a permit to keep poultry.
  • Allows up to four hens; no roosters.
  • Permits would be granted only to residents of single- or two-family homes.
  • Owners are subject to noise laws that can lead to a fine if there's noise that disturbs neighbors between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • Prohibits chicken slaughter
  • Birds would have to be provided with a covered enclosure and be fenced or in that enclosure at all times.
  • Chicken coops would have to be 10 feet from any property line and no closer than 40 feet from any residential structure on an adjacent property. (Neighbors could agree to a waiver.)
  • Coops and feed would have to be secured to prevent problems with mice or other pests.
All the above seem like they'd make a good ordinance. Here's hoping Kunselman's proposal is adopted and made law!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Waterloo editors strongly against urban chickens

The editorial board of Canadian paper The Record has come out strongly against the idea of urban chickens in Waterloo, Canada (pop: ~ 97,000; see on larger map.)

In their April 10 editorial, they express what can only be a strong bias against things rural in their observation, "[t]his is the 21st century, not the 19th. Times have changed. And the 21st century Canadian city is for people, not livestock. That's what the countryside -- with its agricultural zoning -- is for."

Wow, I'm stunned to see such a blatant misunderstanding of the situation.

People aren't trying to raise large flocks of birds in their small backyards. We're talking half a dozen birds, max, if Waterloo follows the more liberal interpretation of allowable urban chicken flock sizes. But, as is the custom of folks arguing against the idea of chickens in the city, the editors invoke shocking images of chook owners gone wild in trying to make their point.

To illustrate the anti-chicken bias in the editorial, I've re-written one of their supporting paragraphs with my minor changes (italicized) transferring their observations to another animal we see a lot of in the city:
Then, imagine the potential for the noise of barking dogs, their odours and their excrement to annoy the neighbours. Dogs can carry diseases. Dogs can bother people with allergies. Dogs can attract predators. Dog food can attract rodents. All this is bad. And all very different from what goes on in a backyard vegetable patch.
All the above is true, right? Then why is it acceptable that dogs can impact neighbours in just this way, but if you substitute in "chickens" for "dogs" we're talking a whole new ball game and need to clamp down. The editors continue:

So, while there's no reason to doubt the sincerity or good intentions of the would-be chicken farmers, their plan is neither reasonable nor feasible for the city of Waterloo.

That, by the way, is merely this newspaper's view. If Waterloo city hall wants to explore this idea, it should consider a bylaw that sets extremely stringent conditions for raising chickens in backyards. But before that, why doesn't it try polling the community?

This is their best idea in the whole piece. Why not ask folks what they think? Maybe we can break down these urban/rural stereotypes that seem to flash to the forefront whenever someone challenges the anti-chicken status quo.

If we can peacefully co-exist with chickens here in California, what's so different about you folks up in Ontario?

Friday, April 11, 2008

locavores and urban chickens - waterloo, too?

Quick little article in this week's SF Bay Guardian about locavorism (the practice of eating only or mostly food raised within a 100-mile distance) and urban chickens:
Locavorism... It's a concept that makes a lot of sense — even organic food grown hundred or thousands of miles away can hardly be considered sustainable once you figure in the resources used to ship it.

But a committed breed of urban farmers is challenging even the 100-mile definition of local food. These folks are cultivating their own cornucopia in their backyards and community garden plots, pruning their own fruit trees, raising their own chickens...

The author goes on to quote several Bay Area folks who're raising chickens in San Francisco proper, on the Peninsula and over in the East Bay. Great to see there are so many like-minded folks around here having fun raising chickens, and nice to know we're contributing to the locavore cause.

Here's hoping the residents of Waterloo (Ontario) can join us soon in our urban chicken ways.

Monday, April 7, 2008

price of eggs keeps going up

At least if you're buying them at the store.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, for the first quarter of 2008, the average price for one dozen regular eggs was $2.16, up 55 cents compared to Q4 in 2007. The average price for “cage-free” eggs increased 23 cents to $3.00 per dozen.

Turns out there are a couple factors leading into this: the price of feed is going up (no surprise) but also the number of laying birds is decreasing.
“Producers are being really responsible, keeping supply in check,” said Chad Gregory, senior vice president at United Egg Producers, a national trade group. “So this could last a while.”

Under a voluntary industry-certification program, egg producers have increased bird-cage sizes the past few years, capping the number of chickens per barn. The number of chickens per cage is down to four or five birds, from six or seven, according to Gregory.

Accordingly, a barn that once housed 100,000 chickens may be down to 70,000, he said.

“The overall supply is way down from two to three years ago,” Gregory added.
Imagine my relief when I went to the Feed Supply store today and found that 50 pounds of chicken feed (layer crumbles) still costs $11.99. That means we'll get over six dozen eggs for $12, keeping us well below the average for "cage-free" eggs from the store.

Gotta love raising your own egg producers in the back yard!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

chickens really seeing red

Leftcoast Mom has been chuckling her way through a great little book recommended to her called Book of General Ignorance, a compendium of all kinds of challenges to what we've held as truths all these years:
  • Magellan the first man to circumnavigate the globe? wrong.
  • Baseball invented in America? wrong.
  • Henry VIII had six wives? wrong!
(correct answers at the bottom of the post).

The little factoid that caught my eye was the challenge to conventional wisdom that bulls are infuriated by the color red. Bulls are actually color-blind, and it's the movement of the bullfighter's cape the causes the bull to charge.

The animal that really reacts to the color red? Chickens!

Turns out that when a chicken bleeds, other chickens in the flock peck at it obsessively. If left unchecked, a flock can be depleted rather quickly as the chickens go at each other. Poultry farmers have a keen sensitivity to this, so they'll do what they can to prevent it. Enter a company called Animalens:
The traditional solution is to trim the chickens' beaks with a hot knife so they are blunt and cause less damage. However, in 1989 a company called Animalens launched red-tinted contact lenses for egg-laying chickens. The early results were promising -- because everything looked red, the chickens fought less and needed less feed because they wern't so active, but still laid the same number of eggs.

The egg industry operates on a tiny profit margin of about 1.6 percent. There are 250 million egg-layers in the United States, 150 milion of them on just fifty farms. Red contact lenses for chickens promised a tripling in profits.

Unfortunately, fitting the lenses was fiddly and labor-intensive. Deprived of oxygen, the chickens' eyes degenerated rapidly, causing pain and distress. Falling foul of the animal rights lobby, Animalens withdrew the product.
Thus concludes another entry in Book of General Ignorance.

If you like this kind of stuff, there's over 250 pages of it to pour through. If you'd rather just know the answers to the teaser questions at the top of the post, they are: Henry the Black, England and two (four if you're Catholic). Want to know why? Get your own copy :^)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mad City Chickens opens the Wisonsin Film Festival

Following on the heels of front page coverage in the WSJ (Wisconsin State Journal, that is), Mad City Chickens opened up the 10th Annual Wisconsin Film Festival last night.

From the coverage over on the Bubbler blog at the Capital Times, things went swimmingly. Of course, a couple of the Capital Times reporters had parts in the film, but that doesn't seem to have biased them too much in their coverage of the event:
Do people who choose to have chickens already have the same kind of approach to life that makes them good storytellers or does the experience of having chickens in one's life make one a good storyteller? Considering the driest part of the film is when scientists talk, suspicion lies with the first.

The audience was already primed for an unusual evening, as ticket-holders got boxes of Peeps and chocolate eggs while waiting in line. (But wait, wouldn't this go against those strict Monona Terrace catering rules?) The film lived up to that goofy approach, using wry editing between storytellers and a few well-timed chicken appearances to create more than a few laughs. But "Mad City Chickens" is as informative as it is entertaining, and it wouldn't be surprising if more than a few audience members went home and started pricing chicks and coops.
Here's hoping lots of folks find the pricing of chicks and coops to be favorable and make the leap into urban chicken farming.

Will Mad City Chickens make it to the West Coast? There's hope in the closing of the article: "The filmmakers have submitted the movie to several film fests in chicken-friendly cities (they mentioned San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, OR last night), so the film may screen in other parts of the country."

Congrats to the folks at Tarazod Films on the great opening.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Urban Chickens in Saco, Maine: 3, 6 or 12?

Looks like the City Council in Saco, Maine (just south of Portland - see on larger map) is considering how many urban chickens is the right number of urban chickens.

Kate Irish Collins writes in the Community News of KeepMECurrent that "a plan to allow people to keep at least three chickens as pets in the city has gone back to the drawing board after Saco City Councilor Les Smith suggested the total number of fowl be raised to a dozen."

The bit that gets me is the following:

“I’d like to allow as many as 12 chickens. Having only three is hardly worth the aggravation,” Smith said during a council meeting Monday. But Councilor Marston Lovell said allowing a dozen chickens could have a negative impact on public health.

Due to the debate on just how many chickens residents should be allowed to keep, the council agreed to discuss the issue further at an upcoming workshop.

I think there are many of us that find keeping even two chickens are well worth the "aggravation" and in fact, having twelve seems like way too many... unless you're looking to profit from the surplus eggs or meat.

Regardless the final numbers of chickens allowed per residence, I find the rest of the provisions of the ordinance to be quite smart:
  • chickens would have to be kept in a wire enclosure with access to a hen house
  • pen and hen house must be in a backyard and be 50 feet back from any property line, or located on house lots of at least one acre
  • annual permit would be required from the code enforcement office and a building permit would be required in order to construct the hen house or to convert an existing shed, garage or barn into a chicken habitat
  • during the day the chickens would be allowed outside the pen, as long as they are in a “securely fenced yard”
  • owners of the chickens would also be required to store and remove feces “to the satisfaction of the animal control officer”
  • no more than 3 cubic feet of manure can be stored at one time
The thought of keeping 3 cubic feet of chicken poop on hand gives me the willies, but to each his or her own!


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