Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Urban Chickens Year in Review

By most accounts, 2009 is the year urban chickens, the phenomenon, the trend, the craze, hit the mainstream.

During the first half of the year, news outlets across the country were reporting every other day on this "new craze" for keeping chickens in your backyard. Just on this blog, I've shared links to stories on ABC, NPR, CBC Radio, CBC Television, Marketplace, CNN and NBC's Today Show so we're not talking personal testimonies in small-town dailies here.

The year 2009 also saw the long-awaited release of the Mad City Chickens movie, followed by producers Tashai and Robert's cross-country screenings tour, lending more weight to local efforts to legalize chickens in back yards. If nothing else, Mad City Chickens galvanized the movement, providing a readily-accessible, highly educational and imminently entertaining re-introduction to why we keep chickens in our backyards (and why others should, too).

All the media exposure may have contributed to the shortage of chicks during the Spring, with people having to wait months to get their peepers. Large hatcheries took advantage of the seller's market and prices for immediate-delivery chicks rose accordingly. Feed and fuel stores that took six weeks to sell 800 chicks in years past sold out within ten days this year. (I expect a repeat in 2010, but my predictions post will appear here Friday). This demand could also explain why this year's most popular blog post was "where to buy baby chicks."

While national pres coverage piqued interest in keeping chickens, local frustrations flared with people trying to find out whether they could keep urban chickens and, if not, then trying to get chickens legalized within city limits. It seems the keeping of chickens is a strong indicator of a small city's evolution from rural to urban status, and in the surge 40-50 years ago to urbanize, many anti-chicken ordinances were put on the books.

Looking across the landscape, the urban chicken laws are inconsistent when they're on the books, and open to interpretation depending on with whom you speak at city hall when you call to inquire. To try and address the issue of where are chickens legal, I've recently launched the Urban Chickens Network Legal Resource Center, and you'll see more about that in early 2010.

2009 saw lots of success in getting chickens legalized across the country. The folks in Asheville, NC, did a masterful job of using social media to successfully pass a new ordinance allowing urban chickens. Among the places we saw celebrations happen: Huntington (NY), Gulfport (FL), Vancouver (BC), New Haven (CT), Longmont (CO) and Provo (UT).

The fight to legalize urban chickens remains an uphill battle in many places, but we're getting better at busting the myths about bad things in keeping chickens (too much poop, spreading bird flu, enforcement costs, hosting salmonella). And we're getting smarter at knowing how to change the laws.

And thanks to success stories like that in Fort Collins (CO), where they celebrated a year of legal urban chickens in 2009, we can see that many of the fears expressed by those seeking to keep the status quo are as unfounded and absurd as any rational person would believe on first hearing them.

It's been a wonderful year, all around. I'm amazed we had over 92,000 unique visitors come to read something here on the blog this year, and almost 2,500 people fanned our Urban Chickens Facebook page, to boot. I'm grateful for all those who left a comment, sent an email or shared a link. I find it tremendously rewarding you've chosen to give me your attention and I hope to earn the chance for more of it in 2010. I'm also grateful to our blog sponsor this past Spring, for helping us afford some extra chicken scratch around the house.

A review of 2009 wouldn't be complete without noting events in our Redwood City backyard. We had a bittersweet year with our own urban chickens, Sophia and ZsuZsu. After years of companionship, egg production and entertainment, our lovely Sophia died suddenly in August. After much hand-wringing, research and outreach, we found a new flock in Los Altos for our remaining chicken, ZsuZsu, to join so as not to have her all alone in our now-empty coop.

So, we end 2009 "in-between chickens" with plans to get new birds early in 2010. I can't wait to share with you our experience of raising even more chickens in our backyard, and to help bring this experience to more and more backyards across the country (and Canada, too!).

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope 2010 is your best yet!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Animal Sanctuaries Need Your Help

With so many people deciding to try their hand at raising urban chickens, it's inevitable that some aren't finding success and have to give up their chooks. Whether they find themselves with a rooster due to inaccurate sexing or simply didn't understand the responsibility of caring for an animal 24/7/365, someone ultimately has to take care of the birds.

While Craigslist and online chicken groups are good resources that conscientious urban chicken farmers use to try to find new homes, less savvy folks simply take their birds to the local animal shelter and drop them off, or worse, take the birds to the edge of town and let them loose.

Here's where animal sanctuaries step in to help. And what with the surge in popularity of urban chickens, the sanctuaries are busier than ever. So, while we're celebrating this season of giving, I hope you'll consider donating to your local animal sanctuary.

A few animal sanctuaries have formed a Coalition Concerned with Chicken Welfare and you can support them at their web sites (listed below). While I don't condone the Coalition's ham-fisted approach to chicken welfare by urging municipalities to outlaw urban chickens, these organizations provide a valuable service in providing chickens a refuge of last resort.

Photo credit: LiminalMike on Flickr

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Peeps, Clucks and Cackles: Translating the Urban Chicken

Did you know that chickens start talking even before they are born?

Chicks start peeping about 24 hours before they're ready to hatch so as to tell its mother and siblings it's getting ready to break out of its shell. The mother hen listens for the peeps to understand how much longer she needs to stay sitting on the nest (since some of the chicks are stillborn inside their shells).

The web of communication gets even more sophisticated once the chicks follow their mother out to forage and explore with peeps and clucks serving as a call-and-response to keep track of the flock.

Later in a chicken's life, their vocabulary expands to include nesting calls, egg cackles and "here's food" songs among many other sounds from the coop.

To learn more about each of these sounds, Karen Davis published a wonderful guide to Chicken Talk. although it originally appeared in print in 1994, everything she's written is still true today. She does a great job helping us understand the noises chickens make whether they're in your backyard or down at the farm.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Coalition Sees Sky Falling Due to Urban Chickens

This past Friday, a coalition of animal sanctuaries "Concerned with Chicken Welfare" sent out a press release calling for an end to the practice of keeping backyard chickens.

Their big beef? Too many roosters (which remain illegal in the majority of places where urban chickens are legal) are winding up at sanctuaries, overwhelming the resources of said sanctuaries.

I can't argue with their concern about the roosters, but I can, and will, argue about their proposal to remedy the situation by taking away the rights of anyone to keep chickens in their backyards. They seem think that if urban chickens are illegal, it will dry up the demand for chickens and solve the problem of abandoned roosters.

We've seen this movie before in America's so-called War on Drugs, haven't we? By making drugs illegal, the problem magically solved itself, right?


And the coalition's Position Statement on Backyard Poultry (beware: it downloads a PDF) reads like a well-meaning but ultimately feeble attempt at singling out urban backyard flocks as the cause of poultry raising ills. My scan of their list of concerns brings the following alternatives to mind:
  • If, as they say, there are no legal requirements dictating how breeding hens and roosters are kept, let's change the laws to require humane treatment (as is required of the egg-layers)
  • If, as they say, shipping day-old chicks is cruel, let's figure out a better way to get chickens from the breeders to the customers
  • If, as they say, sexing chicks is such a problem that "between 20-50% of purchased 'hens" are actually roosters," let's figure out how to sex chicks better
  • If, as they say, professional medical care for urban chickens is lacking, let's educate our veterinarians
And the coalition's list of problems continues trying to present problems as insurmountable, so-let's-ban-them-all.

While I'm in favor of the service these sanctuaries provide, I'm dumb-founded as to their backward thinking on how to solve the issue of unwanted roosters. Shame on them for their tactics.

It's a pity this is how they have to behave to get attention. I'll follow up later this week with more about the coalition and how you can support their efforts to provide sanctuary for unwanted birds despite their bungling the call to ban urban chickens.

Photo credit: hghwtr on Flickr

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the Barnyard Stigma of Urban Chickens

Today's Sacramento Bee carries an article discussing efforts to legalize chickens within Sacramento city limits. It's yet another well-written story detailing the advantages of keeping backyard chickens (sustainability, locavorism, nutrition, etc) while touching on the downsides (none?) aside from dealing with ignorance regarding the hows and whys of keeping urban chickens.

The story lede caught my eye, though, as I feel it hits the main stumbling block to legalizing chickens dead-on (emphasis mine): "Sacramento leaders have spent a generation trying to shed the city's cow-town stigma. Now they are facing a movement that wants to turn the capital into chicken city." One simply can't underestimate people's desire to prove they're no longer farm folk, even in a city as big as Sacramento, the capital of California, with a population of over 437,000.

Chickens, for better or worse, still strongly represent the rural roots that many moved into the city to escape. In any story of the urban chicken movement, look at the opposition quotes of anyone over the age of 50 and you'll see them recounting the days when they used have to take care of (nasty, pesky, stinky) chickens on the farm and why the [expletive] would anyone want to do that to their backyard willingly?

More to the point, simply take a look at the municipal codes pertaining to urban chickens and more likely than not, chickens are lumped in with all other manner of barnyard creatures (goats, sheep, cows, horses, etc) who've been banned within city limits.

So, the quest to legalize urban chickens isn't just a logical one. If it were, there'd be no contest. When you compare the attributes of chickens and dogs, you have to wonder why the dirtier, smellier, messier, furry one is legal everywhere.

The challenge in legalizing chickens in your backyard is one of convincing city councils that different animals have different attributes and can't all be conveniently lumped into a single banned category. And mentally separating chickens from their barnyard brethren isn't an easy thing to do with anyone who's marking progress based on physical distance between city center and the nearest pile of manure.

But it can be done, and the list of places that are doing it keeps growing. Won't you add your own?

Photo credit Overdaforest on Flickr

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Urban Chickens on the Radio

I'm a little late to publish this, but only recently have I been able to listen to the fascinating Think Out Loud show all about urban chickens over on Oregon Public Broadcasting. The show doesn't examine the "how" of keeping chickens in the city as much as the "why."

The show's guests include:
  • John Carr: Backyard chicken keeper and designer of The Garden Coop
  • Barbara Palermo: Animal health technician and founder of Chickens in the Yard
  • John Kilian: Dentist who spoke out against backyard chickens in Gresham
  • Ken Stine: Gresham planning commissioner 
As you're listening to the show (I recommend downloading the mp3 instead of trying to listen from the web page, as the datastream drops often), take a look at the comments left on the show's web page. Once you get past the first comment re: El Caminos, there's a string of rather endearing stories about why people are keeping chickens in their own backyards.


    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Conan endorses Extraordinary Chickens!

    If you watch the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, you know that Conan has proclaimed himself "The New Oprah" what with her deciding to quit and all next year.

    And as The New Oprah, Conan's making recommendations on what Americans should buy, hoping to have the same rocket-to-the-top-of-the-charts effect that Oprah's book club has had all these years. His first recommendation, a DVD, got a 126% boost in interest the week after he pimped it (not bad).

    His second product recommendation is the Extraordinary Chickens 2010 Wall Calendar and it's zoomed up the purchase charts, too.

    Now, I know he's doing this to be funny (evidenced by the audience laughter), and I'm sure he's laughing with us, not at us, right? But damn, those are some good looking chooks (urban or not!)

    I think I'm going to have to get me one for my wall.

    Enjoy the clip of Conan announcing his recommendation below (you can walk away for 30 seconds so as to avoid the annoying commercial embedded up front):

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    urban chickens: controlling the feed of your food

    This little gem about how keeping your own urban chickens means truly knowing where your food comes from is just one of the great soundbites from the wonderful two-part video interview of the "Toronto Chicken Lady" posted by David Sheen over on the Green Apple Landscaping blog. The video interview is a followup to his earlier post on Backyard Chickens.

    Since chickens are still illegal in the Toronto's residential neighbourhoods, the interview subject's identity is obscured, but that doesn't hinder her from sharing tons of urban chicken wisdom from the ins-and-outs of daily urban chicken keeping to all the benefits that come from keeping hens in your backyard.

    If you're thinking about keeping chickens in your own backyard (or trying to convince your partner that it's a good idea, really!), you could do a lot worse than spending 15 minutes listening to the Toronto Chicken Lady talking about the benefits of raising your own hens.

    I notice that she's got a partial list on her Toronto Chickens site of places where chickens are legal. It's no surprise that there are so many more places where they're legal in the USA than in Canada, but wow, you'd think our neighbors up north would be a bit more progressive on this front.

    And you've heard it before, and I'll say it again: I've started to compile a list of the exact ordinances making chickens legal over on the Urban Chickens Network Legal Resource Center where visitors can easily see the technical language employed by cities to legalize chickens. If you live in a place where chickens are legal, please add your city's name to the list so we can capture the municipal code and flesh out the resource center. Thanks!

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    when urban chickens are technically legal but practically illegal

    What to do when your city passes a law to allow urban chickens but then writes it in such a way that it's impossible to conform to the restrictions set forth in the law?

    Bryan sent me an email this weekend to explain that just such a law is on the books in Mobile, Alabama (pop 182,000).

    The urban chicken ordinance says you can have up to 25 hens in Mobile (no roosters) but they must be kept at all times inside a chicken house/yard that is no closer than 200 feet to a neighbor's residence, and following exacting restrictions on the materials and size of the chicken yard.

    But, as Bryan points out:
    The first issue I have is with the 200 feet or more distance from other residence. This seems to be extreme. Many of the subdivision have 75 to 90 foot wide lots. Place a house in the middle of each and you soon realize that you can't meet the 200 foot requirement.

    The second issue I have is (2) Walls, etc. four inch (poured!) concrete wall that extends 12" above and 18" below the surface of the ground. This again seems extreme.

    I know many people that reside in the country and have happy chickens that live in a wood and wire chicken house that has a dirt floor.

    This is where I need your help. Is there any model language by any recognized group? I am sure that our code is many, many years old.
    I agree with Bryan's frustrations, and it seems rather, um, political to legalize something on the books that can't practically be done. I told Bryan I don't know of any model urban chicken ordinances out there, but it seems to me the simpler, the better.

    Do you know of model language to use in writing a good urban chicken law? You can contact Bryan directly at bryan2373 [at] comcast [dot] net.

    I've started to compile a list of the exact ordinances making chickens legal over on the Urban Chickens Network Legal Resource Center (shh, it's not yet launched, so you're the first to know!) where folks like Bryan can easily see the technical language employed by cities to legalize chickens. If you live in a place where chickens are legal, please add your city's name to the list so we can capture the municipal code and flesh out the resource center. Thanks!

    Photo credit: bsdubois00 on Flickr

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Find an urban chicken farmer near you!

    While sites like MyPetChicken and BackyardChickens are great resources for figuring out how chickens work in a general sense, there's nothing like having someone from your neighborhood to chat with about local sources of supplies, the effects of weather on the flock, and how to keep local predators at bay.

    With urban chicken owners popping up all over the place, it's getting easier to find someone in your neighborhood who's got chickens in their backyard:
    • Search Yahoo! groups or Google Groups (each of these links drops you on the results for "chicken") to see who's already talking about chickens near you. Join the group and have the discussions emailed to you in a daily digest so you can scan the topics to see what interests you. Listen first, then jump in and ask or offer advice once you're comfortable.
    • Join a Meetup of fellow chicken enthusiasts. There are at least 835 urban chicken meetups happening across the country each month! The best thing about meetups: you get to mingle with fellow chicken owners face-to-face and swap tips and tales in real time. If there's no meetup already existing around you, you can sign up to be notified when one does get started (or start one yourself!)
    • Find the 4-H nearest you and ask about their poultry program. Do a google search on 4-H and your town name to get the contact coordinates for the local program. Unfortunately the National 4-H program is a complete mess when it comes to helping you find a local poultry program, so you're best off just using google to find what you need.
    For those of us in the Bay Area, here's just a short list of sources for connecting with fellow urban chicken farmers:
    Know of others here in the Bay Area? let me know, and I'll be happy to add them to the list.

    Got a list of local resources of your own? Please share it in the comments below!

    Photo credit: Daniel Miller/My Standard Break from Life on Flickr

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    simply put: get your urban chickens now

    Caught this nice summary of why you'd want to raise your own chickens over on the FriendsEAT blog:
    It’s a way to save money on grocery bills, it allows families to take control of their food supply by practicing “eating local,” it encourages sustainability and reduces the carbon footprint of industrial agriculture. Plus the eggs, which are an excellent source of protein, will be fresh, flavorful and plentiful, depending on how many hens are in your harem.
    Lots more goodness in the rest of the post, but I haven't seen the "why urban chickens?" put so succinctly well before. What are you waiting for?

    Photo credit: ztephen on Flickr

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Iowa City Mayor Bailey's Odd Anti-Chicken Concerns

    In today's USA Today paper, there's a half-page feature article about urban chickens. In the print version of the paper, the story takes up the whole above-the-fold section of page 6D and includes a list of communities that we know have changed local laws to allow for urban chicken farming: Durham, NC; Portland, ME; Camden, ME; Huntington, NY; Lawrence, KS; and Longmont, CO. Great to see all these smart cities doing the right thing!

    Unfortunately, in what I'm hoping was a quest for "a balanced look at the issue," the author provided even more airtime for Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey and her peculiar concerns about urban chickens:
    Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey opposes efforts to allow backyard chickens in her community. One concern: University students often leave pets behind, she says, and the city – home to the University of Iowa – would need to develop facilities to shelter abandoned chickens.
    Another problem: Small Midwestern farmers are increasingly trying to raise a diversity of organic produce beyond corn, oats and soybeans. But that movement faces an uphill battle, Bailey says, when locals who are passionate about high-quality eggs bypass their local farmers.
    "We have a lot of small farmers around here making chickens and eggs available for sale," Bailey says. "My fundamental question is: Why aren't we supporting the regional economy?"
    I'd love to see the data that Bailey's consulting in order to form her opinion that she needs to create abandoned chicken shelters. If I'm lucky, it'll be the same data set that's showing backyard chicken owners will be putting small Midwestern farmers out of the organic produce business.

    How about it Mayor Bailey? Care to share what's informing your concerns? Or is it just more smoke-and-mirrors in City Hall?

    Photo credit gingerjess on Flickr

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    How to handle neighbors' complaints

    With legal urban chickens becoming more commonplace, it's inevitable that some of our less-enlightened neighbors would call to complain about the new noises our chickens are making in the neighborhood.

    I've seen a rash of reports in the Yahoo! chicken groups recently about neighbors complaining about perfectly legal urban chickens doing perfectly normal chicken things. It's the neighbors that seem a bit, well, uptight and unreasonable. (Our legal chickens have been reported by an anonymous neighbor, too)

    A certain discussion's been tumbling around the Silicon Valley Chickens Yahoo! Group discussion regarding an urban chicken owner whose neighbor called in the city to investigate her chickens saying there was a rooster on premises (there wasn't). Upon finding there was no rooster, the enforcement officer then cited the owner for having a "too small yard" and asked the owner to get signatures from neighbors agreeing the chickens were okay. Not an unreasonable request, right?

    Lisa "the Chicken Lady" Green then added a gem to the discussion:
    It feels so horrible to have this happen. Write a letter to accompany your neighbor's signatures. Include the fact that most chickens are usually kept legally in coops with a 4'squ / bird recommendation. Therefore your yard should be adequate. I have seen very successful 4-H coop/run combos for up to fifteen full sized hens that measure three by eight covered with wall mount laying boxes and a three by ten open run ( 3.5'/bird).

    Remember to note the change in complaint in your letter, of course state it as an error. Go on line and read carefully the ordinance. If you are within legal limits and there is no "neighbor complaint" clause you may be OK. You can often use the letter of the law to your advantage, (and of course the overwhelming support of most of your neighbors). Also remember that the officer that came out may not have had all the facts. People don't always to their jobs properly. You can also contact UC Davis and your local 4-H for advice and arm yourself with their standards for care.

    See if you can get to the Animal Control Dispatch supervisor. Describe your situation and request that the complaining neighbor be contacted. Sometimes and offer to see the set up, try some eggs, and work out solutions is all it takes. They won't let you contact them but could pass along the message and request a meeting. Some people complain not because they really are affected by the noise but because they don't like anyone to get away with anything. If they thought you had a rooster and find out that you don't that may be it. (Or they may have used that to get Animal Control to come out).

    But we need to fight these things.
    I agree with Lisa, we do need to fight these things. It's understandable that we need to be considerate of people's wanting relative quiet in our urban neighborhoods, but when chickens are singled out unfairly, we need to push back.

    It's amazing how effectively the brain can become accustomed to the sound of horns, sirens, dogs, kids and other urban dwellers yet the clucking of a chicken will be the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back. As chickens become more integrated into urban life again, hopefully the clucking and bawking will fade into the background like all the other urban sounds we've become used to.

    BTW, did you know there are over 3,600 Yahoo! groups relating to chickens, you really should find one near you to join as they're full of good neighborly advice like what Lisa's sharing, and they'll let you know what other chickens around you are experiencing in terms of molt, reaction to storms, etc.

    Photo Credit: artwerk by alphadesigner on Flickr

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    VIDEO: Urban Chickens Ambassadors in Chicagoland

    Found this great Chicago Tonight TV news segment on urban chickens in Evanston (where they're illegal) and all around Chicago (where they're legal). What I love about segments like this is how they re-kindle the excitement and enthusiasm and "ain't-this-cool?" factor of having chickens in the backyard. Take a look yourself:

    If you're saving it for later, the quick synopsis of the six minute segment is: A profile of Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, who is keeping chickens in her Evanston backyard in direct violation of the city code against it. The reporter then takes us on a tour all around Chicago to see the hens and the coops and the owners talking about why they have their legal chickens in the city. A bit talking to a local Feed Store owner confirming interest in chickens is really picking up. There's even a quick appearance by Tashai and Robert (our Mad City Chickens producers)!

    All around, a nice piece, and it features some good ambassadors of the urban chicken movement. Thanks to Mr Brown Thumb for the original post about the segment over on Chicago Garden.

    As a footnote, when I first started writing this blog, it seemed all things urban chicken were talked about in early Spring as folks busied themselves getting ready for the annual plantings. Now, however, the fascination with urban chickens seems to have decoupled from the gardening season and is on its own track and is building momentum. So great to see so many people interested in the wonderful experience of hosting urban chickens in your own backyard!

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Can you help chickens at the animal shelter?

    When looking to add to your urban chicken flock, there are many places besides the feed and fuel store where you can find a new hen including Craigslist, the local chicken group's listserv, and... the animal shelter!

    Yes, chickens wind up at the animal shelter just like any other kind of animal, but it's not usually the first place people think to look. For a small adoption fee, you can spare these chickens from an untimely demise and add a new bird to your flock.

    Here in the Bay Area, there are several chickens available right now (shelter names are linked to the respective web sites for follow-up):

    At the Oakland Animal Shelter:
    5 Sebright Bantam Hens
    1 Sebright Bantam Rooster
    1 Crested Polish Hen
    1 Crested Polish Rooster

    San Francisco Animal Care & Control:
    3 teenager chicks
    1 teenager hen
    1 Chinese Silkie Hen

    SPCA for Monterey County:
    4 Hens
    9 Roosters

    If you think you can afford to house one more chicken, please consider reaching out to help those whose time is running out at a shelter near you.

    A big thanks to Anne M, a volunteer at the Oakland Animal Shelter, for her helpful reminder and for the photos of the chickens available in Oakland in this post.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    urban chickens help with climate change

    It's not hard to see that keeping urban chickens are part of at least two of the solutions published in Scientific American's 10 Solutions for Climate Change.

    Consume Less: cutting back on consumption results in fewer fossil fuels being burned to transport products around the globe.

    By keeping hens in your own backyard, you're able to cut back on the transport requirements from manufacturer to your house for several items at once:
    • eggs: instead of trucking and refrigerating eggs en masse from the farm to your table,  you simply walk across the yard and collect your own. Bonus: yard-collected eggs can sit on your counter at room temperature until ready to use (within a month of collecting).
    • herbicides and pesticides: if you're letting your hens free range around your yard, you no doubt have discovered how good they are at eating many weeds and bugs that you'd otherwise have to spray to control.
    • fertilizer: with hens in your yard, you've got prolific nitrogen-producing machines that'll get your compost bin producing rich fertilizer in overdrive.
    Eat Smart, Go Vegetarian? Organic produce is often shipped from halfway across the globe. And meat requires pounds of feed to produce a pound of protein. Choosing food items that balance nutrition, taste and ecological impact is no easy task.

    By keeping chickens in your backyard as part of a larger gardening experience, you know exactly where your veggies have come from (and where the fertilizer is sourced, too). Moreover, you've got a great source of low-cost high-quality protein produced for you almost every day: the egg.

    No need to go vegetarian to lessen your impact on the climate, and no need to eat the birds themselves. A couple backyard hens can produce a dozen eggs a week for you which provides plenty of protein as part of a sensible diet.

    As part of Blog Action Day, take a look at the rest of the 10 Solutions for Climate Change and add to the comments any ways you find urban chickens are part of on of the solutions.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Fort Collins Urban Chickens Law: what went wrong?

    (Spoiler alert: absolutely nothing!) In early 2008, there were quite a few ruffled feathers and loud squawks of despair around the thought of legalizing urban chickens in Fort Collins, Colorado. The arguments against keeping chickens were the usual "we don't want no dirty, smelly, loud, disease-infested, rodent-attracting critters around here" kind.

    However, thanks to the perseverance of Dan Brown of the Fort Collins Urban Hens, the measure (a strict one, at that) was passed in September 2008, allowing six hens per household.

    This week, the Coloradoan has a great follow-up story on all that's happened in Fort Collins since chickens were made legal, and as we urban chickens fans would expect, everything's gone just fine, thankyouverymuch.

    In fact, a total of 36 households have acquired chicken licenses (and one could assume, chickens, too), yet none of the bad things the opposition had foretold has come to pass.

    Director of animal control with the Larimer Humane Society, Bill Porter, says that of the 14,314 calls to animal control since the chicken law went on the books, "There were four calls of complaints from roosters crowing." The four roosters in town that peeved off neighbors were "accidents," Porter reports: owners thought they were buying hens as chicks only to discover they were roosters. "The other two regarded smell and location of the coop, and both cases were unfounded." (emphasis mine)

    Longtime readers know that one of the arguments AGAINST urban chickens that's consistently trotted out time and again is the myth of "it'll cost too much to enforce the new rule." Even though the calls to animal control in Fort Collins were bogus, they still took time to investigate. But these calls were less than one-tenth of one percent of the volume of complaints to deal with (0.04% to be exact). A rounding error, at best.

    It's satisfying to see real evidence that enforcement costs come nowhere near what the anti-chicken crew would have you believe. Yet another case of proving the anti-chicken hysteria wrong.

    Reminds me a lot of the follow-up story Missoula Urban Chickens Law: what went wrong?

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    knowing where your food comes from

    This past Sunday, there was an eye-opening article in the Sunday New York Times about Stephanie Smith, a 22-year-old dance instructor who remains paralyzed from a food-borne illness caused by e. coli which came from a hamburger she ate.

    The offending hamburger came from a batch of frozen burger patties shipped by agri-conglomerate Cargill. The batch was made from slaughterhouse trimmings sourced from plants in Nebraska, Texas, South Dakota and Uruguay(!) and assembled in a plant in Wisconsin before shipping out as "American Chef's Selection Angus Beef Patties." Given the varied and distributed sources of ingredients for these patties, it's amazing we're not reading of plights like Ms. Smith's more often.

    Or are we?

    In today's NYTimes blog, Timothy Egan has a lovely yet scary post from the Yakima Valley in Washington state launching off the groundwork of Sunday's column and reveals that there are more than 70 million cases of food-borne illnesses a year in the US, resulting in 5,000 deaths. Egan's post is worth the read, but if you're lacking time, here's the conclusion (what inspired me to write today):
    How much of the danger from leafy vegetables can be blamed on the industrial model that produces cheap calories I don’t know. But as consumers follow Michael Pollan’s advice to get to know our food producers, we will learn to see the processed burger and the industrial vegetables for what they are — cheap global commodities that carry some risk.

    The best antidote for such a thing is to see, touch and experience food as it comes off the fields. As imperfect as this harvest picture is, it satisfies a need that has never bred out of us as people.
    And as I look out the window at my urban chicken coop, I enjoy an even greater comfort that I know exactly where my eggs are coming from, and exactly who handles them from nest to kitchen.

    Let's hear it for urban chickens and urban farmers everywhere for reducing the food sourcing risk.

    Photo credit: estherase on Flickr

    Wednesday, September 30, 2009

    Backyard decisions: what to do with one urban chicken?

    It's now been a month since our Sophia suddenly passed away, and we still have but a single chicken, ZsuZsu, in our Eglu.

    My first instinct was to quickly go out and get another hen (a pullet) to provide ZsuZsu some company. But then I researched the proper way to add a chicken to your existing flock and realized it's a lot more sophisticated than simply choosing a breed, picking out a bird and tossing it into the coop with the other one. There's the three-week quarantine and then the socialization and the holding one's breath while the pecking order is sorted out and wow, that's a lot to do.

    Meanwhile, I had an overseas business trip and my last triathlon of the season and a climb up Mt Whitney, and suddenly a month's gone by and ZsuZsu is still alone in the backyard.

    So now it's time to do something about her lonesomeness. ZsuZsu still seems skittish around the corner of the coop where Sophia passed away. I think we're going to try to find ZsuZsu a new home with an established flock where she'll have other chickens around to chase bugs and munch weeds and split time in the nesting box. While it'll be tough to give her up, overall, I think she'd be happier with more than a single companion, and the change of scenery might do her good.

    This wouldn't spell the end of our urban chicken farming. With an empty coop, we'd start anew with a couple new chickens (pullets, I think, but maybe chicks again) that my daughters could help pick out and name and care for.

    I haven't yet made a final decision that this is the way to go, but in writing it down, I think I'm closer. There's still the negotiations with my seven year-old daughter to navigate, and the matter of trying to find a good home for ZsuZsu.

    Rest assured, I'll share the experience here. And if you've got other insights to add to the mix, please do so in the comments below.

    Photo by KayVee.INC on Flickr

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    LA Council legalizes one rooster too many

    rooster fineryThe Los Angeles City Council passed a law on Tuesday limiting the number of roosters each household can own to a grand total of one. To my ears, that's one too many. I'm sure others would agree.

    Longtime readers know I'm a big advocate for passing urban chicken laws that allow hens only, no roosters. The noise of one hen crowing is bad enough, but the thought of a rooster sounding off at all hours of the day and night would drive even me to seek legal recourse to reclaiming peace and quiet (right after I figure out how to get the neighborhood dogs to shut up with their all-night yapping).

    I've always scratched my head at the fact the greater Los Angeles area permits roosters of any quantity within city limits. I don't want to say all roosters in LA are training for a neighborhood fight, but I'd imagine more than a couple are providing a spectacle on fight night.

    We know the benefits of hens within city limits: eggs, weed- and pest-control, nitrogen-rich manure, entertainment, companionship.

    With roosters, you swap out "eggs" for "obnoxious cock-a-doodle-dooing." I don't get it.

    What am I missing?

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    urban chickens now legal in New Haven!

    So happy to see Board of Aldermen in New Haven, Connecticut (pop ~124,000, View Larger Map) did the right thing by passing an ordinance to allow New Haven city residents to keep up to six hens in their backyards.

    This victory comes after months of sometimes rancorous banter back and forth (this particular fight was the source of the regretful "Only two kinds of urban chicken farmer" editorial back in March.)

    What I appreciate the most about the New Haven Independent's coverage of the meeting in City Hall is how it sheds a light on the kind of shenanigans that politicians are willing to pull to scuttle something they don't want to see pass (yes, I'm talking about you Alderwoman Arlene DePino).

    Thank goodness for the likes of "Chicken Champion" Roland Lemar to keep the ordinance on track, fending off DePino's motions to table/alter the effort at the meeting.

    This should be a lesson to all you trying to get the laws changed to allow urban chickens in your own town: no matter how rational an argument you've prepared, no matter how well you've dispelled the myths about urban chickens (witness the follow-up comments to the story on the New Haven Independent site), you're going to run up against the whims and waffling of elected officials who'd much rather see things remain as they are (unless there's money for the campaign by making the change).

    Find yourself a Chicken Champion, and then work with that person to identify others who can be counted on when it really matters: when it's time to vote.

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    how to add another chicken to your flock?

    It's been almost a week since Sophia died, and I think ZsuZsu, the surviving chicken must be lonely out there (she's noisy every morning).

    Surprisingly, I got the final results back from the necropsy performed by the CAHFS Lab already, and their conclusion as to why Sophia died? They don't know why (although they used more scientific terms than that). At the very least, we know she didn't die of any infectious disease thanks to their tests.

    So, knowing we don't have something communicable in our remaining flock of one, we can think of building it up again. ZsuZsu is back to laying eggs again, and I'm anxious to get her a companion to share the Eglu out in the backyard.

    As with all things chicken-related, I've been doing some research on the subject of adding a new chicken to the flock, and I gotta tell you: this isn't as easy as dropping another goldfish in the aquarium.

    Among the finer points of "how to introduce the new bird" which present a challenge:
    • To accommodate biosecurity concerns, we'll need to keep the new bird separated from ZsuZsu for anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks depending on which resource you choose to heed. We certainly don't want to get ZsuZsu sick from a companion, no matter how lonely she is. Keeping them separated, however, presents a bit of a challenge in our backyard, and we'll need to get yet another temporary pen/house to do so.
    • To accommodate behavioral concerns, we're going to need to find a way to provide room in the Eglu (run is 7'x3', coop is 2.5'x2.5') for the newbie to get away from ZsuZsu, or vice versa, while they establish the pecking order. While I'd love to think ZsuZsu is easy-going and will quickly warm up to whatever new bird we bring in, I also need to be prepared for them to not get along.
    Most of the online resources I've read regarding adding a chicken to the flock are dealing with more than a one-on-one introduction, and obviously dealing with a coop bigger than our Eglu. So, as usual I'll be keeping you posted on our experience in our particular setup to add to the corpus of knowledge around raising urban chickens.

    Talking things over with LeftCoastMom, we've agreed we don't want to start raising a week-old chick at this point of the year. I'm getting ready to do some pretty heavy travel in the next few months, and the room in which we raised Sophia and ZsuZsu two years ago has been converted into a painting/crafts room for our daughters.

    So that leaves us to get a months-old pullet. I've found a local source, Ranch Hag Hens, from which to get the chicken (we'll decide on the breed from what they have available when we get there: either a Rhode Island or an Orpington or a Brahma). And they're not too far away, just 90 minutes north of us.

    Now, before digging into the finer points of adding chickens to an existing flock, I'd thought I could take my daughters with me on the drive up and over the Golden Gate Bridge tomorrow to visit Ranch Hag Hens and pick out a new chicken.

    It depends now on how much prep work I can get done today to set up a temporary new coop and run in the backyard today. Wish me luck.

    "Vacancy" Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    urban chickens on the Today Show!

    I'll be brief and let the video segment do the talking. So great to see this ran in the first hour of the NBC Today Show this morning. I used to work at 30 Rockefeller back in my AOL Time Warner days and I never thought in a million years I'd see chickens clucking and scratching on Rockefeller Plaza.

    Almost six-and-a-half minutes of urban chickens on the tele!

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    what do you do when your chicken dies?

    Sophia, our 2-1/2 year-old Barred Rock hen, passed away sometime in the triple-digit heat of Saturday afternoon. My wife found her in a heap in the back corner of the coop at the end of the day when she went out to check on their water and food.

    Once I'd quickly processed and suppressed the emotional side of the situation, I went into "dad mode" and began exploring, rapid-fire, all the questions popping into my head:
    How do I get her out of the coop? Is it something contagious? Is ZsuZsu ok? Where are my gloves? What do I do with the body? Do we bury her in the yard? Do we dispose of her in the garbage? Will she smell by the time the garbage is collected on Friday? Why did she die? What did I do wrong? How do I tell the kids? Do we get another chicken? Two more chickens? How do I introduce ZsuZsu to new companions? Where will we get them? and on and on
    I ultimately decided I need to know what happened to Sophia before I can think of bringing another urban chicken into our backyard.

    Thanks to the Santa Cruz Pet Chicken avian flu workshop I went to earlier this year, I knew that I could get a free necropsy performed on Sophia at the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory over at UC Davis. While it costs the big-Ag chicken farmers to get the service performed, for us backyard folks in California, it's free.

    All I had to do was wrap Sophia's body in two plastic bags and then put it in the refrigerator until the lab opened up Monday morning and drop her off there.

    The only problem? No room in our fridge. I'd have to store her in a cooler on ice. Well, truth be told, our fridge could've been completely empty but my lovely wife wouldn't have let me store Sophia in there. Not enough Lysol in the world to disinfect the mental imagery.

    So, I double-bagged Sophia and put her in our old collapsible cooler with ice around her in zip-loc bags (no, I didn't want to have to deal with wet feathers). I placed the cooler in the corner of the garage, and for the next 36 hours, added ice as needed to keep her cool.

    Then I woke up at dawn Monday morning to drive the 99 miles to UC Davis to the lab, arriving shortly before 8am. I parked the car across the lot from the receiving dock.

    The nice lady at the receiving desk gave me a simple form to fill out and a white plastic tub to place Sophia's body in (still wrapped in the bags, of course).

    They'll email me preliminary results in a couple days with final results expected in two weeks.

    As I walked out of the lab, I realized I'd parked right next to the dumpster. How convenient. I flipped the collapsible cooler into the dumpster before I hopped in the car to make the drive home. Wouldn't ever be using that particular cooler for food or drinks again. Not enough Lysol in the world to clean out the mental imagery of carrying Sophia in there.

    Photo by zirofar on Flickr

    Saturday, August 29, 2009

    sudden chicken death: RIP Sophia :-(

    Sophia and ZsuZsu walking the property

    I'm so sad.

    Melanie went out to tend the chickens this evening and found Sophia in a heap, expired, in the back corner of the run, just outside the door of the coop.

    Not sure why she died. There was no sign of suffering. She was just lying down in the corner, eyes closed, motionless.

    ZsuZsu was noticeably upset, making a lot of squawking noises as I gathered up Sophia's body to preserve it over the weekend.

    I'll be taking Sophia's remains to the UC Davis Lab on Monday so they can perform a necropsy.

    I'm still in shock, just going through the motions. Our daughter's taking it hard.

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    what does healthy urban chicken poop look like?

    Ever seen something come out the back side of your hen and think, "Ewww, that can't be coming out of a healthy bird!" I mean, after you've gotten over the shock of the quantity of (small) poops, there's the look and consistency and (sometimes) smell to contend with.

    Thanks to Madeleine in our San Mateo Chickens Yahoo! group, I can share this pictorial directory to what "healthy" chicken poop looks like.

    Yep, you read that right: here are the chicken poop pics over on the UK-based Allotment Gardening Forum.

    I was surprised (and relieved) to discover the range of "normal" is actually quite wide. And there's no mystery as to what the bad stuff looks like. You don't have to be a veterinarian to recognize the obvious signs in abnormal-looking poop.

    Photo credit: Caver Chris on Flickr

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    too many urban chicken eggs? freeze 'em!

    joining the rest of the dozenIf you're like me, there have been times when you've got too many eggs in the house for whatever reason (the girls are hyper-productive, or you're just taking a break from eating your fresh yummy backyard eggs).

    Did you know you can freeze whole eggs? Here's how:
    • remove eggs from their shells
    • pierce yolks and, for every 2 eggs: gently mix in 1/8 teaspoon of salt for use in savory dishes or 1 teaspoon of sugar for use in sweet dishes
    • Place in covered airtight containers or heavy-duty freezer bags and freeze (don't forget to mark the containers savory or sweet!
    This is just one of the many great resources I found on a site called which is a guide for how long you can keep food around before it needs to be tossed/composted, despite what the sell-by date says.

    Tuesday, August 18, 2009

    Surfacing Indiana's urban chicken underground

    Got a nice note from John over at the Garden Coop this morning alerting me to a story on about Lafayette's chicken underground.

    One of Gay-Ellen Stulp's (illegal) chickens escaped her yard in Lafayette, IN (pop ~ 57,000) earlier this year, and after a neighbor reported the renegade hen to authorities, Stulp was forced to relocate her hens to a farm outside the city.

    While a law in 1971 allowed chickens in the city so long as they were quiet, a later ordinance was passed lumping chickens in with the rest of the barnyard animals that were banned from the city.

    Stulp has collected over 200 signatures in support of changing the law to allow citizens to keep chickens in the city. Associate professor Mickey Latour of the Purdue University poultry extension office is going to be present at the meeting where the chicken issue will be discussed.

    We can only hope Latour will help cooler, rational heads prevail and Stulp can bring her chickens home where they belong: in the city with all the other cats and dogs that are already welcome around town.

    Oh, and just to give you a sense of how much attention's being paid to this issue, there've been over 65 comments left on the article since 8am this morning. Thankfully, the comments left later in the day seem to be thoughtful, reasoned reactions to the article and not the shrill drivel that so often appear shortly after urban chicken articles are posted what with their usual "rodents! smell! bird flu! oh, my!" tone.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    how big is the anti-urban-chicken movement?

    As evidenced by the stream of articles tagged "chicken" coming into my Google Reader, many folks are still struggling to get the laws changed to allow them to have their own chickens.

    Across all these new stories, I've spotted patterns to the typical anti-chicken arguments: noise, disease, smell, enforcement costs.

    I've provided guidance on how to de-fang these four arguments which I think can help a concerned citizen persuade their city council with logic-based arguments for why the typical knee-jerk concerns about backyard chickens are baseless.

    But it seems in every town, there's one or two highly (strung and) concerned citizens who see backyard chickens as the top of the slippery slope to a barnyard-themed hell in front of the country club. And these folks always seem to get the ear of a councilperson or two and manage to stop the urban chicken movement in its tracks.

    Case in point, in an article in the Tenessean about legalizing chickens in Nashville, we get this choice piece (emphasis mine):
    Current zoning law prohibits domestic farm animals in most areas of Nashville. A woman in southeast Nashville, Ginger Stitt, was cited for having six chickens and a duck, but she argued that her birds were pets, not farm animals, and won an appeal in June.

    Her councilman, Carl Burch, promptly orchestrated a bill to specify that chickens and other fowl, as well as large animals such as pigs, cows and horses, are farm animals and, thus, are prohibited.

    "You can imagine what would happen if we just open the door in the urban services district," such as someone arguing that a 300-pound pig was a pet, Burch said.

    He recognizes there are citizens committed to urban agriculture, but "there is a huge, huge contingent out there who do not want chickens in their neighborhoods."
    Really? I think I'd disagree with councilman Burch on this point. I think in any given city/town/metropolis there's actually but a handful of folks who have issues with the way their lives are going, and for some reason the thought of chickens in someone else's backyard sets them off.

    I actually think there's a huge, huge contingent out there who don't really give a hoot about urban chickens. This huge contingent would much rather have their city councils focus on bigger issues than listen to a few folks rant against a simple zoning change.

    Am I right that the opposition is actually quite small? Or have you seen the kind of huge contingent that councilman Burch is beholden to in your own town?

    Thanks to Thomas Hawk for the great "I Can't Afford an Actual Sign" picture.

    Sunday, August 9, 2009

    Mad City Chickens screens San Francisco

    Tashai Lovington and Robert Lughai -- Mad City Chickens FilmmakersSlow Food San Francisco held a screening of Mad City Chickens at the Delancey Street Theater tonight, and what a treat it was to be able to meet the filmmakers and see their film on the big screen in THX sound!

    Longtime readers know I've been a big fan of Tashai and Robert's documentary since I first caught wind of it way back when. I purchased the DVD as soon as it was released and while I couldn't help get a screening here in Redwood City, I was more than happy to drive up to San Francisco to meet them at the Slow Food event.

    There looked to be about 80 of us in the auditorium to see the film, and while I'd see the movie several times before, there's something about watching en masse that lends more enjoyment to the subject matter at hand. After all, how often are you surrounded by a group of chicken-lovers (and wanna-bes) seeing the objects of your affection idolized on the screen?

    While Robert (the "t" is silent, mind you) and I had exchanged several emails over the last couple years, it was especially thrilling to actually talk chickens with him face-to-face. As you can imagine, he's just as personable as you'd assume given the loving treatment of chickens and chicken owners that he and Tashai ("not touché") infused the film with.

    While it would have been nice to pick up another copy of the DVD after the show, it turns out Saturday night's screening in nearby Davis, CA with its 350 attendees(!) cleaned them out of DVD inventory.

    There was a short Q&A session after the film, and I appreciate Robert's shout-out to during his time on the stage. His pointing me out led to some fun conversations afterwards with fellow attendees about chickens in Oakland, bees and chickens, edible garden design and how the keeping of chickens in Jamaica has changed over the last couple decades.

    Robert, if you do wind up screening the film in Jamaica, let me be the first to volunteer to write your travel blog for you! (have a great time on Pt Reyes tomorrow)

    Oh, and if you'd like to have your own screening of Mad City Chickens in a gathering space near you (it's HIGHLY entertaining and educational if you're trying to persuade folks to help you change laws to allow chickens in your city), here's how to coordinate one.

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Raising Chickens (not just) for Dummies

    So, I think this is a sign the urban chickens movement is more than just a "fad": we've got our very own black-and-yellow Raising Chickens For Dummiesbook!

    (And if you're looking for further proof of the movement's popularity:'s already sold out of its initial stock just 2 days after it became available.)

    In typical "For Dummies" fashion, they've covered the gamut of what you need to know, from choosing your chickens to housing your flock to general care & feeding. There's even sections on breeding and special management tips for raising layers and broilers.

    Looks like I've found a new recommended book for urban chicken newbies.

    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    urban chickens in Canada? cue Trish's hysteria

    On July 23, CBCNews ran a story on an urban chickens experiment in Charletotetown, PEI (pop ~32,000).

    The Biggley family started raising a dozen chickens in their yard on Prince Edward Island, even though the bylaws of Charlottetown forbid raising livestock, and the mayor has decided to take a wait-and-see approach to the situation instead of the more typical cease-and-desist. According to the CBC, the mayor said "the city might have to act if it was a commercial operation, or if there were complaints from neighbours. None of the neighbours CBC News talked to has a problem with the hens."

    What a refreshing municipal approach to urban chickens: experiment with allowing the real thing rather than allowing the naysayers and naifs fight for the status quo with misinformation.

    If you want to see the kind of hysterics the urban chicken movement is up against, simply read a couple pages of the comments associated with the CBCnews article. The anti-chicken crew are pulling out all the usual arguments: smell, mess, rodents, gateway to bigger livestock. The usual.

    There's one particular commenter, Trish A, who I think embodies the archetypal anti-chicken person. She ascribes all kinds of motivations to the Biggley family that simply aren't true. Luckily, the Biggleys are there on the board to refute Trish's claims.

    If you're thinking of taking up the cause to change the laws in your own town to allow urban chickens, you'd do well to read through the entire comment thread if only to get a preview of the kind of fear you might have to contend with if you have a Trish-like person in your town.

    What would you say to calm down someone like Trish?

    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    you want chickens? get a farm!

    The Wall Street Journal today has an article about urban chickens structured around the effort to legalize them in Salem, Oregon.

    The article's author, Nick Timiraos, does a good job of providing color to the struggles that Barbara Palermo, Nancy Baker-Krofft and others are enduring while trying to convince city councilors to allow homeowners to have three hens in enclosed coops. (Salem's City Council remains divided on the issue, but it seems a vote is imminent, and the Mayor's in support of the measure).

    What I find most interesting about the story is the new forms of hysteria drummed up by the decidedly anti-chicken crowd of Salem.

    "What's next? Goats? Llamas? Get a farm." says Terri Frohnmayer, a co-chairwoman of one of Salem's neighborhood associations. Beg pardon? I thought we were talking about chickens here. Let's keep our eye on the ball, shall we?

    Salem disallowed residents from keeping livestock, including chickens, in the 1970s when it decided "to be a city and not a rural community," says Chuck Bennett, a Salem City Council member who opposes backyard chickens. So the only thing that's keeping Salem from reverting to a rural community is the absence of eggs in backyards? This satellite view of Salem should quickly dispel any notion that Salem's just one cluck away from being mistaken for a big ol' farm.

    It's only more than halfway through the article that we arrive at the meat of the issue:
    The biggest concern, however, is that chickens will just lead to more conflicts between chicken owners and neighbors who own more traditional pets, like dogs. "You can just see the conflict associated with the addition of another animal into this kind of [close] environment," says Mr. Bennett, the council member.
    It would seem that (some) dog owners are concerned their canines just won't be able to help themselves with chickens next door and, you know, will wind up eating these tasty treats on two legs.

    According to Timiraos, Mrs. Frohnmayer (she of the "Get a farm!" advice) "often finds her own springer spaniel sizing up chickens on her neighbor's farm. It's only natural, she says, for her dog to want to eat her neighbor's birds. 'Are they going to put my dog down when it eats one of their chickens?' she says."

    Let me take a swipe at the answer to this one:

    We won't put your dog down when it trespasses and eats the first chicken, Mrs. Frohnmayer. But if you can't keep your dog off my property and prevent it from eating my pets, you can bet your uncontrollable pooch will be getting a visit from the animal control officer.

    Unless, of course, I've followed your advice and your dog trespasses out on my farm. From what I understand about farming, you're allowed to shoot predators to protect your livestock.

    Get a farm, indeed.

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    just say no to urban roosters

    A friend of mine (@lpetrides) posted a video from where she's traveling in Greece.

    Go ahead, watch it. I'll be here when you get back.

    But note: there's not much to see in the video, as it was shot from her room at 4:24am, while all that's visible in the black of night are the porch lights of the houses surrounding her.

    The soundtrack, however, is priceless. You can hear the rooster crowing starting at about 30 seconds into the 2-minute flick. And you can hear the echo of other roosters chiming in in response to the rooster's own crowing starting at about 60 seconds in.

    Those who think roosters crow only at sunrise are sorely mistaken. They're as bad as dogs in their disregard for the timing of their noisiness.

    Please, for all our sanity, be sure to exclude roosters from any urban chicken ordinance you may be trying to pass.

    UPDATED: Thanks, Lisa for pointing out in the comments that the rooster wasn't echoing, just rousing the neighboring roos to get noisy, too. I wonder if a rooster's call does indeed echo? (useless trivia: Mythbusters proved that a duck's quack never echos)

    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Is there a safe pesticide to use around chickens?

    Thanks, all, for the comments, the follows to @urbanchickens and the emails. I'm now getting enough email sent directly to me that I can sustain a weekly Mailbag feature. So, without further ado:

    A dear reader, Lo, recently sent me the following email request:
    I am going to be doing some yard work for a friend who keeps several chickens in her urban back yard. Obviously I cannot use any pesticides in her yard and garden because of the birds, is there any alternative to help control weeds and kill invasive non-indigenous plants?
    Right away, I knew I was in over my head, so I referred her to the kind folks over at Seattle Tilth for help. Here's what Laura of the Garden Hotline had to say:
    There is no alternative pesticide to spray on weeds that is safe for chickens. The only effective herbicide that is "natural" is made of acetic acid and this still would be questionable to use around the birds. The good news is that chickens eat weeds! They could make short work of annual weeds and grasses and even dandelions. The scratching that they do can disturb weed growth as well. They can wreck other desirable plants as well so the use of chickens must be done with caution! Noxious weeds and more persistent perennial weeds like dock will need to be hand removed. You could also try flame or heat weeding though this requires special equipment and propane tanks. Hot water can kill annual weeds pretty effectively straight from the teapot! Otherwise it is a matter of hand pulling and then mulching areas you do not want growth of weeds. Getting to weeds before they go to seed is crucial to interrupt their life cycle.
    Thanks, Lo, for the question as well as for sharing Laura's response.

    Is there something about urban chickens you've been trying to get an answer to? drop me a note or leave a comment and we'll learn together!

    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    Do backyard flocks infect commercial flocks?

    The Harrisonburg City Council expects to review a draft urban chicken ordinance at their July 14 meeting. Jeff Mellott's article on shows the concerns expressed by "some citizens" in Harrisonburg are the stereotypical ones we hear voiced every time a city considers legalizing chickens: reduced property values, attracting vermin, smells, poop, enforcement costs.

    Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, does a masterful job of addressing each of these concerns in the first comment in response to the article. It's a shame to see many of the comments following his post seem to be of the fingers-in-ears-singing-"LALALALA! I don't hear you" variety.

    But the element of the story what caught my eye: the former vice mayor, who happens to be a poultry industry executive, has voiced worries about the spread of disease to commercial flocks on the big farming operations that surround Harrisonburg.

    I've blogged about protecting urban chickens from avian flu before, and I don't mean to diminish the concerns of the commercial chicken operator, but I'd love to see some actual proof that a backyard flock has led to the infection of a commercial flock. The only stories I've heard have been of the "the commercial chickens were sick so they eradicated all the backyard flocks, too."

    Without that proof, I can't help but think this is simply a political play to protect the interests of commercial agriculture (Think security theater) at the expense of backyard flock enthusiasts.

    Can anyone cite a story of backyard-to-commercial transmission of avian flu? I'd love to have a civil discussion about this so we can inform each other.

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    urban chickens in a City Hall near you?

    While it's nice to see mentions of urban chickens in the popular press and on blogs all over the place, the urban chicken movement itself will only gain traction once the folks who write the laws to allow urban chickens begin to take notice of how great the demand is.

    So, you can understand why I'm so excited to see this article about urban chickens by Annemarie Mannion appear in American City & County.

    Never heard of the publication? That's probably because American City & County is a trade journal written specifically for the people "who make local and state governments work." From their press kit (emphasis mine):
    The business of managing cities, counties and states demands a practical understanding of the issues facing them. From streamlining government operations with the latest technology to repairing crumbling infrastructure, today’s local and state government officials face a greater demand on their time than ever before. Because we illuminate, analyze and concisely explain important issues in a way everyone can understand, American City & County is the preferred source of timely and useful information, in print and online.

    Our readers are a powerful mix of the people who make local and state governments work — from top administrative officials to public works and water professionals. The disciplines may vary, but they share the same goal: to deliver public services in the most cost-efficient and effective manner. And, no publication helps them do that better than American City & County.
    So when Mannion writes of urban chicken-keeping as a "resurgent trend taking place in large and small cities across the United States," you know her readership is made up of just the kind of folks we want to sit up and take notice.

    NOTE: For those of you trying to get the attention of your local governments to get urban chickens legalized, you'd do well to cite Mannion's article as evidence that municipalities across the country are addressing the issue and yours would do well not to fall behind the curve.

    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    On ignorant editors at The Globe and Mail

    Today's Globe and Mail editorial about urban chickens, Coming Home to Roost, was so rife with misinformation I had to read it twice and double-check the URL to make sure I wasn't being punk'd.

    Setting aside the pun-filled opening paragraph (LOLz), the editors really went off the rails here in paragraph three:
    In jurisdictions where urban chickens are permitted, there is an increase in complaints about smells and flies, though advocates provide assurances that these can be addressed by properly cleaning chicken coops and properly composting manure. There are also concerns over an increase in disease, notably avian flu, although we are again assured that, if coops are properly built and maintained to make sure chickens are protected from fecal matter dropped by birds flying overhead, disease need not be a problem.
    Let's break these observations down, shall we?

    The editors cite an "increase in complaints about smells and flies" where urban chickens are permitted. Where there are more animals and excrement, there's bound to be more chances for offended citizens to complain. But was this an increase of 5 complaints (about all non-fowl animals) to 6 (including chickens)? or 5 complaints to 50? Opponents would gladly have you assume the latter, but chances are much greater it's the former. I'd love The Globe and Mail to back their assertion up with statistics (in fact, I challenge them to do so!).

    And the assertion that we're in danger of an increase in disease, notably avian flu, if we don't protect urban chickens from fecal matter dropped by birds flying overhead is mind-numbingly absurd! This observation bares the editors' ignorance of how diseases are transmitted between birds (and then to humans?). But this "protect from above" assertion conjures up a fantastic movie plot for how a pandemic might start: think flocks of infected sparrows dive-bombing their infected poo on captive chickens across the country sparking an avian flu epidemic that wipes out all of Ontario. Those damn chickens.

    Cue the eye roll.

    Given all the challenges that large-scale agri-business presents in protecting our food supply from contamination and in the impacts of long-haul shipping on the carbon footprint of our food, the G&M editors would find a way to encourage citizens to take back a piece of their food independence through legalizing urban chickens.

    Instead, we're enforced to endure yet another round of puns and hyperbole on the editorial pages one of Canada's largest newspapers.

    No wonder the effort to legalize urban chickens across Canada is on such a slow train.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Bay Area chicken coop review

    About two weeks ago, reporter Laura Casey came over to check out our chickens and talk with me about what it's like to raise urban chickens in the Bay Area.

    Her article, Clucking about Backyard Chickens, made the Contra Costa Times yesterday. Ours is one of four backyard setups that's profiled in the piece.

    It's nice to see the compare/contrast between different coop styles and how each of us got into urban chickens, but what I like most is Casey's quotes from each of us:
    • "I haven't been this happy for a long time. I needed them. I just come outside and smile and when they jump in my lap. It's great."
    • "I never expected them to be so entertaining and it never gets old. When I get an egg I am so excited."
    • "I like my children to know that not all food comes from cardboard and Styrofoam boxes. It's not all about the bright-colored packaging and the songs." (mine)
    • "My husband is an interesting fella and he has interesting tastes," Debbie Flinker says, "and he thought chickens would be fascinating pets. They are."
    Paints a pretty wonderful picture about urban chickens, don't you think?

    (BTW, happy Father's Day to all you dads out there)


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