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)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

a chicken coop from IKEA? YES!

While there's no specific product number for buying a coop from the IKEA catalog, with a little ingenuity, you can get just about everything you need from the Swedish Superstore.

The coop-construction details (finished product pictured to the right) are over on the IKEA Hacker blog, courtesy the experience of Aaron Bell and his wife Corinne's building their own.

The shopping list of IKEA parts is actually quite short (approx prices):
- Mydal bunk bed ($159)
- Trofast storage unit with shallow drawers ($95)
- Vika Oleby legs ($7.50 each)
- Gorm bottle rack ($8 each)

And the only non-IKEA parts they needed to supply were "the mesh, plywood/beams for the roof (which is 3x coated with reflective paint in an attempt to keep the heat out), and the hardware for the hinges and latches."

Now, that's what I call ingenuity! I wonder how long until the whole chicken coop kit can be purchased as one shrink-wrapped item replete with the adorable little illustrated instructions and hex key?

Thanks, Tamar, for the hat tip on this one!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Favor urban chickens? don't forget the support emails!

Looking to get the laws changed so you can keep urban chickens in your backyard? Make sure you've got numbers on your side by encouraging your friends and neighbors and acquaintances to send emails of support to your City Council.

As previously blogged here, the Asheville City Chickens group was extremely successful leveraging social media to show just how popular the the idea of urban chickens was in their town.

Our lesson this time comes from the opposition camp in Norwalk, Iowa (pop. 9000, Map), where a proposal to allow urban chickens was voted down by the City Council after a favorable preliminary reading made it seem the ordinance was destined to pass.

Sara Sleyster writes in that although residents came before the city council in person to speak in favor of allowing urban chickens in Norwalk, their effort was not enough thanks to an email campaign waged against them.
A proposed “urban chicken” ordinance was voted down by the Norwalk City Council last week after it had passed the first reading at the previous meeting.

Councilman Eric Delker changed his vote on the second reading of an ordinance that would have allowed egg-laying hens within the city limits after receiving 146 e-mails against the proposal. Council members Frank Curtis and John Putbrese also voted against the ordinance.
So, it would seem someone, somewhere had started an email chain to the effect of "do you want vermin-attracting, stinky, dirty chickens driving down your property values? Let Delker know you won't stand for this by emailing him." NOTE: I'm guessing at the actual contents of the email, but I'm sure I'm close to the truth given the history of tactics of those opposed to urban chickens.

Sleyster goes on to report:
Councilman Jim McClarnon called Delker’s decision to change his vote because e-mails sent from 146 people out of nearly 9,000 constituents “real bad politics.”

“They haven’t even seen this ordinance,” McClarnon said.

Councilman Alexander Grgurich also questioned the changed vote.

“I would agree with you if this was a poll, but this is an e-mail list that got forwarded on,” Grgurich said.
So, it bears repeating: if you have even the slightest whiff of an idea that there's opposition to your changing the laws to allow urban chickens (and there ALWAYS is, thanks to humanity's desire to maintain the status quo), make sure you get your petitions signed and your emails sent to show the numbers are on your side.

I'll bet dollars to donuts the opposition is already doing their part to push back.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mad City Chickens Screenings in Seattle

Filmmakers Tashai Lovington and Robert Lughai are touring the country with their fabulous film Mad City Chickens, and they'll be in the Seattle area within the week for two showings.

On Friday, June 12, the Wallingford Neighbors for Peace and Justice will be hosting a screening with Tashai, Robert and Seattle Tilth Garden Educator Carey Thornton, to boot! The screening will be held at 7pm at Keystone Congregational United Church of Christ, 5019 Keystone Place N., Seattle. The event is free (but donations are kindly accepted).

On Monday, June 15, Sustainable West Seattle will have its own screening of the film (note: Tashai and Robert cannot attend the Monday showing). The screening will take place at 7pm at Youngstown Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW. A $3 donation is requested.

If you haven't yet purchased your own copy of the film (or even if you have), these showings will be a great opportunity to meet your fellow chicken lovers, learn a bit more about the fabulous birds in your backyard, or even convert the curious but not yet committed.

(I'm excited because Robert and Tashai will be bringing Mad City Chickens to the Bay Area in early August! If anyone would like to help me try to bring an MCC screening with the filmmakers here to the Peninsula, please let me know and we can work together to make it happen.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

What if you don't want 25 chicks?

This weekend, I read about the plight of urban chicken farmer Mable Biccum of Henderson, Kentucky.

The quick and dirty retell: Biccum set up a coop in her backyard where she's raising 25 chickens for eggs as a way to supplement her fixed income and give the extra eggs to a social services group. Unfortunately, chickens aren't allowed on properties of fewer than 5 acres in Henderson, so Biccum's chickens have to go. She's vowed to appeal to the Board of Zoning Adjustment at their June 10 meeting.

What's caught my eye about this particular story is that Biccum got her 25 birds because that's the smallest quantity the local feed-n-fuel would allow her to buy: "Rural King will not sell you less than 25."

I suspect that's the smallest quantity because the big hatcheries (McMurray, et al) won't sell chicks in quantities fewer than 25 and it's likely Rural King simply ordered the chicks on behalf of Biccum.

Back when I got started raising urban chickens, while I wanted to pick out a specific breed from a hatchery, there was no way I could order the minimum quantity of 25. And back then, I didn't know enough other folks to go in on an order with me to make up the minimum of 25.

Thankfully, we've got folks like My Pet Chicken (MPC) who've stepped in filled the gap by allowing you to order as few as three chicks at a time. They're bridging the gap between the agri-business scale of chick production and the urban chicken farmer scale of consumption.

I recently learned that the fastest selling lines of chicken feed are the small bags of organic feed favored by urban chicken farmers (I don't have the citation at my fingertips, but I'll keep looking). I wonder how long before the big hatcheries start scaling down their own minimum orders? Or will it be the likes of MPC who will simply grow to fill the gap?

Where did you get your chickens from? The local Feed-n-Fuel? By mail?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

an urban chicken farmer's first year

Found a delightful post over on the New Green blog that's a recap of the first year raising urban chickens in Brooklyn, NY.

The author's got an Eglu like we do, and she got her chicks from My Pet Chicken last summer, a resource I didn't know about two years ago when we got Sophia and ZsuZsu from Half Moon Bay Feed and Fuel.

In the span of a single (well-documented and -illustrated) post, we travel from "chicks arriving" to "first eggs" with great color commentary along the way.

I love how she ends her post:
We have enjoyed our chickens tremendously and highly recommend chicken keeping to almost anyone. We felt like first-time parents as we watched our chicks grow into hens. We love the rich, “meaty” eggs they give us. How many people have pets that make them breakfast?? What was really important to us was that our “city girl” daughter would grow up knowing where her food comes from, and now she does.
Let's hear it for urban chickens!

Monday, June 1, 2009

urban chickens in Salem no twee agri-fad

Credit goes to Emily Grosvenor coined the term "twee agri-fad" in her excellent rant post on the Desperately Seeking Salem blog about the urban chicken issue now being debated there in Oregon.

What's she ranting about? The "reasoning" (loosely defined) given by the Salem City Council for not simply passing the resolution forthwith. She's done a great job of breaking down each of the "reasoned" points, and I'll let her do the talking:

Argument: But Salem is a capital city…

Answer: Chickens are a go in Olympia, and yet, “there is something about Salem.”

Read: We can’t take care of our yards, our families, our urban livestock.

Argument: But Salem can’t pay to enforce the laws, even if we allowed them… it would be a code enforcement nightmare.

Answer: Cities larger and smaller have not seen increases in chicken infractions.

Read: Salem’s citizens are less trustworthy than the 60% of the nation’s cities that allow chicken-keeping.

Argument: But all the city dogs will start barking at the chickens…

Answer: Um… since when is it my fault if your dog barks at my yard?

Read: Put a dog in a story and it will win every time.

I don’t really have any stake in this game. I’m not going to get a chicken even if this measure ever passes. But I will defend to the death the right to argue with fair-minded reason, which is exactly what these chicken people have done, again and again, at these council meetings.

I don't think Grosvenor's dissecting the comments from the city council apply to Salem's lot alone.

Have you heard something similar by your own town's council in their review of this twee agri-fad aka urban chicken farming? Share it in the comments below.


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