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


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