Saturday, January 31, 2009

urban chickens on the QT in the Vancover Courier

Jeff Nield posted a great article in the Vancouver Courier exposing some of the illegal chicken-raising activity going on around town.

Believe it or not, if you're caught raising chickens in a Vancouver neighborhood, you face a possible fine of up to $2,000 and must give up your birds, to boot.

As with most other chicken-unfriendly towns, the populace of Vancouver are living under animal control bylaws that lump chickens in alongside all other manner of "farm animals": The bylaw states that you must not keep in any area, temporarily or permanently, any horses, donkeys, cattle, swine, sheep, goats, ducks, geese, turkeys, chickens, pheasants, quail, or other poultry or fowl.

No mention of dogs or cats, mind you. Nield reports:

The big fears about allowing chickens on city lots include unpleasant odours and noise, along with pest and predator attraction. Perhaps the easiest claim to debunk is that chickens are noisy. "Even the loudest hen is not going to be audible, when compared to a barking dog," says Andrea Reimer, Vision Vancouver city councillor and urban chicken supporter.

Ensuring odour, pest and predator problems stay under control is a management issue that would be addressed through education and training. The hope is that if someone is willing to take on the responsibility of raising backyard birds, they'd take these management issues seriously.

Luckily, the city's animal control office has no record of any resident being fined for keeping chickens illegally, but I'd imagine the penalty is enough to keep the timid on the sidelines and away from risking the fee plus forfeiture to get their own yard fresh eggs on a daily basis.

The most surprising stat for me in the story was learning "the U.K. has seen a phenomenal jump in the number of urban chicken keepers with conservative estimates that 500,000 households raise their own birds, and Omlet [maker of our coop] says coop sales have tripled in the past year. American cities as densely populated as Portland, Seattle, Arlington and New York have very strong provisions for the practice."

As previously reported in Urban Chickens in the Great White North, the winds of change are blowing in British Columbia, and I'm in hopes that more and more cities will legalize urban chickens as they realize just how beneficial the birds are to the localized food system.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Help legalize urban chickens in Mankato, MN

The folks up in Mankato, MN (map; pop 34,000) are getting close to persuading the City Council to pass an ordinance allowing urban chickens (yay!).

I got an email from Becky today seeking help from the readers of this blog to help make Mankato Urban Chickens a reality:

"Right now the city has a question up on their website asking what people think of allowing backyard chickens and I was wondering if you would be willing to comment or help spread the word for other supporters to comment so we can bombard the city with support."

Want to help? You can share your views on this page here.

It's interesting to see that, unlike the San Clemente City Council (now trying to outlaw urban chickens), the Mankato City Council is actually seeking public input on the situation. Let's not disappoint them.

If you can spare even 30 seconds to share your urban chicken-friendly comments with the council, we may be able to notch yet another city on the list of urban chicken friends.

Thanks for helping Becky and her team!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gallus Gallus: urban chickens as an art piece

Raising chickens within a locavore-conscious urban landscape as art? You betcha!

Chris Tourre has posted a description of the proposal for Gallus Gallus, a socially oriented art piece.

The proposal reads, in part:
Gallus Gallus will introduce the local community the benefits and plausibility of raising chickens, for eggs, in an urban setting. The program will be centered at an egg-producing coop located amongst community gardening. The eggs harvested would be delivered, free of charge, to low-income families. These families must demonstrate an interest in changing their dietary habits, but don’t have the means to do so.

The “milkman” is an important figure in Gallus Gallus. In the past, milkmen would deliver dairy products to families’ who did not have markets near their home or did not have the necessary transportation. Milkmen delivered to families’ homes nutritious foods that they could not access.

Gallus Gallus will reintroduce the “milkman”. The contemporary milkman once again provides families with inaccessible nutritious foods. In this case, locally grown fresh eggs. The contemporary milkman uses the social setting of a home delivery to advocate the benefits of locally grown foods, inform the family of simple strategies they can implement in their own home, and recipes specific to eggs. The eggs delivered will become token reminders of the possibilities for everyone to participate in the locovore movement.

You can see Chris's coop designs and other details or leave a comment on the Gallus Gallus proposal by visiting

I, for one, really like this proposal, and I hope it becomes a real art project in Chicago.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

help: urban chickens to be outlawed in San Clemente?

I just got an email from Christopher Coyle down in San Clemente, CA (in Orange County: map) with a heads up that the City Council is preparing to outlaw urban chickens at their February 3 meeting.

The Orange County Register has the story. Last week, the Council introduced an ordinance to prohibit ducks, roosters, pigs, chickens, cows goats, horses and sheep. Animals on the prohibited list being kept as pets would have to be removed from the city 30 days after the ordinance passes... if it does.

Once again, chickens are getting lumped in with all the other barnyard animals, and, as the OCRegister reports, Rick Gilliland of the Coastal Animal Services Authority (animal control) says:
"Most cities regulate and/or prohibit these types of farm-type animals in residential areas," Gilliland. "On occasion they create a material detriment to the use, enjoyment or valuation of properties in close proximity to where the animals are being kept."

There can be noise, odors, flies, insects and other nuisance issues "that can quickly create an exasperating situation for neighbors," Gilliland said.
This is true of any animal, isn't it? Aren't we talking about responsible animal ownership, period?

Christopher currently has a kennel permit to keep his 6 chickens and he plans to show up at the Council meeting on February 3 to defend his chickens.

If you're in the San Clemente area, join Christopher at the meeting (email me to get in touch with him).

If you can't make it to San Clemente but want to share your positive urban chickens experience with the City Council to keep them from doing the wrong thing, contact City Hall at 949-361-8200.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

do you know a Chicken Whisperer?

Chances are, if you live in the Atlanta area and are into chickens, you do.

Andy Schneider, self-dubbed "the Chicken Whisperer," is the one leading the charge for having urban chickens in Georgia.

In a recent profile in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, we find out more:

Due to his group, many Atlantans know Schneider as their go-to-guy to get in the “game,” even if the game is played, er, raised in an urban backyard or garage. He created the online Atlanta Pet Chicken Meetup Group to find others who share his plucky passion; membership has grown to 285 in less than nine months, he said.

The Chicken Whisperer, 39, got his start peddling pet poultry about five years ago when on a whim, he purchased some chicks as a gift to his wife Jennifer. He had raised poultry before, but this time, wanted them for fresh eggs.

About a year ago, he placed an ad on to sell a few chicks. The calls came pouring in, but not from farmers.

“The majority of people pulling in my driveway were soccer moms with minivans,” said Schneider. “I knew something was going on.”

It might be a chicken revolution. Oakhurst Community Garden director Stephanie Van Parys said that just two years ago, the Decatur garden couldn’t fill a single “Chicks in the City” class on raising backyard chickens, but now offers four a year with long wait lists.

So here's to Andy and his efforts in Atlanta. Is there a chicken whisperer near you?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Buying Chicks? Get a Heritage Chicken Breed

If you're thinking of starting a flock this Spring or adding to your existing one, Mother Earth News has published a list of 23 heritage breeds of chicken to help you decide what to get.

The list of names is below, but you'll have to visit Mother Earth News to read the descriptions (you know, some of these would make for some pretty cool band names, too):
  • Ancona
  • Araucana
  • Blue Andalusian
  • Black Minorca
  • New Hampshire
  • Dark Brahma
  • White Langshan
  • Silver Campine
  • Dominique
  • White Jersey Giant
  • Partridge Cochin
  • Mottled Houdan
  • White Crested Black Polish
  • Single Comb Brown Leghorn
  • Lakenvelder
  • Golden Spangled Hamburg
  • Black Australorp
  • White-Laced Red Cornish
  • Buff Orpington
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Barred Plymouth Rock
  • Speckled Sussex
  • Columbian Wyandotte
Our two girls are both Barred Plymouth Rocks and if I could ever get permission from LeftCoastMom to add another to the flock, I'd get an Araucana for the cool egg colors.

Check out the 60 Chickens video to get a glimpse of some of the above breeds and don't miss the comments where Steven Walling has annotated some of the breeds in the video.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

in praise of nutritious yard fresh eggs

Nice to see some research confirming what many of us urban chicken farmers already suspect: yard fresh eggs are more nutritious than the eggs you buy in the store.

Mother Earth News reports that free range, pastured eggs contain (as compared to commercially raised factory farm eggs):
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotent
  • 4-6 times more vitamin D
The folks at Mother Earth News have done a lot of research over the years to find "the differences between meat and eggs coming out of the commercial industry and those produced by conscientious farmers who let their animals graze on fresh pastures." If you're interested you can follow along their ongoing pastured research.

So, by letting your hens spend time scratching around the yard, you're actually helping them make healthier eggs for you. And supplementing their yard-based diet of bugs and greens with organic feed like they sell at places like can't hurt either, I'm sure.

I like my eggs over medium, how about you?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

urban chickens on CBCradio's "The Point"

There was a discussion earlier this week on the CBC Radio show "The Point" about urban chickens, specifically urban chickens in Canada. (you can listen to the segment on this CBCradio page. Choose "part 2" and then use the slider to fast-forward to the 9:00 mark)

If you can get past the all the puns in the segment (talking of chickens seems to bring punny behavior out in folks), they shared some good points in their banter:
  • There's really no difference between chickens and cats and dogs: feeding, caring, cleaning up poop, so why do we treat them differently?
  • Typical concerns about city chickens were raised: folks think they're dirty, noisy, attracting rats and tempting raccoons and coyotes with a meal of fresh bird.
  • The urban chicken ordinances in the States range from laissez-faire (in NYC) to strict (in Ann Arbor).
  • When thinking of writing ordinances, we need to keep in mind immigrant communities and cultures that may use urban chicken laws not just for the yuppie egg-gathering practice but for meat-harvesting as in the home country.
Highlight of the show: host Aamer Haleem retells a friend receiving a wedding invitation where the couple said "in lieu of gifts, please make a financial contribution so we can purchase a chicken coop to have fresh eggs."

Lowlight of the show: Simi Sara trotted out her experience as a young girl caring for chickens on a farm and what a horrible, messy, noisy task it was. There's no real comparison between raising mass quantities of chickens on a farm for meat and eggs and just keeping a couple hens in the backyard solely for eggs. Stop with the horror stories of slaughtering chickens!

In any case, was nice to hear urban chickens talked about on CBC again. Reminded me of my interview with Nora Young on Spark back in 2007.

Friday, January 23, 2009

60 chickens in 205 seconds

Tip of the hat to Gardening Examiner Robin Wedewer for pointing out this great YouTube video put together by Daniel Gasteiger, writer of the Your Home Kitchen Garden blog.

The video's a compilation of pictures he took at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

Nice labor of love, Daniel!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Model urban chicken ordinance for Monona (WI)

Monona Doug has a great post up over on his blog explaining the why and the what of his proposed zoning amendment that would allow the keeping of up to five chickens in Monona, Wisconsin (pop ~8,000; map).

Why's his post so good? He logically lays out what he's seeking in the ordinance, his review of existing ordinances and provides a bit of background as to why people are interested in urban chicken farming (reasons given: locavorism, energy costs and food safety).

Doug then provides both the lay-person's reading of the ordinance and the technical reading of the ordinance.

For us lay folk, here's the proposed ordinance:
  • Allows chicken keeping as a permitted use in single-family and two-family zoning districts.
  • Allows up to five domestic fowl allowed per household in a single-family or two-family district.
  • Prohibits roosters.
  • Prohibits slaughtering outdoors on the residential premises.
  • Requires that poultry shall be kept within a secure and clean hen house or enclosure at all times and not allowed to run free.
  • Requires that the hen houses and enclosures shall be located no closer than 20' from nearest neighbor's residence.
  • A $10 permit is required (per household), to be renewed annually.
(you can read the wonky, technical bits in his post)

Nicely done, Doug! You've certainly done your homework and provided a great template for others to use to convince their cities to make change.

Here's hoping you're successful in convincing Monona to amend its zoning laws!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Urban chickens on

Thinking of getting your own urban chickens? Now's the best time to start your planning, and we've got two great articles on urban chickens this weekend by Gardening Examiner Robin Wedewer over on

Robin's first is a rundown of the eight benefits of raising backyard chickens and her second is a rundown of the best portable chicken coops.

I can't argue with any of her listed benefits, especially her leading point about eggs from backyard chickens being healthier (especially if they're eating organic feed), but there's a bit of realistic caution to be added to one of her points on chickens scratching:
Their scratching for bugs is good for the soil. Chickens are enthusiastic foragers and will scratch around in the leaves and soil searching for the tastiest morsels. As they do, they aerate the soil and break down larger pieces of vegetation with their sharp talons, accelerating the decomposition process.
Yes, but you should also know that chickens are rather indiscriminate in where they scratch, so, if you're like us and have mulch in your garden beds around the yard, be prepared to do a lot of raking to get the mulch back in the beds. And make sure to have some kind of barrier to keep the chickens out of your tender shoots in the garden this spring. They don't quite know the difference between weeds and plants, and if you free range your girls (which you should), be sure to monitor their whereabouts to keep them scratching where you want. Get a nice big bright-colored broom to "shoo" them away, and after the first couple lessons, they'll quickly learn to move along when they see you reach for it.

Robin's list of coops can't be argued with, either. We've got an Eglu of our own in the backyard, and they make a great first-time coop for a flock of three or fewer birds. Easy to take care of, and aesthetically pleasing in your backyard.

If you're looking to scale up your operation (within legal limits, of course), you'd do well to check out coops at a place like Henspa. Their large wooden coops can accommodate up to eight hens and can keep your chooks safe from terrestrial predators at night.

Oh, and I just found out that we've got another couple urban chicken farmers here in Redwood City (they're picking up chicks this week). Can't wait to see how big a combined flock we'll have come the Spring.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

urban chickens to be legal in Burnsville, MN

Nice story appearing in the Minnesota Star Tribune about the city council in Burnsville, MN (pop ~59,000, see on larger map) preparing to legalize chickens in this city just south of Minneapolis/St Paul.

The protagonist of this story is an 11-year-old boy named Stefan Remund. He had been raising chickens illegally before a neighbor reported him and Remund became a bit of a local celebrity pleading his case to the city council.

Thanks to his perseverance, as well as support from others, the council's prepared to pass a resolution in its next meeting to allow residents to own up to four chickens if their backyard coops meet specifications and other conditions are met.

Seems the council has a great deal of common sense on its side, too, in examining why the ordinance forbidding urban chickens was on the books in the first place:
Council Member Dan Kealey said the reason for the city passing the ordinance a few years back had been fear of bird flu. But the nation has learned much about bird flu since then, he said, and he no longer sees backyard chickens as a threat. He noted that while some residents may prefer cats and dogs over chickens, "I think that's more about our culture and our fears."

Here's hoping other municipalities around the country can take the same common-sense approach to the matter.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Checking in with the Scots urban chickens

One of the things I like most about hosting this blog is the wonderful emails I get from folks sharing their stories of owning chickens.

This latest mail is from Anne Tolleson who wrote to share a beautiful album of Ardfenaig Extraoridnary Chickens (that's her picture of Seamus and his chicks on the right).

Turns out Anne's not allowed to have chickens in her metro Atlanta home, so for 7 months of the year, she and her husband live on the Isle of Mull in Scotland where they can have all the chickens they want (they've got 53 of them!)

The photo album has some of their 15 breeds and hybrids and each picture is lovingly titled with who's appearing (I love the rainbow of egg colors!).

Anne goes on to say:
Another reason we love our chickens is that we supply their eggs to the hotel in the village and in return we get a FREE hamburger and Coke once a week. What a deal! They say that our fresh eggs are really popular with the guests and that they taste much better than the ones they buy in the shop. They also would rather buy our free range eggs rather than those from battery hens. We are allowed to bring our sweet Cochin hen, Bella, with us when we stop by for a beverage. She is well behaved and never poops in the pub.
Thanks for sharing your album with us, Anne!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

urban chickens on NPR

Listening to NPR's All Things Considered today and wouldn't you know it, I heard a rooster crow!

The rooster in question was background noise on Megan Verlee's segment called City Folk Flock To Raise Small Livestock at Home exploring the urban chicken phenomenon in Colorado.

While nothing she's reporting is new to readers of this blog (although I'm behind on reporting the efforts in Longmont, CO, to get an urban chicken ordinance adopted), it's great to hear a story on the radio about folks keeping urban chickens!

You can listen to the story via the Listen Now link at the top of this page.

Friday, January 9, 2009

appreciating the long crow roosters

Ok, I'm officially relieved at the comparative subtelty of the sounds our chickens make in the backyard.

Take a moment to feast your eyes and ears on this long crow rooster video:

What a pair of lungs! Would you believe a rooster that's guaranteed to crow at least 15 seconds can fetch up to $1,500 in Japan?

You can read more about how the Japanese Toumaru breed made its way to the US at the Long Crowers web site.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Durham, NC, urban chickens efforts (update)

Back in late November 2007, I first reported on the grassroots efforts to legalize Urban Chickens in Durham, NC. It seems the wheels of administration move slowly, but here we are 14 months later and the City Council is now considering the proposal to make chickens legal.

Last month, the City Council work session took up the issue of chickens. As reported over on The Durham News, much of the session was taken up by administrivia, but then the Council members began reminiscing about their own experience with chickens as kids (back when chickens were raised in sufficient quantity for meat and eggs). See the story to read the exact exchange, but if you've ever spoken with someone who saw a chicken killed to prep for dinner, you've heard it before.

From what I can tell by following the urban chicken movement, no one gets their birds for meat: it's all about the eggs. This is why we're so keen to get hens, not roosters, and I think why any good urban chicken ordinance bans the keeping of roosters, like the ordinance in nearby Chapel Hill.

So, imagine my surprise this morning when I see over on the Bull City Rising blog the following account of what happened at the latest Council meeting (emphasis mine):
The vote on urban chickens is paused until February, as predicted -- but at least four City Council members, including the mayor, seem disinclined to support the proposal as it stands. Jim Wise noted Bill Bell and Howard Clement had objections in a previous work session, noting their own childhood experiences growing up near chickens. Clement added to the fray yesterday by expressing concern that the groups requesting the change weren't socioeconomically diverse, and that poorer neighborhoods might see the requested change as leading to more disorder in the city. Farad Ali and Eugene Brown also expressed concerns.
You should also read the comments of the blog post itself for more information and to see exactly how Clement expressed the concern.

Wow. This looks to be a tough battle in Durham.

How would you suggest they go about changing minds?

UPDATE: be sure to read this great guest column by Adrian Brown in support of chickens in Durham published on

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

one woman's journey into urban chicken farming

Discovered a delightful mini-biography blog post this morning titled The Most Expensive Kind of Chicken by Gina.

In it, you can read how her early childhood experiences led her into finally becoming a chicken owner decades later, and the lessons she learned along the way.

As with all good stories, she's got a wonderful summary of what to do and what not to do at the end:
Most cities allow chickens, you just need to follow the specific regulations. I discovered this while working at an animal shelter. I read the laws (many of which are online) and found out that chickens were legal in my city. In areas where chickens are prohibited, well, times-they are a changing and now is the time to bring this up with your local powers-that-be. Start a local chicken fan blog or forum. Stack the numbers of pro-chicken fans to not. Write out a detailed plan outlining all the benefits of keeping these garden friends (fertilizer, pest control, food source, depression buster…) and present it to city councilmen or housing addition leaders. Around the country (and even in other countries) anti-chicken laws are being questioned and changed. It really was not that long ago that chickens in the city were a common sight. My mother, in the ’50’s & 60’s, lived quite urban-ly and her family kept chickens and rabbits in the garage.

If the laws are already in your favor, be a good neighbor-with-chickens. Do as I suggest, not as I do, and research breeds, care and the ins-and-outs of urban chickens before you get the chickens. Keep your chickens’ area clean. Watch out for poisonous plants and chemicals. It’s pretty easy to keep a chicken happy and chickens can certainly make others happy given the right conditions!

I couldn't agree more with what Gina says. And she makes me wonder what my little girls will take away from their childhoods-with-chickens as they become independent women of their own.

(BTW, great to see the article on urban chickens in USA Today last week. Maybe 2009 is the year we build the momentum necessary to go mainstream in 2010!)

Monday, January 5, 2009

urban chickens weather the cold, cold night

This weekend the overnight temperature dropped below freezing here in the Bay Area (I know, tough) and it got me thinking about those urban chickens in places where there's actually snow on the ground like Denver, Chicago and Seattle(!).

Just how cold-tolerant are your chickens? Turns out, most breeds are quite hardy in the cold. You can look up how hardy your breed is in this handy table. It looks like most laying breeds are pretty hardy... it's the showy ones that don't do so well in the cold or heat. Lucky for us, our Plymouth Rocks are very cold hardy, so they must think living in California is a dream (like their owners do).

Even if your chooks are hardy, there are at least a couple things you want to make sure of when the mercury dips low:
  • ensure ready access to fresh water: make sure your water source doesn't ice over. Easily remedied by purchasing a water heater for your coop. Or check out this video of using a 60W bulb to keep the water unfrozen.
  • protect the chooks from frost bite: yes, those red flappy things (the comb and wattles) can get frostbitten, so when you know it's going to be freezing out for an extended period of time, get some vaseline on the red bits to protect them. Here's a nice explanation as to how to protect the combs.
One thing that seems a bit contentious among urban chicken farmers is whether you should use an electric bulb in the coop to heat things up. Yes, the right wattage will keep things nice and toasty for the girls in the coop. But as some have pointed out, if the bulb should go out unexpectedly, your girls will not be acclimated to the cold air and might not survive the night. Take a look at this discussion about heating coops over on Backyard Chickens to get a peak at how both sides see it. It's interesting to note that stories show most feed store personnel look at urban chicken farmers oddly when asked about heating coops, as if to say "why the heck would you want to do that? They're just chickens!" They don't seem to realize that urban chickens are really pets (aren't they?) and therefore worth the extra fuss.

What are you doing to keep your urban chicken flock warm this winter?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Urban Chickens in HD on ABC

I know it's a slow news time, but yesterday our local ABC affiliate (KGO-TV, channel 7) had a four-minute segment on Urban chicken trend on rise in Bay Area.

I can't embed the video, so you'll have to follow the link to see the segment (in HD!) interviewing several urban chicken farmers from the East Bay and North Bay.

In all, I think the reporter did a great job of extolling the virtues of raising your own urban chickens while getting some great shots of birds and coops (you'll see one that's been built into the kids' play structure... that gives me an idea!).

Oh, and there's a nice plug for Rob Ludlow's community as well.

Here's hoping even more folks are inspired by the news segment to get their own chooks and start enjoying yard-fresh eggs.

Friday, January 2, 2009

starting the year with a laugh

Hoping you all had a great start to the new year, too.

Please enjoy this clip of Gonzo with his PPPs - the Perfect Pitch Poultry


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