Saturday, February 28, 2009

and now for something completely different...

Thanks to Tony for pointing out these chicken-friendly posts over on John Cleese's blog (yes, THAT John Cleese):
So nice to see one of my favorite comedian's hanging out with the chooks!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

urban chickens and salmonella fears

This is the third in a series of posts exploring some of the more common concerns I see raised in the debate to allow urban chickens. (see previous installments: what to do with the poop and the cost to enforce urban chicken laws)

Today's topic: Aren't all these backyard coops going to be hot spots for salmonella outbreaks?

Along with "you'll doom us with bird flu" (the next topic in this series), concerns about salmonella and salmonellosis (the foodborne illness caused by salmonella) are high on the worrier's list about urban chickens being raised in backyards across town.

After all, the nutrients that make eggs such a high-quality food for us humans are also make for a good culture for bacteria to grow in. And since the eggs in the backyard are laid in a nest that might not be as sterile as the inside of the egg carton we're all used to seeing in the store, there's a chance that bacteria may work its way inside the egg before it can be collected. But that chance is slight, at best.

The American Egg Board's Egg Safety reference calculates the odds for us:
The inside of an egg was once considered almost sterile. But, over recent years, the bacterium Salmonella enteritidis (Se) has been found inside a small number of eggs. Scientists estimate that, on average across the U.S., only 1 of every 20,000 eggs might contain the bacteria. So, the likelihood that an egg might contain Se is extremely small – 0.005% (five one-thousandths of one percent). At this rate, if you’re an average consumer, you might encounter a contaminated egg once every 84 years.

Other types of microorganisms could be deposited along with dirt on the outside of an egg. So, in the U.S., eggshells are washed and sanitized to remove possible hazards. You can further protect yourself and your family by discarding eggs that are unclean, cracked, broken or leaking and making sure you and your family members use good hygiene practices, including properly washing your hands and keeping them clean.
Yes, it's really all about that: practicing safe food preparation habits, and that's something you can do no matter where your eggs come from.

After all, Salmonella bacteria are widely found in nature, in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds (and people) and easily spread. It's that critical time when preparing raw ingredients into finished ones that the Salmonella bacteria have a chance to fester in food that's prepared in a dirty environment (anyone been following the peanut butter scare recently?) or is under-prepared or is left to sit out too long before consumption. The AEB continues:
Salmonellosis outbreaks are most often associated with animal foods, including chicken, eggs, pork and cheese, but have also been reported related to cantaloupe, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts, orange juice and cereal among other foods. Human carriers play a big role in transmitting some types of salmonellosis. Salmonella bacteria can easily spread from one food to another, too.

The majority of reported salmonellosis outbreaks involving eggs or egg-containing foods have occurred in foodservice kitchens and were the result of inadequate refrigeration, improper handling and insufficient cooking. If not properly handled, Salmonella bacteria can double every 20 minutes and a single bacterium can multiply into more than a million in 6 hours. But, properly prepared egg recipes served in individual portions and promptly eaten are rarely a problem. You can ensure that your eggs will maintain their high quality and safety by using good hygiene, cooking, refrigeration and handling practices.
So, perhaps instead of focusing efforts on trying to prevent salmonella outbreaks by limiting the number of urban chickens in our backyards, we should instead focus on proper food preparation education? Sure enough, the AEB is a founding member of the Partnership for Food Safety Education and has a great set of literature about safe food-handling practices in its FightBAC campaign.

Oh, and for anyone who's actually picked up an egg out of an urban chicken's nest, you know its not clean on the outside what with its tufts of feather or pieces of nesting material or spots of excrement clinging to the shell.

I daresay those of us who collect our own eggs are more cognizant of needing to practice proper food handling techniques (and know how to clean our eggs) than folks buying what look-to-be clean eggs in the store.

I hope this information about salmonella helps you educate your town government in your quest to legalize urban chickens where you live. Are there other topics you'd find helpful (next up: bird flu)? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

egg labels: just what do they mean?

When Sophia (one of our two urban chickens) was molting this winter, I had to make a run to the local Whole Foods to pick up a dozen eggs for baking, and I was floored at the choices available to me. Sure, many of the packages showed illustrations of happy chickens in wide open spaces, but what were their living conditions really like?

Natural. Free Range. Certified Organic. Cage-Free.

What do all these labels mean? Lucky for us, the Humane Society of the United States has published a comprehensive guide to egg carton labels so we can (try to) decipher the welfare of the birds that provided the eggs. Here's the list (the three with labels asterisks are programs with official guidelines):

Certified Organic*: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, and are required to have outdoor access although there have been concerns about lax enforcement, with some large-scale producers not providing birds meaningful access to the outdoors). They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides, as required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing.

Free-Range: While the USDA has defined the meaning of "free-range" for some poultry products, there are no standards in "free-range" egg production. Typically, free-range egg-laying hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access. They can engage in many natural behaviors such as nesting and foraging. However, there is no information on stocking density, the frequency or duration of outdoor access, or the quality of the land accessible to the birds. There is no information regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Certified Humane*: The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but may be kept indoors at all times. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Certified Humane is a program of Humane Farm Animal Care.

Cage-Free: As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as "cage-free" are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but generally do not have access to the outdoors. They have the ability to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, and spreading their wings. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.

Free-Roaming: Also known as "free-range," the USDA has defined this claim for some poultry products, but there are no standards in "free-roaming" egg production. This essentially means the hens are cage-free. There is no third-party auditing.

United Egg Producers Certified*: The overwhelming majority of the U.S. egg industry complies with this voluntary program, which permits routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices. By 2008, hens laying these eggs will be afforded 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less area than a sheet of paper. The hens are confined in restrictive, barren cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. This is a program of the United Egg Producers.

Vegetarian-Fed: These birds' feed does not contain animal byproducts (unlike that consumed by most laying hens), but this label does not have significant relevance to the animals' living conditions.

Natural: This label has no relevance to animal welfare.

Fertile: These eggs were laid by hens who lived with roosters, meaning they most likely were not caged.

Omega-3 Enriched: This label claim has no relevance to animal welfare.

Interested in showing your support of poultry receiving humane treatment from the large agribusinesses? Sign USHS's Petition for Poultry.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Show your support for Longmont urban chickens


Providing a little amplification for our friends over at Longmont Urban Hens in encouraging you to show up and be counted as supporters of urban chickens on the I-25 corridor. (Map)

Says Allison in her post:

The Backyard Chicken Ordinance is up for its final "yay" or "nay" vote Tuesday, February 24th at 7 PM. Please come to the meeting, sign up to speak briefly and tell the council that you wholeheartedly support backyard chickens.

With amendments, the proposed ordinance would now allow:
  • Up to 4 backyard chicken hens (no roosters).
  • No other fowl are allowed - so, no turkeys, quail, ducks, geese, guinea fowl or pigeons.
  • The coop and run can be up to 7 feet high. It has to be predator proof, with a solid top.
  • The coop and run must be 6 feet away from any other structure, and from side and rear property lines. The coop and run must be in the rear of the property.
  • The coop and run must allow at least 4 sq ft per chicken, and can be a maximum of 120 sq ft total.
  • Water must be available to the chickens at all times, and feed must be kept in a vermin-proof container.
  • The coop and run must be cleaned and maintained regularly, and not constitute a nuisance, safety hazard, or health problem to surrounding properties.
  • No slaughtering allowed.
  • Hen keepers must have a permit - currently, 50 permits will be allowed, at a permitting price of $30 each.
  • A permit may be revoked with violation of any part of the ordinance.
  • The trial period ends in December of 2010 (the ordinance "sunsets") if it has not been renewed prior to that time.
There's some good stuff in these amendments that other municipalities can borrow from in their own urban chickens laws.

And, it seems there are already Longmont residents ready to plunk down their $30 for the permits.

If you're in the area, show up to the meeting! Hope to be posting good news later this week here on the blog. Good luck, Allison and all!

UPDATE: The ordinance passed! Congratulations on the win :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

learning from an urban chickens rejection

Bad news out of Racine, Wisconsin, (pop: 81,000; map)this week: the Village Board voted against changing the ordinance that forbids urban chickens in residential areas.

Lucky for us, one of the participants in the Racine urban chickens proposal, Tracy, has been kind enough to provide the details on what transpired in their effort to get an urban chickens ordinance passed as well as her thoughts on what went wrong.

Tracy writes:
It’s hard to say what we could have done differently or better. Our village board spent three meetings hearing both sides, but it seems they already had their minds made up and were unwilling to consider this positive change. We started with our ordinance modeled after the one in Madison, WI, which is about 90 miles west of us. After the first meeting, it seemed that board members wanted us to address some of the issues raised by opponents – the usual laundry list of unfounded misconceptions – odor, noise, predators, declining property values. So we radically beefed up our proposal – modeling our revision after the successful ordinance in South Portland, ME. We thought it was very reasonable! At the final board meeting, opponents voiced those same fears again. Two of the board members were supportive, but the rest stated reasons such as “we have zoning and ordinances for a reason” and “if we allow chickens, then soon people will be asking for a goat…where does it end?” So you can see, we have some pretty rigid mindsets that we were just unable to budge.

There are people in Racine, Milwaukee and Shorewood – all in southeastern Wisconsin – trying to get their own backyard chicken proposals. We’ll be closely watching their progress. I also have to thank you for your blog. We were able to utilize many of the links you’ve shared.

The links below to all the press we’ve received in the past two months. Most are from our local newspaper, the Racine Journal Times, and the last one is a link to a television news story:
Thanks, Tracy, for being so generous in sharing what happened along the way during your (temporary) setback.

Here's hoping others can learn from your experience so we can have more legal urban chickens around the country continent (Canada, too!).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bienvenue au site des Urban Chickens!

Pour mes visiteurs francophones,
la traduction par Google de cet site de l'anglais au fran├žais.

And for those of you wondering why the sudden french on urban chickens: I'm seeing many folks come to the blog today from an article on Rue89 about the city of Durham's treatment of the urban chicken ordinance amid the current American Financial Crisis. Quite kindly, the author linked here to this blog for the coverage of the Durham discussion.

Unfortunately, Google's translation tool seems to choke on the formatting of Rue89, so the french-to-english copy isn't available. C'est la vie!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

arguments in favor of urban chickens

Thanks to Monona Doug, (he of the model urban chicken ordinance) we get a chance to read a very well-reasoned letter from one of the local alders explaining why he's in favor of legalizing urban chickens in Monona, Wisconsin.

Alder Chad Speight's letter to the Citizens of Monona starts:
I have to confess that urban chickens are new to me. My first reaction to the topic a few years ago was skepticism. I had visions of barns, haystacks, mud; and I envisioned lots of noise, clutter, and mess. I share this story, because I have since learned that my preconceptions were wrong. The fact is that urban chickens, regulated in a reasonable manner, create a healthy, diverse, and more self-sufficient community. I understand why some citizens are hesitant, but I am confident that urban chickens are a good fit in Monona, for many reasons.
You'll have to read the rest of his missive to see how he supports his reasons one by one (Monona Doug has done a great job of highlighting the salient points in his post of the letter).

Looking for how to support the reasons behind your own urban chicken efforts? Alder Speight's letter should be seen as a great resource to help your cause.

(Here's hoping Monona does, indeed, legalize urban chickens soon.)

UPDATE: MaryBeth shared with me a great back-and-forth she had addressing the concerns a neighbor worried at the expansion of urban chickens (legally) in Boulder, CO. Lots of great information packed in the post, and you've really got to admire her diplomacy skills. Thanks MaryBeth!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

chickens mark the urban/rural divide


I've been keeping my eye on the urban chickens issue in Taylor, Texas (pop ~15,500; map) as I think it provides a great example of the small-town struggles aspiring urban chicken owners face in trying to change ordinances to allow the birds.

Last June, an ordinance was passed that disallowed raising any bird in Taylor city limits. Not sure the impetus for the change last summer, but it certainly ruffled the feathers of urban chicken fans and they've been fighting with the city council for six months to get the ordinance changed.

The unspoken issue that seems to be behind most of the discussion is how folks perceive a town that allows chickens: progressive? or backsliding? For any town eager to move away from its rural past, the first thing on the checklist is to get rid of the livestock, right? So chickens fall victim in the march toward urbanization.

This urbanization quest doesn't get much air time, though. So the issues folks in Taylor have talked about centered on how many chickens on how big a lot and how to prevent some stealth factory farm from setting up operations inside city limits by exploiting the ordinance.

Yet this morning I see Philip Jankowski has addressed the urban/rural divide in an opinion piece in the Taylor Daily Press:
To me, the chicken question speaks to the state of Taylor, which is somewhere between a rural town and a suburb of Austin. It was inevitable that somewhere along the way those looking toward Round Rock were going to collide with those looking toward Thrall. It just so happened that chickens were roosting where those folks collided.

Which way to take the town will not be up to me. Which is a good thing, from what I hear. Since I wrote my pro-Trans-Texas Corridor column many have decided I would like to pave all the farmland and replace Main Street with a 16-lane privately owned toll way.

It will be up to those council members, who I imagine are not as enthusiastic as me about asphalt. They strike the balance between old and new. It is a hard tightrope to walk, and I commend them for the job they do.


The Taylor City Council is not alone in their surprise at how much time "the urban chicken issue" takes up on their agendas. Many other councils are finding the urban chicken debate is sparking folks to question the identity of their towns and where they are on the path to progress.

Let's keep this in mind as we seek to change the law to allow urban chickens. Perhaps if we mind the strong feelings that the idea of chickens stirs up, we'll have better success in convincing the minds that urban chickens are a sign of progress, no matter how big or small our town.

UPDATE: I saw a wire go out with news that the Taylor City Council has legalized urban chickens, but I can't find the source (yet). Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

urban chickens now legal in Durham, NC (holy smokes!)

Didn't think this was the update I'd be giving here, but the Durham City Council just unanimously approved urban chickens inside city limits! From the Indy Week Triangulator blog:
the big news of the night was City Council’s approval of an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance, allowing backyard chickens within city limits. The 7-0 vote, which came as a surprise to many, arrived after months of contentious debate. (Read our previous coverage here.) Look for the Indy’s write-up in tomorrow’s paper, and online at indyweek.com.
The News & Observer reports over 60 urban chicken supporters were on hand at the meeting and broke out in applause at the results of the vote. Evidently, Durham city councilman Eugene Brown said, "what it really comes down to is a question of freedom and that's what Durham is about. Live and let live."

More details as they're available, but if you look back at my previous posts about the ridiculous urban chicken debate in Durham you'll see why I'm surprised, yea, delighted, to report this news.

Hooray for urban chickens in Durham! And kudos to the City Council for coming to their senses and doing the right thing.

UPDATE: Indyweek has the full story on its site now. Great to see how educational a process this was for all involved. Here's hoping the Chapel Hill Town Council sees the matter similarly and passes its own urban chicken ordinance.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Urban Chickens and sustainability

I caught a nice article on urban chickens and sustainability in the Sustainable Life section of the Lake Oswego Review (among other places).

Among the points made:
  • chickens are a lot less expensive to feed than cats and dogs (I can attest to this, too)
  • chickens are easier to take care of than cats and dogs (yup, I agree)
  • chicken poop is a great fertilizer while dog poop can't be used as fertilizer because it contains organisms capable of causing disease in people
  • dogs generally need store-bought food whereas chickens will consume vegetable scraps and bugs.
Not surprised to see that Portland, Oregon has the highest urban chicken population in the country per capita:

“I think Portland is the perfect incubator for this sort of thing,” says Glenn Nardelli, who works at Pistils Nursery in North Portland and keeps three chickens behind his house in the nearby Overlook neighborhood. Pistils sells supplies for chicken farmers and holds workshops for people considering raising chickens. The workshops have been steadily growing in popularity.

“People are really sustainability-minded here,” Nardelli says.

But are urban chickens really sustainable?

They definitely are as producers of food, say West and others, because local production is a critical component of sustainability.

“In terms of egg harvesting, it doesn’t get any closer than walking out your back door,” Nardelli says. Not only do home-produced eggs mean Nardelli doesn’t have to expend gasoline on a trip to the supermarket, but the eggs don’t need to be trucked to the supermarket from a factory farm, where they likely would have been raised with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.

Portland code allows city residents to keep up to three chickens without needing a permit. No roosters – with their morning wake-up calls – are allowed. But hens produce eggs without roosters.

So why is it a city like Portland can have so many urban chickens with so little uproar while smaller cities are struggling at the mere thought allowing a clucking hen in their city limits?

Food for thought on a rainy Sunday afternoon...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

i heart eggs (and they heart you)

New research from the University of Surrey in the UK shows that eating two eggs a day has very little impact on cholesterol which means little (if any) impact on cardiovascular disease. The study showed "people who ate two eggs per day, while on a calorie-restricted diet, not only lost weight but also reduced their blood cholesterol levels."

This is great news for folks like us, producing our own eggs in our own backyards. Why? We're producing some of the most nutritionally dense foods out there, and eggs are the perfect protein. Says Men's Health magazine:
How they build muscle: Not from being hurled by the dozen at your boss's house. The protein in eggs has the highest biological value—a measure of how well it supports your body's protein needs—of any food, including our beloved beef. "Calorie for calorie, you need less protein from eggs than you do from other sources to achieve the same muscle-building benefits."

But you have to eat the yolk. In addition to protein, it also contains vitamin B12, which is necessary for fat breakdown and muscle contraction. (And no, eating a few eggs a day won't increase your risk of heart disease.)

How they keep you healthy: Eggs are vitamins and minerals over easy; they're packed with riboflavin, folate, vitamins B6, B12, D, and E, and iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

Our two chooks are back in full production again after the molting season, so it's good to know I can enjoy our dozen eggs a week without concern for my cholesterol.

Friday, February 13, 2009

urban chickens now legal in Huntington, NY

Great to see that out on Long Island, the city of Huntington, NY (pop: 196,000; map) joins the ranks of urban chicken-friendly towns in America.

In fact, the Huntington town board has voted unanimously to allow urban chickens on residential properties in town.

The town code has the following guidelines:
  • no more than eight chickens in an area not visible from surrounding residences and streets (no front-yard urban chickens)
  • the coop must be cleaned daily and kept sanitary
  • the sole purpose of the chickens must be to supply organic eggs without use of pesticides or fertilizers
  • eggs cannot be sold
  • NO ROOSTERS
I think this is a great model for other cities to use in crafting their own urban chicken ordinances, as it gets to the heart of the matter: we're keeping urban chickens for eggs, not for slaughter.

When I can find it, I'll post the exact wording of the town code. I'm a little curious as to what happens to chickens in Huntington after they've out-lived their laying period...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

a chicken's life inside the battery cage

The folks at Animal Visuals have put together an interactive media experience (embedded below) that allows you to see and hear what it's like to be a chicken in a battery cage. Mind you, this is the experience that 300 million egg-laying chickens are forced to endure here in the USA their entire lives.



See the Animal Visual page for the list of facts about battery farming or download the battery cage facts PDF here.

More than ever, I'm convinced we need to find a way to legalize urban chickens across the country to get our birds out of conditions such as this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mankato City Council Chickens Out

Back on Feb 1, I posted about the Mankato City Council setting up a page to collect public input on the proposal to keep urban chickens submitted by the Mankato Chicken Coalition.

As of this morning, the "yes to chickens" comments are outnumbering by 4-to-1 the "no to chickens" comments in a quick tally of the 56 comments left so far.

In fact, looking at the tool archives, the urban chickens topic is the most trafficked and commented-on topic since the Mankato City Council launched the Your Take tool in Spring of 2007.

So it's quite distressing to hear that the Mankato City Council decided last night to deny the Mankato Chicken Coalition a public hearing. Period. According to my source, the council cited "the economy, budget concerns and the lack of importance of the issue as their main reasons."

Beg pardon?

If anything, I'd think the economy and budget concerns would be one of the very reasons to consider allowing urban chickens in the city as more people grow their own food.

The urban chickens topic is the most commented-on topic by a wide margin, yet the Mankato City Council is ignoring the issue.

Something doesn't smell right here, and it's not chicken poop.

Interesting to note: those against chickens in Mankato tend to leave their initials only to show their authorship and the views are the stereotypical arguments against chickens: "they're not pets" and "they'll attract vermin" and "I once lived next to a chicken farm and boy did it stink!"

I'm hoping smarter heads prevail in Mankato and the Council realizes this issue doesn't have to be a big one. Accept the Coalition's proposal on a one-year trial basis and move on. Revisit in a year to see if any of the hysterical fears have come true.

I'm betting Mankato will find out what so many other urban chicken-friendly towns have found: keeping chickens is no different than keeping cats or dogs or any other pets.

UPDATE: here's the story in the Mankato Free Press: City council kills urban chicken notion. "Council President Mike Laven voted also against holding the public hearing, but said it was because the ordinance under discussion would require neighbors’ consent. Laven said dog owners don’t have to meet this burden, and that he may have supported a proposal without that component."

So, how about stripping that component out?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

the cost to enforce urban chicken laws

This is the second in a series of posts exploring some of the more common concerns I see raised in the debate to allow urban chickens. (first post: what to do with the poop)

Today's topic: How are we going to enforce these new urban chicken laws? (ie, how will we pay for it?)

The costs to enforce ordinances vary widely from town to town and city to city, so coming up with an exact number is difficult, at best.

For context, let's remember our post about Missoula, MT's first year of pro-chicken ordinances went. The Animal Control officer said himself, "I was worried that there would be a lot of complaints, but it seems to be going all right" (14 complaints in the entire year). Doesn't sound like much, does it? But this one piece of evidence about a town in the middle of the country might not help you.

So, there's a line of reasoning you can use to show how little incremental cost will be incurred in enforcing urban chicken codes in your city.

Check with your city's animal control office to find out how many dog complaints came in last year and do a comparison of complaints per dog and forecast that same rate out for chickens to see how many complaints you'd be adding to the workload of animal control.

Example: 10,000 dog owners in your town generated 200 dog complaints which equals a 2% complaint rate.

If you assume the same complaint rate for chickens, you'd need to have at least 50 chicken owners before the first complaint was lodged. (2% of 50 = 1)

And just how many people are clamoring to get chickens in the first year, anyway? Are these the kinds of folks who'd be creating a nuisance situation with their urban chickens? No. Likely, these are the folks who'll be the most careful and over-communicate with their neighbors so as to avoid any kind of complaint made to animal control.

Besides, how much extra is one enforcement visit compared to the case load already handled by animal control? (I think it's small, at best)

Are there other lines of reasoning you can think to use? Anyone out there know the exact cost of an enforcement call?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Urban Chickens in the Big Easy

Food Editor Judy Walker has quite the long story about the ubiquity of urban chickens in New Orleans over on The Times-Picayune's NOLA blog.

Enjoy local views on why to keep urban chickens (we know them by heart now, don't we?) and be sure to scroll to the end for three great recipes for urban chicken eggs: migas, nepalese egg curry and a frittata.

The video below can also be found on the NOLA blog (but I'll save you the click).








Chalk another progressive big city in the pro-chicken category.

Friday, February 6, 2009

urban chickens now legal in Gulfport, FL

The St. Petersburg Times reports residents in Gulfport, Florida, a "funky Pinellas County city" (pop 12,500; map are now allowed to keep up to 10 chickens per household!

The City Council voted this week to allow urban chickens after months of debate.

The origin of the effort was a loud-squawking hen laying an egg within earshot of a cop. Said cop cited the owners for violating city code, and the owners took the issue up with the Council.

So, if you're in the throes of trying to convince your own city government to allow urban chickens, know that the process is long, but if you're persistent, you'll prevail.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

what to do with urban chicken poop?

I was having a conversation with someone who's looking to convince their city council to allow urban chickens, and she said one of the council's concerns was the phosphorous runoff from all these incoming urban chickens.

Yes, it would easy to dismiss these concerns as folly (poppycock?), but to do so won't help get urban chicken ordinances passed. While we've got our own two hens in the back yard, I don't want to be measuring and weighing every piece of excrement that drops out their backside (we simply put it all in the compost bin).

So I did a little research to see just how much poop a chicken produces and what effect it has on the environment.

How much poop per chicken?
The University of Missouri Extension reports six commercial laying hens will generate approx 11 pounds of manure every week (1.5 gallons). The Fisheries and Aquatics Department cites 40g of excretia per chicken per day (that's 1.4 oz/day or 9oz/week which means six hens would put out 54 ounces in a week or just over 4 pounds).

For the sake of argument, let's go with the Mizzou stats of 11 pounds from six chickens each week. If the average urban chicken flock is 3 hens, we can cut that total in half to 5.5 pounds per week.

This seems to be the perfect amount for composting or including with the regular waste disposal at the curb or what have you (I dare say this quantity is comparable to what a cat owner puts into their trash each week?).

So, thoughts of being over-run by chicken poop seem a bit fantastical.

What about phosphorous run-off?
But let's go back to our six chicken flock and look at the phosphorus run-off concerns (a real concern when considering industrial chicken farming).

According to PoultryOne.com website, the average percentages (per total weight) of chicken manure is as follows: 1.8 nitrogen, 1.5 phosphate, and 0.8 for potash.

So, we've got six chickens producing 2.5 OUNCES of phosphate each week which makes ~8 pounds (2.5 x 52 weeks/ 16 oz per pound) of phosphate PER YEAR. Even if dumped directly into the nearest pond/lake, you're looking at miniscule changes to the phosphorous content of a lake for six birds.

If every household in medium-sized city (20,000 households) owned six birds each, you're still looking at a little over 160,000 pounds of phosphorous spread out across an entire city. Compare this to the industrial chicken industry practice of housing 150,000 birds in a single 500-ft long chicken house (that's 200,000 pounds of phosphorous from one chicken house), and you see it's an apples-to-oranges comparison regarding the concentration/disposal of the poop.

No wonder the industrial chicken houses stink to high heaven!

Mind you, all this build up of phosphorous in the urban chicken poop assumes there's no collection/composting/etc AT ALL from the backyard chicken coop (which I hope would signal neighbors to call animal control for cruelty charges to the owners). But that's another post entirely.

How much urban chicken poop are you dealing with and what do you do with it? Composting like me? setting it at the curb each week? throwing it under the shrubs? Please share!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Durham, NC, urban chickens efforts (update)

The News & Observer reports the Durham City Council voted on Monday (Feb 1) to postpone, yet again, the matter of legalizing chickens in city limits.

Seventeen people spoke in favor of urban chickens in Durham. It appears councilman Howard Clement's desire to hear from a more socioeconomically diverse crowd was honored as...
Activist Victoria Peterson and Lavonia Allison, president of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People made impassioned statements against changing the law to permit chickens.

"We do not need chickens in our backyards," Peterson said.

Proponents of backyard chickens included Raleigh City Councilman Rodger Koopman, who has three of his own and said Raleigh has heard no complaints since allowing the practice.

I'd really love to know why Peterson and others do not want to legalize chickens. What kind of stereotypes are they carrying with them to this argument? I wish the reporting was more comprehensive on listing out the details of the opposition as I think common sense could help defang their concerns (if we knew them).

On top of that, the proposed Durham ordinance seems very stringent, with measures to govern how people keep their urban chickens: one would need to obtain a "limited agriculture permit" and get a building permit for the coop. Flocks would be limited to 10 hens (no roosters), and, my favorite clause: "the amount of chicken manure kept on site would be limited to two cubic feet and kept in a waterproof container."

Hmmm... not sure how this collect-and-contain process would work exactly in our own backyard. All our manure gets composted regularly in our (non-waterproof) compost bin. And I realize my math skills are weak on this, but how many marble-sized droppings would it take to make two cubic feet of manure? I don't think our two hens create that much manure in two weeks!

UPDATE: Bull City Rising has a great detailed blog post about what transpired in the council meeting.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

tuesday morning urban chicken video

In case you thought chickens and cats would never get along, take a look at this YouTube video of a broody hen keeping some kittens warm.



Now to find that lions and lambs video...

Monday, February 2, 2009

where can I keep urban chickens?

I've been looking for a good, comprehensive list of cities that allow for urban chickens, and of all the lists I've seen (like this one on Mother Earth News), Katy has the biggest list of laws over on her site: The City Chicken.

Now, it's not a perfect list, mind you (I've been able to spot some discrepancies just in the few laws I already know by heart), but it's the best thing we have going. She recently sorted the laws by state (they used to be in a largely unordered list), and it's made for a great leap forward in usability

My ideas for improving it?
  • Include a link to the city on a map
  • Include population info for the city
  • Include a link to the municipality's ordinance to see the actual law
  • Datestamp the law to show when it was added to the list
How else might you improve the list?

I ask because I'm working on a side project re: urban chicken laws and am trying to get a sense of what folks most find useful in researching existing or planned urban chicken ordinances.

Thanks for the input!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

get your urban chickens on in Seattle

Seattle Tilth, a fantastic nonprofit dedicated to cultivating a sustainable community, one garden at a time, has published their 2009 schedule of classes and workshops.

If you're lucky enough to live in the area and want to get to know more about raising your own urban chickens, you'd do well to attend one of their upcoming chicken classes:
I've heard nothing but good things about the folks at Tilth and the quality of the classes they teach. The workshops fill up quickly so register soon (just click the links above).

And tell 'em UrbanChickens.net sent you (and wishes we were local, too)!

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