Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Introducing our April Sponsor: MyPetChicken.com

I'd like to thank this month's sponsor, MyPetChicken.com.

As you know from previous posts, I'm a big fan of the service that Derek and Traci are providing in equipping us small flock urban chicken farmers with chicks, coops, feed and all other manner of chicken-related stuff.

If you've been wanting to get started on your own flock, use the MPC chicken breed selection tool to figure out which breed is right for you and within days you'll have peepers at your doorstep.

I'm happy to host MPC here on the blog for the month of April, and I hope you let me know your experiences shopping with them.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Giving Away Urban Chickens in Atlanta

The Chicken Whisperer, Andy G. Schneider, will be giving away 500 baby chicks in metro Atlanta as part of his "Chicken Stimulus Package."

If you're in the Atlanta area, you can meet Andy at the Greenwoods at 1087 Green Street in Roswell, GA (about 15 miles north of downtown Atlanta) where he'll start giving the chicks away at 8am on Saturday, April 11, 2009.

Only two chicks will be given away to each family, and they'll come with a starter bag of feed, care instructions and a map to a local feed and seed shop where they can get more supplies.

You can catch Schneider's Chicken Whisperer radio shows online at Radio Sandy Springs. Oh, and you can follow him on Twitter as @backyardpoultry.

Can't wait to see what 250 families do with their urban chickens (both the hens and the roosters).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Toronto Urban Chickens on CBC Sunday News

CBC Sunday News is going to air a segment about urban chickens in Toronto on tomorrow morning's show (10am in Toronto) in the first hour of broadcast.

Since chickens are illegal in Toronto, I'm looking forward to seeing who they got to talk on camera and how they treat the subject of urban chickens overall (I'm optimistic they'll do a good job)

As you'll recall, last week I put out a request on Twitter and Facebook for urban chicken farmers in Toronto to get in touch with Natalie at CBC Sunday News for a story they were working on. Natalie sent me a note this morning to let me know the segment is, indeed, scheduled to air!

While I can't get the CBC signal here in California, I'll be watching the archive of the show online at the CBC Sunday News web site.

I tell ya, I'm really impressed with how much air time urban chickens are getting on CBC. You'll recall I made my radio debut on CBC's Spark program in 2007 and CBC's The Point did a bit about chickens just a couple months ago.

Here's hoping there's more legal urban chickens coming to a Province near you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mad City Chickens DVD finally released!

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I'm a huge fan of the team behind Mad City Chickens as I've chronicled their efforts to get their film out in front of the masses (or not).

Well, Tashai Lovington and Robert Lughai have every reason to be extremely proud today. After three years, they're finally releasing Mad City Chickens on DVD!
The 79 minute documentary is a sometimes wacky, sometimes serious look at the people who keep urban chickens in their backyards. From chicken experts and authors to a rescued landfill hen or an inexperienced family that decides to take the poultry plunge—and even a mad scientist and giant hen taking to the streets—it’s a humorous and heartfelt trip through the world of backyard chickendom.
In addition to the 60 minutes of bonus material, if you order your copy of the film before Wednesday March 25th, 2009 at 11:59 pm (Central Time), you get two bonus promotions: a Mad City Chickens movie poster and a pin.

I placed my order just now so I can screen it at my home with all my urban chicken friends. Buy your copy of Mad City Chickens so you can have your own (hen)house party.

Monday, March 23, 2009

what breed of chickens are these?

I just got an email from Darlene in Burnsville, MN (where urban chickens are newly legal), and she's getting her paperwork all in order to have four chickens, the legal limit.

Darlene's already got two bantams in a temporary pen in her backyard and she asked me if I could help figure out what kind of bantams they are. They're in the photo at right.

Sadly, my chicken breed spotting skills are woefully underdeveloped. But I know that one of you, dear readers, are likely to recognize the breed (Steven Walling, are you out there?).

Thanks for helping solve the mystery of the new Burnsville banties!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

two types of urban chicken owners: which one are you?

I'm catching up on my reading about urban chicken news across the country (you can, too: "urban chickens" feed on Google News), and I came across a piece published this past week in the New Haven Advocate called A Chicken in Every Yard.

Evidently, there are quite a few illegal flocks in New Haven, Connecticut, and this story's a bit of an exposé into the hows and whys of keeping chickens in one's backyard.

The author, Betsy Yagla, covers a lot of ground in her story about the urban chicken movement. It's stuff we've all heard before and can recognize in ourselves, but then Yagla drops this bombshell:
There are two groups of urban chicken farmers — the low-income, mostly immigrant group that keeps chickens as a side business by selling extra meat and eggs. This group doesn't always limit their flock to a half dozen hens. They're mainly kept as livestock, not pets.

The other group is upper-class environmentalists who keep boutique hens as pets, but eat or share the eggs with friends.
Beg pardon?

I had to re-read the article to make sure Yagla wasn't just describing the New Haven urban chicken farmers. She wasn't. This is how she sees all us urban chicken keepers as falling neatly into one of two groups. Immigrant law-breakers or well-to-do show-bird keepers.

The family here behind this blog are not upper-class, and we definitely don't have "boutique hens" in our backyard. Our ancestors immigrated to the States many generations ago (but we're all immigrants, no?), yet we manage to abide by the laws for keeping chickens here in Redwood City. We're keeping chickens as pets for the eggs and the poop and the entertainment and the education.

What kind of urban chicken keeper (or wannabe) are you?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

so you want to build your own coop...

My good friend @badgerpendous has just posted his miscellaneous coop notes that's a nice list of "if I'd known beforehand, I would have..." items for all you newbie DIY coop-builders out there.

Once you get to his blog, you can see the rest of the coop updates to see how the process played out over time, but I really like the lessons-learned list.

See, before we got our own pre-fab plastic Eglu, I'd entertained the idea of building a coop from scratch. It didn't take me too long, however, to realize that the amount of time, tools and raw materials I'd have to buy would approach the cost of an Eglu, so I went the pre-fab route.

Without a lot of budget discipline, you can easily clear $400 building your own from scratch, not including the price of books to help you plan.

While there are a lot of great books out there with fabulous plans to use to build your own, I'm a man who knows my limitations. And the price I pay is to get some serious chicken coop envy when I see setups like that at badgerpendous or over on greenfrieda's blog. (sometimes I'll even window shop by searching on "chicken coop" on Flickr)

Edging away from building your own? If plastic's not your thing but you're looking for a high-end easy-to-assemble coop, you can also check out the offerings at Henspa.

Whatever you do, make sure your chickens get the right housing and you'll be rolling in eggs for a good long time!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the future of urban chicken advocacy

Urban chicken lovers in the Denver area provide us a glimpse of the next front in urban chicken advocacy work: the streamlining of the process to obtain a permit for backyard hens.

There's a nice post by Joel Warner over on Westword that explores the issues confronting those in the Denver area who aren't just happy that urban chickens are legal (a struggle many of us are in the throes of now), but are trying to lower the barriers to getting the permits to keep their chickens.
"The current process for obtaining a chicken permit in Denver is cumbersome and expensive and I want to change the law not just for my own personal benefit but also for the good of the Denver community," says Denver lawyer and would-be chicken owner James Bertini. He's so annoyed over the complexities of obtaining permission to keep fowls and other kinds of livestock here that he's launched a movement to push city council to simplify the process.
I wish that municipalities would put simple processes on the books off the bat instead of creating byzantine bureaucracies to make getting a permit more difficult than getting a five-year-old hen to lay an egg.

I'm all for simplified processes, but I wonder if it's too high a hurdle to clear when first attempting to get urban chicken laws on the books? From watching things unfold in Durham and Longmont, it seems the room for compromise between NO and YES is meted out in the restrictions and permit process.

Should you aim for simplicity when trying to convince your Council to legalize urban chickens? Of course! But be prepared for push back, and be flexible (within limits) in adding restrictions to the urban chicken ordinance to give the nay-sayers some comfort that the town won't be overrun by peepers overnight.

Then once the shock and awe of urban chickens in backyards across town wears off, you can set about making the process to own urban chickens as easy as owning a cat or dog.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

starting out: picking the right baby chicks

Once you've decided on the breed of chicken you want in your backyard (I recommend picking a heritage breed), you'll need to actually acquire the chicks themselves. Either get your chicks by mail or drive out to your local feed and fuel store and pick from what they've got on hand.

Since buying chicks by mail means someone else does the selecting of the exact chick in the flock for you, we'll focus on what to do at the local feed store when you're confronted by a bunch of fluffy peepers all vying to be the one coming home with you.

Rule #1 when picking out a chick: this is no time to root for the underdog. You want to select the healthiest chick you can. Leave the charity cases for someone else who has a lot of experience raising poultry: there's enough for newbie urban chicken farmers to learn without having to get deep into veterinary issues trying to raise your own small flock.

That said, here's how to pick a healthy chick:
  • Be prepared to spend some time at the store observing the chicks. You want to see how they behave, and some may be sleeping when you first arrive and they'll wake up while you're there. You want to see as many in action as you can in order to make the best selection.
  • Look for chicks that are clearly eating, drinking and have plenty of energy. Believe it or not, these day- (or week-) old chicks already have personalities that you can observe. You want to avoid the shrinking violets.
  • Avoid chicks that are puffed up or have drooping heads, you may feel the desire to save these chicks, but more then likely, the chick will die regardless of your efforts.
  • Check the tail end of each chick for pasty butt which means the chick's having trouble defecating and may be a sign of more serious issues. Also examine the beak for any discharge (see any? move along to the next one).
Finally, don't feel pressured to buy a chick if the selection is limited and not very desirable, or if you get the feeling the store isn't taking good care of their baby chicks.

A good supplier will keep the display bins clean, warm and well-ventilated. You should see plenty of food and fresh water available for the little peepers. And the employees should be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Good luck with your selection!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The evolution of anti-chicken ordinances in Mankato

Dan Linehan has written in the Mankato Free Press a fascinating account of the evolution of ordinances regulating animals in the city of Mankato, Minnesota.

Of all the news stories I've read about the issue of chickens in the city, Linehan's goes the deepest into exactly how the anti-chicken laws got on the books in the first place.

As you can imagine, things were mighty different back in the early 1900s anywhere outside of a major metropolis. There was much more of a live-and-let-live attitude to keeping all manner of "barnyard animals" in the backyard: people really were growing their own food.

Linehan relates:
Before Mankatoans developed urban sensibilities, they co-existed with horses, cows, poultry and even hogs — sometimes to hilarious effect. After a proposal to legalize chickens in the city was set aside recently by the City Council, people on both sides of the issue gave accounts of a time when people shared Mankato with their animals.

Take the account of Mr. C. A. Chapman, a founding member of the Blue Earth County Historical Society. The account, provided by the historical society, describes a contest in about 1919 to decide whether hogs would be able to run free through the city.

“Some of the more easygoing residents thought this was all right” while others said pigs “were not dignified animals to have running about a budding city,” Chapman wrote.

It was decided that the will of the people would settle the matter, though not in typical fashion.

A rope was stretched across Front Street and the opponents took opposite ends.

“Then the fun began.”

Chapman lived in South Bend and could not “vote,” but he watched and laughed as those “opposing the hog’s liberty” finally won the tug of war.

“This shows you how primitive we were in those days.”

“The animals aren’t going to be a problem until you had enough people who thought of themselves as urbanites,” said Bill Lass, a retired Minnesota State University history professor.
Sure, the swine vote makes for a good story, but I wonder how many other laws got on the books through methods like this?

(Linehan's article really warrants a full reading so please go and read it. Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back.)

Maybe if they held a tug-of-war over the urban chicken issue today in Mankato, those in favor of chickens just might win? Heck, maybe the City Councile should try a little mental tug-of-war and actually discuss the issue in an urban hearing.

The Free Press also runs a nicely worded, logical letter to the editor urging a public hearing by someone more local than I, concluding "It seems that the democratic thing to do would be to allow a hearing of the issue and see how much sentiment for or against the issue there really is, and then go forward from there."

Hear, hear.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

handy urban chicken breed selection tool

Still can't decide what kind of chicken(s) to get in your flock? Help is on the way!

The folks over at My Pet Chicken have created a nifty little chicken breed selection tool that asks for your input and then presents you with recommended breeds that match what you're looking for.

The inputs are simple:
  • hardy in winter?
  • rare/unusual breed?
  • birds that will rear chicks?
  • egg color?
  • docile birds?
  • egg laying rate?
The results are great: you'll get a thumbnail of each breed that matches your desires with a link through to the detail page on the particular breed (here's the page for our Plymouth Rocks).

Bonus: for each breed, they let you know which hatcheries have them available. (Of course, you can order small quantities of chicks directly from My Pet Chicken).

Thanks to the folks at MPC for such a clever and useful tool. I can only window shop at this point, but I think I might like to get an Australorp or maybe a Java or even a Wyandotte.

What kind of chick(s) are you going to get?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

cool video of an egg without a shell

Enjoy this awesome little video of a malformed egg from a newly laying chicken

(follow this link to the source if the embed doesn't work)

The video is courtesy Mark Frauenfelder, one of my favorite bloggers over on boingboing.net. He got a flock of six barred rocks chicks last Fall and he's also been blogging about his adventures in urban chickens.

Just last week got his first eggs from the flock. We all know the first eggs aren't always the well-formed specimens we're accustomed to buying buy the dozen down at the local food mart. Some are long and skinny, most are a fraction of the full size, but this is the first shell-less egg I've ever seen.

Thanks for sharing the video, Mark. May you be flooded in eggs!

Monday, March 9, 2009

update on Waterloo urban chicken efforts

Got a note this morning from Doug with promising news about urban chicken efforts in Waterloo, Ontario. The city staff have drafted a pro-chicken bylaw for council approval.

The highlights:
  • No roosters
  • Up to 10 hens per property
  • Property must have a detached dwelling, and the lot must be at least 12m x 20m (Roughly 40' x 65')
  • Chickens suspected of communicable diseases must be taken to the vet immediately.
Specifically, Schedule "D" for the By-Law on animal control has thirteen points to it, listed below. I'm most intrigued by the part of schedule related to communicable diseases (aka "bird flu" and the like), the final point in the list.
  1. No owner shall allow or permit his or her chicken to running at large
  2. No person shall keep a rooster except in an agricultural use within an agricultural zone as established by the Zoning By-law.
  3. The maximum number of chickens permitted on a lot shall be 10.
  4. All chicken coops shall be located only in the rear yard and must fully enclose the chickens and prevent them from escaping.
  5. The chicken coop shall be designed and constructed to ensure proper ventilation and sufficient space for the chickens and maintained in accordance with good animal husbandry and shall keep all vermin out.
  6. All dead chickens must be disposed of immediately and in any event, within 24 hours.
  7. There must be hygienic storage of and prompt removal of chicken feces.
  8. The chickens' food supply must be protected against vermin
  9. All lots housing chickens must have detached dwellings on them; a frontage of at least 12 meters; and a depth of at least 20 meters.
  10. The chicken coop shall be located at least 3 meters from the rear lot line of the lot on which the chicken coop is located.
  11. The chicken coop shall be located at least 3 meters from any side lot line of the lot on which the chicken coop is located.
  12. No person shall keep chickens unless registered with the Clerk or designate and upon paying the required fees and charges, as outlined in the City's Fee Guide.
  13. In the event the owner of chickens suspects they are infected with a communicable disease, the owner shall immediately consult a veterinarian licensed to practice in Ontario to diagnose the condition. If the diagnosis confirms that the chickens are infected with a communicable disease, the owner shall immediately notify the Regional Medical Officer of Health and comply with any direction which may be issued by the Regional Medical Officer of Health in this regard.
You can look at the entire meeting materials via a huge PDF indeed (it's 10Mb) posted at http://tinyurl.com/da7unv. The relevant bits are on pp 172-173.

Thanks, Doug, for the heads up! Here's hoping the council approves it quickly.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

starting out: a mixed breed urban chicken flock?

This week I got a nice email from Kate (she writes the great blog Gardening without Skills), and she's excitedly getting ready to bring a flock of urban chickens into her backyard this Spring. A friend of hers is building her a coop and she's raised ducks before, so she's got some familiarity with backyard fowl.

Her first question (among many) was whether or not she could mix chicks of several breeds in the same coop. Would they get along? Would she be better off getting three from the same breed?

I assured Kate it's very difficult to go wrong mixing and matching such a small quantity of chickens in your backyard. Chickens are very social animals and they'll get along fine. If you're getting your first flock, you'll want to get them all about the same age (ages should be within a week or so of each other). They'll figure things out themselves and establish a "pecking order" on their own.

While each individual chicken will have its own personality, there are breed characteristics that are for the most part dependable as you're picking out your birds. Keep in mind: humans have been breeding chickens for thousands of years to make them more domesticated and tranquil around each other. Consult the wonderful Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart for a comprehensive run-down of the various traits of any given breed.

And as far as getting smart about raising urban chickens in your backyard, it really is as easy as getting one of the many good beginner books and having at it. Chickens really are resilient animals and as long as you keep them in fresh food and water and clean the coop regularly, you're doing great!

Any other advice you'd offer Kate as she begins her adventure into urban chickens this spring?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Urban Chickens now legal in Vancouver, BC

The Vancouver city council has voted unanimously to change city bylaws to legalize the keeping of urban chickens. Let's hear it for our friends in the Great White North!

What surprises me in the story is that both the BCSPCA and the Vancouver Humane Society both spoke out against the motion.
“While we sympathize with the interests of local people who want to keep these hens for the sustainability interests, we have concern that not everyone who is interested in keeping these chickens has the necessary knowledge or expertise to raise them humanely,” BCSPCA animal welfare coordinator Geoff Urton told The Vancouver Sun earlier Thursday.

Urton said he’s worried urban chickens could be easy targets for coyotes or raccoons and attract rats. What’s more, he’s not convinced that Vancouverites will be able to find a vet able to care for their birds or even know where to buy the right kind of feed.
Seems to me like this would be a great opportunity for the SPCA and HS to step up and become more relevant to their constituents via education than to try and ward off a learning opportunity such as this. Hey, want some cheap education materials? point folks here to the Urban Chickens blog or over to the Backyard Chickens community or even the urbanchickens.org folks. :^)

And who else was against the measure? The BC Poultry Association cited concerns about food safety and avian flu as reasons not to pass the measure. (Let's see, who stands to lose out from folks farming their own eggs from humanely raised chickens? hmmm) And in terms of food security, it's the agribusinesses that are the most susceptible to avian flu in their flocks of genetically compromised birds, not the small flocks of robust chickens in backyards.

Dane Chauvel, the man who started this chain of events when his urban chickens got busted by the cops, sums things up nicely. “If you were a chicken you would be imploring the animals rights activists and the city council to approve this bylaw, because it’s the best thing that can happen in terms of chicken welfare,” he said. “Any resident that has two to four chickens, that means two to four chickens less in a battery cage environment.”

Let's welcome yet another big city to the urban chickens movement!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mad City Chickens is coming to the screen!

I'm very pleased to share the news that Robert and Tashai over at Tarazod Films are finally releasing Mad City Chickens on DVD on March 24 (details coming to the web, soon). I, for one, can't wait to get my own copy of the DVD.

And for those of you living in Monona, Wisconsin, there's going to be a public screening of the film on March 10.

They will be holding a public screening of the Mad City Chickens documentary as part of their Green Tuesdays Film & Lecture Series on March 10th. The film starts at 6:30pm and will be held at the Monona Public Library, 1000 Nichols Rd., Monona, WI 53716. The series is free and open to the public.

Who knows, perhaps Alderman Speight and Monona Doug will be in attendance at the screening.

If you do happen to see them at the screening, please tell 'em both that Thomas over at urbanchickens.net says hello and thanks for the support!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Urban Chickens and the NAIS: just say no

There's a proposal afoot at the USDA, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), that would require all animals be fitted with tracking IDs under the guise of disease control. This proposal, if passed, would mean each of our urban chickens would need to be tagged and registered with the USDA.

And not just our chickens, but any chickens, which means the cost of pastured eggs and organic locally-grown meats at our local farmer's markets would go up, too.

Just another case where our urban chickens getting categorized as "livestock" isn't helping us.

According to the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, here are the three implementation stages of NAIS that are mandatory if the proposal would be successful (italics are mine):
1. Premises registration: Every person who owns any livestock animal would have to register the premises where the livestock is held within the state. Livestock animals include cattle (beef and dairy), hogs, sheep and goats, chickens and other poultry, horses, bison, deer, elk, alpacas, llamas and others.

2. Animal identification: There will be two levels of animal identification: individual animal and group or lot identification. Most animals in the program would need to be individually identified with a unique 15-digit number. Animals would either be implanted with a microchip or tagged with a radio frequency device, or otherwise physically identified. The tag will have to bear the entire 15-digit number, with the number easily read. For at least some species, radio-frequency identification devices would be required.

Group or lot identification could only be used where groups of animals are managed together from birth to death and not commingled with other animals. In practice, only large confinement producers of poultry and swine would be able to avail themselves of this exception to the individual tagging rule. If animals do not meet the requirements for group identification, they will have to be individually identified.

3. Animal tracking: Every time a tag is applied, a tag is lost or an animal needs to be re-tagged, an animal is killed or dies, or an animal is missing, the event would have to be reported to the government within 24 hours. “Commingling events” will have to be reported, including both public and private sales, regional shows and exhibitions.
So, if the NAIS is passed, we'll have to get tags/RFID chips for each of our urban chickens and report to the government if we take our chickens anywhere but our own backyards.

Wow. While the intent of the NAIS is noble romantic (disease tracking and "protection against bio-terrorism"), the implementation seems a bit intrusive/awkward if you ask me. ("No Fly List" anyone? see parallel issues/concerns raised in the Identity Cards discussion)

If, like me, you want to do something about this, please visit the Organic Consumers Association action page and send your Congresscritter an email before March 16, 2009.

More information on the NAIS can be found here:
Tip of the hat to Bad Wolf for bringing this issue to my (our) attention.

Tweet this news

Monday, March 2, 2009

hysterical anti-chicken sentiment in Mankato

I laughed this morning as the following two letters to the editor of the Mankato Free Press appeared in my RSS feed. (see prior updates on Mankato, MN, urban chicken discussions). If you've been reading my series on combating urban chicken stereotypes (too much poop, enforcement costs and salmonella fears, so far) you'll know what's coming.

The first letter begins "As a lad growing up on a farm in the 1920s and 1930s, it was my responsibility to clean the hen house and yard on whichever Saturday Dad deemed the proper time. I have not cleaned a chicken house or yard in over 60 years, but the following facts are indelibly etched in my olfactory memories." The writer recalls the stink of said coop and how the heat and humidity of a summer day concentrate that smell of poop and the chickens' molted feathers. I don't mean to disparage this fair writer's memory (of events from at least 70 years ago), but chickens naturally molt in the Fall, so if the owner's got a coop that stinks of excreta and feathers in the summer, you've got an animal abuse issue on your hands, not a chicken issue.

The second letter is in the same vein, although the claims are a bit more outlandish:

Chickens are dirty, they smell and can carry disease and parasites. Chickens attract mice, rats and predators such as fox, skunks and feral cats.

There are some groups that will disregard the rules, either on purpose or through ignorance. They will have larger flocks, maybe improper cages and large slaughtering operations.

Mankato just received regional status; let’s not revert to Mayberry status.

I can just imagine our leaders meeting with officers of some large company considering a move to locate in Mankato. You can tell their top executive, “oh, by the way, you may be living next to a chicken coop and a chicken slaughtering operation.” That will sure impress them.

And then the writer concludes "Folks from St. Peter and other towns should butt out -- this is a Mankato issue."

If I were an officer of a large company considering a move to locate in Mankato, I'd be more concerned about how many other residents harbor the status quo loving NIMBYism as the writers of the above two letters than I would about an urban chicken law on the books (like they've got in New York, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles...)

Here's hoping saner heads prevail in Mankato.


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