Friday, February 26, 2010

Reason # 372 to keep urban chickens: they make us self-sufficient

This week has been a great example of why I love writing this blog. Readers know the other day I posted about how efficient chickens are as composters in our backyards.

In response to that post, I got a delightful comment from Pat Foreman going deeper into the issue of chickens and sustainability and how, by raising urban chickens, we're actually doing quite a bit to help sustain this big green planet of ours.

It turns out Pat has written a book based on another book written over 50 years ago, The Have-More Plan: A Little Land – A Lot of Living which inspired millions of people, recovering from World War II, to be more self-sufficient. (NOTE: I haven't read the book yet, but it's on order)

Pat and I exchanged a couple messages and she agreed I could re-post her comment here so we could all benefit. Here it is:
City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers and Local Food Supplies was written in the same spirt as Robinson’s “The Have-More” Plan from over a half-century ago. The City Chicks book has the ambitious intent of exploring three subjects.

1. Enhancing Backyard Agriculture. Urban gardening and farm-yards are on the verge of a giant leap forward, ushering in a new — and necessary — era of local and home food production. People have a right to grow their own food and chickens have valuable skill-sets that can be employed in food production systems. Some of these “skill-sets” include producers of manure for fertilizer and compost, along with being mobile herbiciders and pesticiderers. And of course, they also provide eggs and meat. City Chicks shows how you can have a good meal of eggs and garden goods that only travel the short distance from your backyard.

2. Diverting Food and Yard “Waste” Out of Landfills. Chickens can help convert biomass “wastes” into organic assets such as fertilizer, compost, garden soil and eggs. This can save BIG TIME tax payer dollars from being spent solid waste management streams.

3. Decrease Oil Consumption and Lower Carbon Footprints. Commercial food systems cannot work without oil. Over 17% of America’s oil is used in agricultural production and, about 25% of this oil is used for fertilizer. The total energy input of food production, processing, packaging, transporting and storing is greater than the calories consumed. It is estimated that every person in this country requires about one gallon of oil per day just to bring food to the table. How sustainable is that? Chickens can help America kick the oil habit by decreasing the amount of oil products used in feeding ourselves ... and, at the same time, keep landfills from filling up with methane-producing organic matter.

City Chicks ushers in a new paradigm of how to use chickens in a variety of roles that help decrease carbon footprints, save tax payer dollars and support local food supply production. And all this is done in a way that is biologically sustainable, economically equitable, and serves us, our communities, our Earth and the future generations of all beings.

How do you become a Chicken Have-More Club member? You already are! Anyone who is participating in the local foods movements, who believes they have a right to produce their own food, and/or who is interested in conservation ways to help restore and preserve our environment is automatically a club member.
So Pat's comment, coupled with my attending a delightful workshop on raising urban chickens led by Alexis Keofoed of Soul Food Farm and hosted at 18 Reasons in San Francisco has made this a wonderful week for the Urban Chickens Network.

Here's hoping you have a wonderful weekend with your chooks if you've got them, or with your planning and prepping if you don't.

And as Pat likes to say, "may the flock be with you!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flock Observations with Chicken as Muse

It's time to share yet another beautiful essay crafted from spending time with a flock of chickens.

This particular essay, Pecking order, was written by Peter Lennox and appears on the Times Higher Education site.

I can't possibly do justice to Lennox's words, so I'll merely quote a paragraph that really speaks to me (I got my degree in Linguistics from UC San Diego, so all things word-y appeal to yours truly):
Watching chickens is a very old human pastime, and the forerunner of psychology, sociology and management theory. Sometimes understanding yourself can be made easier by projection on to others. Watching chickens helps us understand human motivations and interactions, which is doubtless why so many words and phrases in common parlance are redolent of the hen yard: "pecking order", "cockiness", "ruffling somebody's feathers", "taking somebody under your wing", "fussing like a mother hen", "strutting", a "bantamweight fighter", "clipping someone's wings", "beady eyes", "chicks", "to crow", "to flock", "get in a flap", "coming home to roost", "don't count your chickens before they're hatched", "nest eggs" and "preening".
In the essay, Lennox makes great observations about chickens' environmental preferences and territoriality, their personality traits and behaviour and their inquisitiveness, teaching and learning.

If you have (or had) your own flock, you'll find yourself nodding your head in agreement with many of Lennox's observations.

If you've yet to experience a flock of your own, you'll see why we urban chicken farmers so love our hens.

So, grab yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine (depending what time it is and how early you crack open your bottle) and enjoy the Pecking order essay. Then come back and share with us your favorite bits and how your own flock is similar or different.

Monday, February 22, 2010

urban chickens are excellent composters

Putting it bluntly: urban gardeners are silly for not also having urban chickens.

It turns out nitrogen-rich chicken poop isn't the only way that urban chickens rock the compost pile.

According to an (otherwise mediocre) article in the Columbia Missorian:
A study found that a hen can consume about 7 pounds of food scraps a month, or about 84 pounds a year.

"If a city had 2,000 households with three hens or more each, that translates to 252 tons of biomass that's diverted from landfills," [Andy "the Chicken Whisperer"] Schneider said. "They are really good compost-ers."
I'm surprised more cities and towns aren't taking this into consideration when debating whether to legalize urban chickens.

Think of the cost-savings in reduced traffic to and from (and within) the local landfill if more folks had their own backyard egg-producing, insect-eating, weed-eating scrap composters!

I know our girls loved grapes and blueberries and lightly wilted greens as treats. What have you been surprised to find your urban chickens will eat?

Photo credit: Watt Dabney on Flickr

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Do urban chickens attract urban rats?

Ewww, what's up with all these @#$! rats?

The sudden arrival of rodents in the neighborhood is an issue no one particularly likes. And when they do arrive (or simply come out of hiding), folks are quick to try and find someone or something to blame.

Enter urban chickens to take the blame.

I fear some urban chicken proponents might be too quick to state that urban chickens are NOT the reason rats show up in a neighborhood.

Let's look at the rat facts as related by Judy Haley in her article, "Urban chickens bring urban rats":
  1. rats flock to food sources; 
  2. they remain close to the food source and breed; 
  3. rats are attracted to bird seed and chicken feed; 
  4. if rats were already present, they multiply once a new food source is introduced; and 
  5. areas of clutter also provide nesting spots for rats.
I won't argue with any of the above facts (I had a pet rat in college and can see each of these as true). Moreover, I can see where irresponsible storage of food or upkeep of one's yard could contribute to many of the attractions for rats.

However, to link the appearance of urban rats solely on the keeping of chickens in an urban setting seems to be using a bit too broad a brush to paint the blame. There are many food sources, not the least of which is improper keeping of trash in between pickups, leaving kibble in a bowl for "outdoor cats" or yard-kept dogs, seeds and pellets in a bird feeder, etc.

Responsible urban chicken farmers know to keep a clean coop, to only put as much feed as necessary out for the chooks while storing the rest in an air- and water-tight container, and disposing of any coop clutter (poop, nesting material, etc) quickly and thoroughly.

So, yes, the opportunity is there for irresponsible urban chicken keeping to attract rats, but common sense (which unfortunately seems in short supply in some places) should help keep rats from becoming a problem.

Have you noticed rats around your hen house? How have you taken care of the problem?

UPDATE (2/22): Following a discussion on rats on a listserv, I found this great resource from UC IPM on how to "manage" rats: Rat Management Guidelines.

Photo Credit: Matthieu A. on Flickr

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Urban Chickens help teach children about food

I'm a huge fan of Jamie Oliver, naked chef and -- more recently -- food activist.

Just a year after I became an urban chicken farmer, I started seeing Oliver's work in England on behalf of chicken welfare. He's been credited with convincing some of the larger grocers in the UK to stop purchasing battery hens -- those chickens raised in horrid cramped conditions for the 39 days it takes to get from chick to plucked carcass in the local meat section.

Now, Oliver is setting his sights on the obesity epidemic caused by the crap food the majority of us eat day in and day out. I'm thrilled to see he received a TED prize this past week. You can watch the video here: Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food. It's about 21 minutes long, but it's worth every moment.

There's a jaw-dropping section at about the 11:00 mark (captured above) where Oliver is in a classroom with kids, holding up vegetables and quizzing the kids what they are. They can't identify them. They simply don't know what fresh vegetables look like. It's insane.

One of the things I love about raising urban chickens is that it teaches kids, in such a remarkably visceral way, where their food comes from.

Yummy eggs come from happy chickens. And happy chickens are loved and cared for daily. And that's why they, the kids, should be taking good care of their chickens. It just makes perfect sense to them when they see it. I'd dare say it'd make perfect sense to anyone when they see it.

Which is why we need to find more ways to get people to know where their food comes from.

Go, watch the video now. As a Valentine's day gift to the ones you love, watch it and learn and then do something to help teach kids about food.

May you be flooded in eggs this year.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Urban Chickens Strengthen a Community (video)

(note: updated the embedded video to point to vimeo version on 3/3/10)

Lisa Schneider's created a nice mini-documentary showing just what happens to her El Cerrito neighborhood with the introduction of backyard chickens.

Are we bowling alone? Think again! Schneider shows how the act of owning urban chickens helps weave connections within and across a neighborhood. She shows that they're not just one person's chickens, they're the community's chickens.

Chickens Create Community on Elm Street from Linda Schneider on Vimeo.

In interview after interview you can see a social community has been created resulting in greater emotional and social support for everyone involved.

I found I could recognize many of the same reactions that Schneider's neighbors had mirrored those of my own neighbors. Have you seen the same thing happen when people discover you own urban chickens?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Georgia to Legalize Urban Chickens at State Level?

If you've taken a look at the nascent Urban Chickens Network Legal Resource Center, you know that trying to keep track of the seemingly endless variations of ordinances regarding keeping chickens in the backyard is a difficult task, at best.

It seems every town and city has to have its own version of the law allowing urban chickens (if, indeed, they are allowed), and depending on just where you're geographically located, you may not enjoy the same chicken-owning rights as your next door neighbor.

Thanks to frequent reader Linda S, I've been alerted to an interesting approach being proposed in the state of Georgia. The Georgia General Assembly is considering a statewide law governing the growing of crops and keeping of small animals in HB 842 - Agriculture; preempt certain local ordinances; protect right to grow food crops; provisions.

The First Reader Summary says
A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Chapter 1 of Title 2 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions relative to agriculture, so as to preempt certain local ordinances relating to production of agricultural or farm products; to protect the right to grow food crops and raise small animals on private property so long as such crops and animals are used for human consumption by the occupants, gardeners, or raisers and their households and not for commercial purposes; to define a term; to provide for effect on certain private agreements and causes of action; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
Now, whether or not the bill passes, I like this approach: deal with matters on a state level so that the constituents don't have to scratch their heads wondering whether something legal or illegal based on the whims of the local government.

It'd sure go a long way toward simplifying the process of knowing where your food comes from.

Does anyone know of another state that is considering (or has even passed) such a law?

Oh, and have you yet added your own town's urban chicken ordinance to the Urban Chickens Network Legal Resource Center? We're at 36 cities and growing!

Photo credit: atlexplorer on Flickr

Friday, February 5, 2010

Urban Chickens on the Martha Stewart Show? Be There!

Got an email this morning from Anne who works in the audience department at the Martha Stewart Show in NYC.  They're taping a show on urban farming in March 2010 and are looking for urban chicken farmers (among others) to be in the audience.

If you're interested in being there, you have to request tickets and help them understand why you should be in the audience. The details are in Anne's email:
If you or someone you know have recently turned your backyard space into a chicken coop or turkey pen, we have a special show that's just for you! We're filling our studio audience with individuals who raise livestock in urban environments as we celebrate the backyard farming movement. If you're interested in attending this show, please be sure to tell us about yourself and your backyard farm, as well as why you'd like to be part of this special audience. Please feel free to spread the word and request tickets as soon as you can if you're interested! 
The link to request tickets is; scroll down to ‘calling all urban farmers.' 

I hope to see you there next month (if they approve my request to attend, that is... fingers crossed!)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

benefits checklist for urban chickens

It's one thing to own urban chickens and live day-to-day with the benefits of raising your own backyard hens. It's quite another to be able to clearly talk about these same benefits so others can understand just why you keep your chooks around.

Lucky for us, the fine folks running the Windsor Eats blog have shared a list of benefits that urban chickens bring to a community by way of documenting the efforts of Steve Green of Windsor Essex Community Supported Agriculture to legalize chickens in Windsor, Ontario (just across the bridge from Detroit, Michigan).
Some of the key benefits to our community:
  • Chickens can provide healthy, pesticide free eggs
  • Reduction of weekly food bills
  • Reduction of green house gases through reduction in food transport costs
  • Chickens consume kitchen waste, reducing municipal waste problems
  • Chickens produce great compost for the garden
  • Chickens are a great way to teach kids about food sources, hands-on
  • Chickens make great pets, for big kids and little kids alike
  • The path to global environmental sustainability begins with local initiatives and urban chickens are one of those initiatives
  • Chickens kept in back yards are generally living in much more humane conditions than their battery cage industrial chicken counterparts
This list is a great start... are there any others you'd add to the list?

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