Are Chickens Coming to a Backyard Near You?

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I can see a new industry now..."Chicken Walkers"

It’s one thing for people to plant victory gardens in their urban backyards; after all, growing your own fruits and vegetables makes sense, even if there is only room for a couple of  tomato plants. But have you heard about the latest trend sweeping the nation?  Urban locales are now trying to figure out how to deal with the growing number of homeowners (and renters) that want to raise chickens

Yes, you read that right. Chickens. You know, those clumsy, sometimes-dumb birds that waddle, cluck and lay eggs.  Or crow. Loudly.  At dawn.  Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Chickens are not just for the farm anymore.  There’s a bona fide movement making its way across the country, as people join the urban chicken movement.  Some may think this is some harebrain joke manufactured by the Frank Perdue dynasty of chicken farmers, or the national media on a slow news day.  But the chicken movement has been around for several years and is getting stronger.  Just ask the publishers of Backyard Poultry Magazine, which now has 100,000 subscribers, after only three years in publication.

The reasons for raising chickens are very simple.  It’s a way to save money on grocery bills, it allows families to take control of their food supply by practicing “eating local,” it encourages sustainability and reduces the carbon footprint of industrial agriculture. Plus the eggs, which are an excellent source of protein, will be fresh, flavorful and plentiful, depending on how many hens are in your harem.

A side benefit is that chickens can be entertaining pets.  They require less care than a dog.  Plus their excrement is one of the best fertilizers you can find for your vegetable garden.

Major Cities Allow Chickens as Pets

Urban areas currently allowing chickens as pets include New York, Chicago, Albuquerque, Baltimore, Portland, Phoenix and Seattle, among others. Philadelphia is in the process of debating the issue, as are dozens of towns and cities across the country. Washington, D.C. currently does not permit housing chickens, but that hasn’t stopped families from constructing makeshift henhouses in their tiny backyards.  However, if the Obama family wants to extend their kitchen garden and include egg-laying hens, then the D.C. City Council may need to pass some quick legislation. As of today, we don’t know how President Obama feels about the fowl.

Is it really worth keeping a few chickens for their eggs?  Judge for yourself.  A Philadelphia resident named “Zoe” has four (currently illegal) chickens in her backyard.  It costs her about $1.50 a week for their feed.  In return, she gets two to four fresh eggs a day.  “They’re really good,” she said on a recent public radio interview. “They just taste eggier.”

The major complaints against the chickens are from neighbors who don’t want to be awakened at all hours of the night by clucking and crowing.  In addition to noise, there are also concerns about sanitation and excrement. Crowing shouldn’t be a concern, however.  Most ordinances allow hens, but prohibit roosters. (And for informational purposes, roosters are not needed for hens to lay eggs.)  Sorry guys.

According to those with experience raising hens, the egg-laying capability of chickens is strong for the first year or two and then begins to decline.  What hasn’t been addressed is what will happen to the birds after they outlive their usefulness and are no longer producing eggs.  Will the urban farmers consider slaughtering the chickens for their barbecue and Brunswick stew, and bring the issue of sustainability full circle?

Links of Interest

CNN Video on Backyard Chickens

How-to Guide for Raising Urban Chickens

Urban Chicken Blog

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