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Updated: Thursday 31 December 2015
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I've blogged about the urban
chicken goings-on in Mankato, Minnesota before because it's such a
rich source of perplexity regarding the
evolution of anti-chicken laws, the
hysterical anti-chicken sentiment and the
schizophrenic actions of the City Council. The Council rejected
an ordinance last year that would allow urban chickens to return to
the city for the first time since 1949.
Lucky for wannabe urban chicken keepers, the Mankato City Council has decided to give the chicken issue another look in 2010! Good, right? Read on...
Unluckily for wannabe urban chicken keepers, the council is referring to a staff report that contains more hysterical fiction than fact. From Dan Linehan's article in the Free Press:
A staff report on this issue brings up some predictable negatives like smell, proper care and protection from predators.
It also says between 20 percent to 50 percent of chicks sold as hens turn out to be roosters.
?These unwanted roosters are often given to animal shelters, released into the streets, and, in a growing number of cases, sold for cockfighting,? the report says.
Companies that sell chicks typically ground up the newborn roosters for feed or fertilizer, according to the report. Wait a minute! We've seen these scary (and still unsubstantiated) facts before somewhere, haven't we?
Oh yeah, it's the same crap that Animal Sanctuary Coalition who blasted their outlandish Position Statement on Backyard Chickens last December. And it would appear this coalition has managed to brainwash the Mankato staff with a single sensational press release. It smacks of laziness on the city staff's part that they'd take the claims lock, stock and barrel. Yet, the council is able to say (with a straight face) it's "open to revisiting the issue" even though they'd get better inputs from perusing the menu at the local KFC. (or Church's or Popeye's or whatever fries up the chicken parts near you).
I'd love to get my hands on this staff report to see exactly what it claims. But I don't hold out much hope that the Mankato City Council changes their mind if what's described by Linehan in his article is indicative of the kind of preparation they're doing.
Such a shame.
If you could write a press release to help the folks at the pro-chicken Mankato HENS (Hens Enriching Nutrition and Sustainability) what kind of material would you include to counteract the sanctuary coalition's claims?
Photo credit: A.Myers on Flickr
I had the pleasure of talking all things urban chickens with a
group of people who were participating in the 24th Annual Secret Gardens
of the East Bay tour over in Oakland yesterday. It was a
delightfully beautiful Spring day outside (sunny, mid-70s) and I
was impressed that the group of about 30 or so people actually
chose to cram into a small classroom to listen to me and ask good
I promised I'd provide them links here on the blog to the urban chicken resources I listed in my blog, so without further ado, a shout out to the following people/places to get your urban chicken on:
The most often-asked question
I hear from reporters or other curious folks is "how expensive is
it to raise urban chickens?" My answer is always the same: it all
depends on how much you want to spend on your coop.
The hens themselves are cheap, their food is cheap, straw/woodchips/water is cheap. The coop is ususally, decidedly not cheap.
And why is that? As long as our chickens have a dry, draft-free, safe place to sleep and a box to lay their eggs in (more for our convenience than theirs), they're fine.
We humans are the ones who insist on aesthetics. And the cost curve for aesthetics is steep as soon as you move away from the "homely, but it'll do" point and toward the "I'd be proud to show this off on a coop tour" end of the spectrum. So why bother?
The clue to this answer comes courtesy a blog post by Seth Godin (author of Linchpin, Tribes and the Dip, among others) where he revisits the notion of conspicuous consumption:
The reason you have a front lawn? It's a tradition. Lawns were invented as a way for the landed gentry to demonstrate that they could afford to waste land. By taking the land away from the grazing sheep, they were sending a message to their neighbors. We're rich, we can happily waste the opportunity to make a few bucks from our front lawn. Which got me thinking about all the money I've spent over the years on landscaping for our homes as we've moved from one place to the next. I bought into the "tradition" each and every time by spending thousands to get a nice lawn and stately trees and perfect shrubbery.
Heck, when we first got into urban chickens, we bought an Eglu, which was definitely not the cheapest coop on the market (but I'd argue has been a great investment in terms of ease-of-cleaning).
But now that we have our chickens... I find I'm seeing the backyard lawn as the more wasteful use of money (ongoing thanks to watering, mowing, feeding, etc). And maybe that's the right way to be looking at things again.
How has owning chickens gotten you to re-evaluate your landscaping?
Photo credit: thomaspix on Fickr
At last! This Friday, April 2,
urban chickens get their moment in the spotlight on the Martha
Stewart Show (check local
While it seems the actual raising of chickens is only part of the territory the show covers (in addition to egg decorating and the requisite cooking of eggs), the chickens are the most important part, right?
Here's the official description of the chicken show (taped just yesterday!) from her site:
Discover how easy and rewarding it can be to raise chickens in your own backyard with a guide to getting started from "My Pet Chicken" owner Traci Torres. Then, decorate farm-fresh eggs for Easter with children's book author and chicken owner Jan Brett, and make a mini egg and sourdough bread dish with Tini executive chef Darius Salko. From the looks of it, our urban chicken interests will be well-represented by Traci of MyPetChicken.com (the sponsor of this blog).
I wanted very much to be at the taping myself, but what with jury duty Monday and helping a client launch their new web site today, I just couldn't make it east to be in the audience. Lucky for me, I've got a DVR so I can watch this show over and over again!
Photo credit goes to Ori on Flickr
Spend two minutes talking to
any urban chicken farmer, and you'll hear the tone of voice and see
that sparkle in the eyes indicative of the special bond between any
human and the animal they care for. (Well, except for those
cold-hearted lizards, but that's another post entirely!)
Lee Zasloff, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology at American River College in Sacramento, has a professional interest in human relationships with animals of all kinds, and she's very interested in learning about the experiences of people and their chickens.
Zasloff is conducting a survey of chicken owners to promote greater understanding of the human-chicken relationship, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for you, dear reader, to help out!
To take her survey, please visit http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/chickens. (I took the survey this morning and it took me about six minutes to finish it).
Zasloff will be presenting the information she collects from the survey at the Veterinary Social Work Summit at the University of Tennessee this coming May.
She'd also like it if folks would send her photos with their favorite chicken (or with any chicken) and some stories about their chickens. You can send these direct to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for helping out!
Photo credit: mypetchicken.com
If you are one of the unfortunate many who can't keep chickens on
your own either because they are illegal or you don't have room or
you simply don't have the time, there's still a way for you to get
your urban chicken on!
Enter The Hen Cam, an ingenious little website maintained by writer Terry Golson.
In addition to Golson's well-written HenBlog, the site provides us a view into life with chickens and goats on Little Pond Farm (which is actually just her backyard in a town west of Boston, Massachusetts).
She's got several cameras set up throughout her backyard taking pictures every 5 seconds and streaming them onto the web, allowing viewers to see snapshots from multiple viewpoints within the chicken's coop and run.
And if, like me, you wonder how the whole thing works, there's a detailed page on how the camera setup is configured so you can get your geek on.
If you look long enough (warning: it's mesmerizing), you can see all her birds: the Polish Cresteds, the Wyandotte, the Sussex, the Barred Rock (see her full list of animals here).
What I love about the HenCam is its aquarium-like quality: you get to see chickens being very chicken-like without going outdoors or influencing their behavior by standing outside their run or having to scrape your feet!
If you find yourself spending too much watching the Hen Cam, maybe it's a sign you need to get urban chickens of your own.
An article appeared over on
the GOOD blog this week
backyard bunnies to be the next urban chickens, and it seems
this proclamation has some resonance amongst the sustainability
crowd, as it was tweeted
quite a bit over the last few days.
Let me set this straight. Backyard Bunnies are NOT the next Urban Chickens for one simple reason: you don't kill your chicken at harvest time.
Urban chickens will provide a regular supply of protein-packed eggs for at least three years (sometimes much longer) and there's no blood on your hands. Raising chickens means entering a nurturing relationship with an animal that rewards you sustainably and over time.
Bunnies, on the other hand, only give up their protein once: and that's after the slaughter. And I'm not so sure mainstream America are ready to have a bunch of slaughter operations going on in the suburbs. (Heck, they're having a hard enough time with the chicken poop).
Sure, there are many reasons why rabbits are, indeed a good source of meat, as the GOOD article details, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
If you want to know how difficult it is to kill a bunny, I recommend reading Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter as she goes into great detail what it's like to move from raising fowl for eggs to fowl for slaughter to bunnies for meat.
Of course, many of you may already be thinking about raising your chooks for eggs and meat and so the whole slaughter bit doesn't really bother you. I, on the other hand, see urban chickens as bug- and weed-eating sources of chicken manure and eggs. The thought of raising chickens for meat is beyond me, and I prefer to stay one step removed from that process for a good while now.
What about you? Are you keeping your chickens for eggs or for meat or for both? How did you come to that decision?
Photo credit: Justin and Elise on Flickr
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!"
It's time to share yet another
beautiful essay crafted from spending time with a flock of
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.
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
Ewww, what's up with all these
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 ChronicleHerald.ca article, "Urban chickens bring urban rats":
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.
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.
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?
If you've taken a look at the
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
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
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 www.marthastewart.com/get-tickets; 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!)
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
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:
Urban chickens love their greens, sometimes (often?) to the
detriment of existing landscaping. Hens don't much care how much a
plant costs you to replace, they just care if it's yummy or
Yes, there's been many an urban chicken farmer who, with best intentions, has moved their run on top of the grass for a day or so only to come back to find a patch of dirt under some rather content hens. So, how to provide your girls with greens, especially when it's still cold and snowy out still (in most of the country, at least)?
Mary D was kind enough to send me an email sharing her instructions for providing fresh greens to your urban hens.
I get unhulled seed, (whatever is available) at our local Co op, and rotate four trays of seed growing continuously. When I start seed, I lay it down thick on potting soil, cover with a piece of newspaper, keep the newspaper moist, and keep covered with a plastic wrap, until seed really gets sprouting.
I do all of this on a grow rack in our house throughout the winter and each day our hens get a 1/2 flat of fresh grass.
This is wheat berry growing in the above pictures, but I experiment with any grain I can find. They love it! As soon as one tray is empty I start another. From seed to "chicken ready" is usually 7 days. 4-6 trays keep you in grasses for 8 hens.Bonus: you can find all kinds of quantities of grass seed ready to be shipped from Amazon.
Thanks for the tip, Mary. I know you're making a lot of snow-bound urban chickens very happy!
What do you do to keep your urban chickens getting their greens during the long winter months?
Got a nice note from Liza de
Guia about a video posted to Food Curated about
Brooklyn's Backyard Chicken Keepers. The high quality video and
the enthusiasm of Megan and Katrina (the owners) make the video
worth the 3 minutes to see the whole thing.
Brooklyn's Backyard Chicken Keepers *food curated* from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.
It's especially great that they got their four day-old chicks from MyPetChicken.com and you can see in the blog post update that Megan and Katrina got their very first eggs over the holidays (after the video had been shot). Reminds me of when my CBC Radio interview happened just prior to our first eggs and then the day after broadcast, the girls decided it was time.
At last, there's some interesting economic data about urban chickens in an article by Brendan Murray over on BusinessWeek.com.
Brendan had interviewed me about urban chickens earlier this month, and when he asked how big the urban chickens movement is, I gave the answer I give all reporters: I'm not sure, but there's got to be sales data for feed and chicks and whatnot available to show this urban chicken movement is real.
And when his article about the fight to legalize urban chickens in Washington, DC, posted online, I was thrilled to see he'd actually done some investigating on the economics.