Report: Illicit urban chicken movement growing in US
The Worldwatch Institute reports that a growing number of US city-dwellers are raising their own chickens, often in defiance of local ordinances.
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Citing unsanctioned henhouses in Denver, Boston, and other cities, Worldwatch's Ben Block notes that an "underground 'urban chicken' movement has swept across the United States in recent years," flouting authorities' concerns about noise, odors, and public health.
But in some cities, such as Ann Arbor, Mich., Ft. Collins, Colo., South Portland, Maine, and Madison, Wisc., owners of these clandestine coops have successfully changed the laws to allow them to keep a limited number of hens. (Roosters, whose characteristic crowing can disturb neighbors, are usually more restricted, but they're not needed for hens to lay unfertilized eggs.)
Many large US cities, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and Seattle apparently never thought to ban the domesticated fowl within city limits. These cities have served as an incubator of sorts for the emerging movement, in which urban henkeepers post online tips on building coops, caring for the birds, and fending off raccoons and other predators.
Laws vary from city to city. The City Chicken, a popular urban chicken website, maintains a list of local laws, but it is far from comprehensive. Municode.com also keeps a list of ordinances for selected cities. In many cities, would-be chicken owners need to obtain a permit from local health or animal-welfare authorities.
The benefits of keeping hens are myriad, say proponents. According to the website BackyardChickens, considered authoritative in the online urban-chicken-enthusiast pecking order, three hens will net you, on average, two eggs a day. And the eggs are said to be tastier and more nutritious than the ones you can get at a supermarket. Hens also perform some gardening work by eating weeds and pests and depositing a high-quality fertilizer. Many also claim that the birds make great pets, but this is debatable.
Urban chicken buffs also claim that, once you're all set up, the birds are relatively low-maintenance. The UK-based company Omlet sells popular ready-made coops starting at about $500. Their "Eglu," which looks like a late-90s Macintosh computer, comes with a chicken run and a feeder. Chickens can be purchased separately from the company for $15 each.