Hen party: U.S. cities allow residents to raise chickens

July 20, 2018

Talk about “urban chic.” Or should we say “urban chick”? Cities from Ann Arbor, Michigan to Ft. Collins, Colorado, are voting to allow residents to raise backyard poultry, according to a July 19 report by Worldwatch Institute.

It’s a serious issue – it’s no yolk,” Mayor Dave Cieslewicz of Madison, Wisconsin commented when his city reversed its poultry ban in 2004. “Chickens are really bringing us together as a community. For too long, they’ve been cooped up.”

Raising backyard chickens is an extension of an urban farming movement that has gained popularity nationwide. “Fresh is not what you buy at the grocery store. Fresh is when you go into your backyard, put it in your bag, and eat it,” said Carol-Ann Sayle, co-owner of a five-acre farm in Austin, Texas. “Everyone should have their own henhouse in their own backyard.”

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, raising chickens has been legal since August 30, 2010. Since then Cedar Rapids’ urban chicken ordinance has been used as a model for other municipalities nationwide. The ordinance—which Rebecca Mumaw of the advocacy organization, Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chickens (or CLUC) helped to draft, provides the following guidelines:

  • Residents are allowed to keep up to six hens (no roosters) on single family dwelling properties;
  • Permits are required for an annual fee of $25;
  • Applicants for permits are required to notify their neighbors of their intent to obtain a permit and to complete an approved two-hour class on raising chickens in an urban setting (cost $10-$12);
  • Chickens must be kept in an enclosed or fenced area and secured from predators at night;
  • Henhouses must provide at least four square feet of space per bird and meet certain design requirements;
  • Chicken enclosures must be kept in the backyard—located at least 10 feet from the property line and 25 feet from neighboring homes;
  • Chickens must be provided with adequate food and water—and kept in a manner to minimize noise, odor, and attraction of pests and predators; and
  • Slaughtering of chickens is not allowed.

Indeed, Mumaw told the local newspaper, the Dispatch Argus, “Raising a limited number of egg-laying hens will allow residents to raise their own food, just as they do in vegetable gardens now.”

“Buying local” also provides an alternative to factory farms that pollute local ecosystems with significant amounts of animal waste – which can at times exceed the waste from a small U.S. city, a government report revealed last month. In the United States alone, industrial livestock production generates 500 million tons of manure every year. The waste also emits potent greenhouse gases—especially methane, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, advocates insist that birds raised on a small scale are less likely to carry diseases than factory-farmed poultry, although some public health officials are concerned that backyard chickens could elevate avian flu risks.

The USDA is not yet providing specific figures on the number of chickens being raised in urban environments.

Research contact: worldwatch@worldwatch.org

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