Urban Farmers Have More to Crow About as Chickens Join the Backyard Farm
By VICTORIA HEUER
Will chickens soon take top billing as “man's best friend?” Probably not any time soon, but they are growing in popularity, as more urban residents take up the traditionally rural task of raising chickens at home.
And not all would-be chicken farmers are in it for the meat. Some think of their feathery wards as pets, cuddling with them and giving them names. Of course, no one is turning down the ultimate food product that chickens produce: eggs. For most people, eggs are the biggest benefit and the primary reason for keeping hens. Fresh egg connoisseurs report that freshly laid eggs taste completely different from those bought in a store, and the benefit of knowing that their chickens are healthy outweighs the trouble of caring for them.
While some say the rise in “backyard farming” is the result of a weak economy, others believe that it is a backlash against a system of business practices that create sick and weakened chickens that do not produce healthy eggs.
The Daily Mirror reported this week that as more urban residents in the UK have shown interest in raising their own chickens, the nation's largest pet retailer, Pets At Home, has begun stocking live chickens along with all of the necessary products for raising them.
In the United States, pressure from urban residents has resulted in livestock rules being loosened in urban areas. In Washington, D.C., Councilman Tommy Wells has introduced legislation to allow residents of his ward to keep chickens, with the caveat that 80 percent of the resident's neighbors agree to having chickens in the neighborhood. This same ordinance is in place in Minneapolis, MN.
Some major U.S. cities that allow residents to raise hens are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston. Rules governing the keeping of chickens often limit the number of chickens that can be kept, whether they are kept strictly for egg production or for meat as well, and the space that is allowable between chickens and neighboring residences. Most also ban the keeping of roosters in urban dwellings, presumably because of the frequent crowing, which many neighbors would find disruptive.
Whether “backyard farming” is a fad for the times, or a trend that will continue to gain in popularity, it is an indication that more people are yearning to have more control of their food sources, and are willing to make the changes and do the work to get it.
If you are interested in learning more about raising chickens in your backyard, you might begin by checking your city's local agriculture laws. Mother Earth News has a handy guide to get you started. Two websites that are dedicated to raising chickens in the urban landscape, the Urban Chicken and Backyard Chickens, were created and are administrated by urban chicken keepers. The members of these sites may be able to help you with information on acquiring, feeding, housing and caring for your backyard chicken.