Backyard Chickens Are on the Rise

Heroes, Local Heroes, Quick & Easy, Recipes
on April 30, 2010
Robin Mather

Laura Burton knows all about city chickens. She brought home three one-day-old Rhode Island Red chicks from the farmers’ market last July, after the seller convinced her to take three in case one died.

She only wanted two, she says, because “I don’t eat that many eggs.” Thanks to her good poultry skills, all of her chicks prospered, but two turned out to be roosters. Burton, an administrative assistant who’s studying for her master’s degree in library science, picked up two fully grown chickens to replace the roosters and to keep her lone hen company.

When she found that the newcomers weren’t as friendly as she wished, she bought another batch of four chicks to replace the two mean ones. “The people at the farmers’ market warned me that chickens are addictive. I scoffed at them, but look at me now: I have seven chickens!” she says.

Burton is not alone. All over the country, people are taking advantage of changes in ordinances that allow poultry in suburban and urban backyards. It’s legal for Burton to have four hens in Charlotte, N.C. (she plans to sell three, so she’s not breaking the law). Many cities and suburbs permit laying hens, but few allow roosters; their crowing can be seen—or heard—as a nuisance to neighbors. Most ordinances also regulate how far coops must be from other dwellings and various other health and safety issues.

Why the newfound interest in chickens? Some, like Burton, want to raise their own birds for the excellent eggs. Tough economic times may have prompted some people to begin. Others just like chickens. But all are part of a new urban renaissance in poultry husbandry.

Burton says she’s had no problems with her neighbors. “The girls are amazingly quiet and stink-free,” she says. “I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t know there were chickens in my backyard unless I told you.”

Burton absolutely adores watching her “girls” peck around in the yard while she’s working in the kitchen. “And nothing beats having a pile of baby chicks crawl up onto your lap to take a nap.” If you’d like to keep a few chickens in your yard, the first step is to consult your city or county attorney’s office about applicable laws in your area. Day-old chicks are sold in the spring and early summer at farm and garden centers, and you may see them at farmers’ markets. Sometimes you’ll find chicks advertised in the farm and garden section of craigslist, the online classifieds. The chicks must be kept under a heat lamp until they shed their fuzz and gain their first full feathers. Websites like The City Chicken, The Coop and Back Yard Chickens offer beginners lots of advice and support in their electronic forums.

Don’t have chickens but want fresh eggs? Visit your local farmers’ market. Fresh eggs really shine in these recipes.

By Robin Mather, a food writer in Delton., Mich. Recipes by Jennifer Perillo, a food writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.