Saturday, June 20, 2009

City dwellers and their chicken coops

From the Los Angeles Times:
Reporting from Madison, Wis. -- Jen Lynch and her family live in the heart of the city but roll out of bed to the sound of clucking chickens.

Their day starts with cleaning coops, scooping out feed and hunting for eggs for morning omelets. Eight families in a three-block radius and an estimated 150 families citywide do the same.

"It's our slice of rural life, minus the barns," said Jen Lynch, 35, as Flicka the chicken pecked at her backyard lawn.

As the recession drags on, city dwellers and suburbanites alike are transforming their backyards into poultry farms. Victory gardens, proponents say, are not enough. Chickens are the next step.

"People are turning to things that remind them of simpler times," said Ron Kean, a poultry specialist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "If you're smart, you can save money doing this."

Growing interest in backyard chickens has fans rallying for change in dozens of cities, although the movement leaves some people squawking.

"I moved to the city for a reason," said Evan Feinberg, 41, a technology consultant in Madison who said he grew up on a Midwest farm. "I never wanted to see another chicken, unless it's wrapped in plastic."

Still, the idea of urban chickens is picking up steam. In Traverse City, Mich., officials are weighing the issue. In Iowa City, Iowa, chicken lovers have collected 600 signatures urging local officials to permit backyard chickens.

Poultry fans in Madison persuaded the city's common council to reverse a ban on backyard hens about five years ago. The ordinance -- similar to regulations in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore -- allows up to four chickens per property. The animals are to be raised for eggs, and must be housed in a coop that is far separated from neighboring homes. (Roosters are typically banned in cities because of crowing.)

The Lynches assembled their wire-and-wood coop, about the size of a big doghouse, with $40 worth of building supplies and wood salvaged from neighbors. Flicka and her sister, Lucy, were adopted from friends.

In exchange, their hens give them 14 eggs a week, a bug-free backyard and manure for compost bins.

"And they're cute," said Evie Lynch, 9, who takes the russet-hued Flicka for a walk each night before bedtime. "They like to snuggle in my arms."

Chick hatcheries say they can't keep up with urban orders. Murray McMurray Hatchery, the world's largest supplier of rare-breed chicks, has sold out of its "Meat and Egg Combo" collection of meat birds and laying hens. Customers hungry for a standard hen must wait: There's a six-week backlog on orders. ...

Read the rest here. As the economy worsens, expect more city and suburban dwellers looking to save money and/or become more self-sufficient on food to consider vegetable gardens and raising a few chickens.

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