Poultry Politics

Backyard chicken movement sweeps nation

By Steve Rhodes
|  Wednesday, Nov 19, 2008  |  Updated 2:53 PM CDT
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Poultry Politics

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Starbucks is out, backyard chickens are in.

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A year ago, the Chicago City Council contemplated banning backyard chicken coops.

“For that small, but apparently growing segment of Chicago homeowners who raise chickens in the back yard, the news Tuesday decidedly was not good: your goose is just about cooked,” the Tribune reported at the time.

“The City Council’s Health Committee advanced a proposal to outlaw the keeping of hens and roosters in residential areas, and the measure is expected to become law at next month’s council meeting.

“Ald. Lona Lane (18th), lead sponsor of the proposed prohibition, said she knows of three recent cases of chicken-keeping in her Southwest Side ward, none of them pleasant.

“People ‘are leaving them in their back yards and feeding them in the backyards,’ Lane said. ‘The stench and the smell from their feathers and thei rbodies - and they are not clean . . . Their debris and their waste are creating more rodents than there already are in neighborhoods’.”

Little did Lane know - though she was forced to back down - that she was on the wrong side of history.

“Although there are no firm statistics on the number of city chickens, they're becoming so popular that Backyard Poultry magazine was relaunched a couple of years ago after halting publication in the 1980s," AP reported then.

And that was before the economy came crashing down. Now, a year later, raising your own chickens in your backyard is the trend du jour.

Newsweek, reporting in its new issue on “The Craze for Urban Chicken Farming,” finds that the backyard chicken lobby has overturned bans like the one Lane wanted in cities across America, including Missoula, Mont.; South Portland, Maine;  Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Ft. Collins, Colo.

“In New York, where chickens (but not roosters, whose loud crowing can disturb neighbors) are allowed in limitless quantities, there are at least 30 community gardens raising them for eggs, and a City Chicken Project run by a local nonprofit that aims to educate the community about their benefits,” the magazine says.

And Chicago Public Radio is revisiting the Chicago chicken fight this week with a report called “Second Chance for Chicago Chickens,” in which “Shawn Allee tells how some of Chicago’s urban chicken-keepers were almost caught off guard, and how they plan to keep their chickens from being forced to flee the coop.”

Given we are entering what experts are calling the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, maybe it’s time for Mayor Richard M. Daley – and his friend in the White House – to take up the cause and coin a new recovery slogan: a chicken in every backyard.

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