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Backyard Chicken Revolution

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

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GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.When keeping a backyard chicken flock makes the news in publications like the New York Times, you know a fowl movement is afoot. When cities that promote sustainability such as Madison, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, include raising pet chickens for eggs and pleasure as part of the process, you know the birds have moved beyond fad status. But when organizations like Chickens In The Yard , individuals like Andy Schneider, aka the Chicken Whisperer , and magazines like GRIT and Mother Earth News take up the feathered cause and facilitate folks by the hundreds of thousands, you know there’s a real revolution under way. I am proud to be part of it.

As an adult, I’ve been without my own flock only during brief bouts of city living – in the early 1980s, I inquired about the legality of keeping a few hens within the city limits of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The answer I received was murky enough and my way-too-near neighbors were just nosey enough that I decided not to take the chance of getting an uninvited visit from animal control. Once I got back to the farm I made up for it by raising chickens by the thousands – not to mention turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl. I’ve scaled back a bit these days, but we still raise chickens and turkeys and try to keep guineas at my Osage County, Kansas farm.

The Chicken Revolution DVD

If you find yourself in the situation I was in back in the 1980s, don’t despair, you may not have to move or break the law to keep a couple of hens. According to Barbara Palermo, founder of Chickens In The Yard, changing your municipal code isn’t always impossible. Barbara believes so strongly in your right to raise backyard poultry that she produced a documentary, The Chicken Revolution that chronicles the entire process, using the Salem, Oregon city council as a case study.

I watched the DVD with eager anticipation and wound up on the edge of my seat wondering whether the city council members would ever be able to take a stand – and come to the only logical conclusion. I mean, if you can keep a 100 pound pot-bellied pig in your Salem yard, why not three hens? The topic turned out to be so controversial that some council members changed their positions no fewer than three times –an avid supporter was later turned against the chicken advocates because her husband made some offhand crack about avian influenza!  I’m not going to tell you how this saga turned out, but I will tell you that Barbara’s organization has helped chicken enthusiasts in several municipalities obtain the legal right to fund their own flocks. To learn more about legalizing backyard chickens, get your copy of the Chicken Revolution DVD here.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

3/1/2010 4:49:50 PM

Palermo's hero is Che? a marxist, radical, murderer...why would anybody support this. There are laws that allow chickens in specific areas in Salem and that is where she needs to move. Her Neighbors have rights by paying taxes NOT to live next to chickens. Barbara is out of line forcing her progressive agenda on the rest of her neighbors who have lived in her neighborhood longer than she has...if she doesn't like the city laws she needs to move...she should have chickens but not at the expense of her neighbors, how arrogant..

hank will_2
2/4/2010 8:23:17 AM

Hey Donna -- I feel for you. Good luck. Hank

2/3/2010 8:23:04 PM

I am a Salem, OR resident and am thoroughly disappointed at our city council in regards to the backyard chickens issue. If any of the present council members read this, please note: I WILL remember when it comes time to vote again.

oz girl
1/29/2010 3:31:26 PM

Hank ~ Thanks for the info. Our nearest neighbor is a mile away! Our chocolate lab WAS the ranch dog and he did keep coyotes away from here, but I have spoilt him. He's in the house now more than he's outside. My fault, I know. I know we'll have to protect the chickens, no doubt about that, so it requires some planning and work before we even get any chickens. And convincing my husband that they will be more than just coyote bait! Hmmm. I wonder if we have any bobcat down here - I'll bet we do! Earlier this week I could have sworn I saw a small (baby?) bobcat (dead) on the side of I-35 between Wellington and Derby. Sure looked like a young'un. Susan

hank will_2
1/29/2010 2:13:34 PM

Hey Susan -- My farm is in a pretty remote area ... nearest neighbor is about half a mile away. And we have several resident coyote packs and some bobcat. I lost a number of chickens to the coyotes and owls when i let them roost in the trees at night. Now I keep them enclosed in a fenced run that's about 3/4 of an acre. ?I fenced it with 2x4 welded wire 3-feet tall and topped that with a single electric wire. Haven't had a single coyote attempt since i did that. I also leave my two border collies out at night and they tussle with the coyotes and seem to keep the owls at bay. Anyway, I'll only encourage you to give chickens a try. Vickie -- I am rooting for you. Good luck with the legal system. Hank

oz girl
1/29/2010 11:50:29 AM

Hank ~ I'm following the chicken posts here with great interest, as I hope to have a few of my own soon. My biggest obstacle will be protecting our hens, since we live on the open prairie where we can hear the packs of coyotes at night time (and how in the world will I teach our barn cats not to bother the hens, especially my bird-catching Barack!) Thankfully, there is a coop on the property that will just need some repair and sprucing up. I even hope to have a few guinea fowl -- a friend of mine has several and I love to watch their antics, such as when her male checks out his reflection in my car's tire rims! Susan

1/26/2010 7:26:42 PM

Hank, I've been listening to Andy every chance I get -and I've gotten a lot of information from the websites about Salem and different cities. I'll have to order the DVD. It give me encouragement and helps me to have the answers to any questions that may come up. Hopefully I'll have backyard chickens soon. vickie