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.
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 Google+.