The Fight for Raising Backyard Chickens in the City
For raising backyard chickens in the city, you may need to change the rules to keep an urban flock.
The face of the Chicken Revolution and Chickens In The Yard.
SALEM, OREGON – The urban chicken movement reflects a growing uneasiness among city dwellers who have come to rely, perhaps too heavily, on outside resources. As we become increasingly troubled by the economy, the environment, food safety, animal welfare and emergency preparedness, many of us strive to become more self-reliant. Now learning what our grandparents understood, we are gardening, canning food and raising chickens for eggs – activities that provide a sense of security and relaxation in an urban setting. There can be obstacles to living a more sustainable life, however.
Changing the Chicken Laws in the City
My husband and I spent three years turning our backyard into a permaculture system where everything works in harmony and little is wasted. It began with a vegetable garden. Soon, we were digging up lawn to make room for a second garden, then some fruit trees and berry bushes. Next, we installed a small greenhouse and a composter. Things were coming together, but there was one thing missing – chickens.
When we looked into the legality of keeping chickens, we discovered they are not specifically mentioned in the city code. Instead, there’s a list of “approved land uses,” which include raising a 100-pound potbelly pig. A different section of the code prohibits “livestock” in the city. Later, we discovered the city’s definition of livestock includes poultry, but we weren’t worried because it also includes “all species of swine,” yet pigs are permitted. We reasoned that if you can have a pig, then certainly it would be OK to have a few harmless little hens. Because Salem’s ordinance was vague, confusing and contradictory, we gave ourselves permission to build the chicken coop.
Soon, half the yard remained traditional lawn and flower beds, and the rest had been converted into a productive ecosystem that would sustain us, while saving money and resources. My girls had just begun to lay beautiful eggs when the unthinkable happened.
In August 2008, I was shocked to discover a code compliance officer at my door. A neighbor had seen my chickens while working on his roof. It wasn’t about noise or smell. He just saw them. I refused to give up my pets without a fight.
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