For those who want to raise chickens in their backyard, this post is for you! I am here to say that even in a city lot in a RENTED home, it can be possible to keep hens for eggs! And if you live in a city that does not allow for backyard hens, read on for more information on how to change that!
As many of us are discovering, the only way to get good, healthy, safe food is to either raise it yourself or buy it locally. The picture above is an example of where “cage-free” eggs come from. (I think the above picture was even from an organic “farm.”) The term “cage-free” is very vague and basically requires only that the chickens have access to the outdoors. In commercial egg production, that access is often very hard to get to for the chickens because of conditions shown in this picture. They are not worth the extra money and the label is very deceiving to unknowing customers.
This is unfortunate, because eggs can be one of the most nutritious foods ever. I could go into the nutritional benefits, but that would be a whole post by itself! But did you know that patients going through severe burn treatment can help regrow skin much faster by eating a dozen eggs or more a day? And pregnant women in other countries are encouraged to eat a dozen eggs per day if they can afford it. It increases blood volume and helps provide nutrients for the growth of healthy new cells.
Farmers’ markets are a great place to find local, fresh eggs. You can speak directly to those raising the hens and ask questions about their care. I also recommend requesting that they do not wash your eggs. Eggs contain a natural protective coating that prevents bacteria from entering their porous shells. (Another example of God’s great design!) When they are washed, they are left exposed to bacteria. Additionally, because of their porous shell, whatever they are washed with (such as chlorine, dish soap, etc.) can seep into the egg.
For years, we sought out farmers’ markets to have a good source of healthy eggs from well-kept, pastured hens. Last fall, we continued a relationship with our favorite egg farmer into the winter, picking up eggs from their house during non-farmer’s market season.
And then one day, a friend with hens suggested we look into getting our own. So I did. And it started me on an adventure I never imagined I would undertake!
Getting Approval for Keeping Chickens In The City
“The fact that zoning in towns allows residents to raise a barking, crapping dog the size of a small elephant, but not four hens for a steady fresh egg supply shows just how lacking in common sense we have become as a society. The indictment against town chickens stemmed originally from roosters crowing at dawn and waking neighbors. The easy solution to that problem is to raise only hens or butcher the roosters before they mature enough to crow all the time.”
Gene Logsdon in the book “Chicken Tractor” by Andy Lee, 1994
Here’s your first step to considering and getting approved for maintaining chickens. During World War 1, Uncle Sam encouraged all homeowners to own 2 hens per person. The government even posted these flyers with convincing reasons why families should help out their country by keeping hens. Boy, how times have changed!
I think this bit of history is a great tool to help convince modern-day cities to approve the keeping of fowl within city limits! It has very good reasons why it is simple, clean, and contributes to society!
I first called the city to inquire about their fowl maintenance ordinance. While she told me at first that chickens aren’t allowed within city limits, she revealed the truth about the ordinance with further pressing. When I requested a copy of the specific ordinance, she admitted that up to 6 hens are allowed within city limits with approval of an application, approval from neighbors, etc. So I asked for the application; she said they did not have one because the city has never had anyone apply.
Fortunately, my first two years of college were in legal studies and I worked in a law firm before having my 2nd child. I used that experience to draft up a formal application, as well as supporting documents that included approval from our one neighbor within 200 feet, and approval from our landlord.
(For a blank pdf sample of my application, click here: chicken_application_blank_template.)
Getting approval from a landlord when renting a home can be a tough thing. But here’s my tip–use it as a negotiating tool to negotiate an extension of your lease. (Only if you plan on fulfilling that extension.) After asking for approval to keep hens, our landlord asked if we planned on staying. (We were 9 months into our 12-month lease.) I said that we would if were allowed to keep hens; otherwise we would want to look for a house to rent in the country. We promised to replant grass in the location of the chicken coop as well. He approved it, and with his approval and our neighbor’s approval, our proposal packet was getting stronger!
The next thing we included with our application was diagrams/pictures of our proposed coop. We wanted to assure the city that it would not be an eye sore in a nice housing development like ours. Here are the ones we submitted:
We knew we wanted an A-frame coop but decided to make it more permanent than a chicken “tractor” (portable pen), so we also submitted this diagram with our application:
With those things (and a lot of prayer), we sent in our application packet to the city commissioner as required in the ordinance. After a few days, I couldn’t handle the suspense and called up the commissioner’s office. The secretary told me that the commissioner was looking at it and that it would most likely be approved because we “put together a pretty thorough package.” Apparently, the key is to be so thorough that they can see you are serious about it!
Petitioning Your City for Maintaining Hens
Unfortunately, many cities still do not allow for hens within city limits. If you find yourself in this situation but would like to keep chickens, first ask for a copy of your city’s ordinances. Look through the pet ordinances to see if you could consider hens a pet according to the ordinance. Also look for specific fowl ordinances and see for yourself what it says.
Once you go through the language and you discover that there is just no way it fits into current ordinances, consider starting a petition. I-CLUCK (Iowa City–Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chicken Keeping) is an organization started in Iowa City working to get maintenance of hens approved for city residents. I-CLUCK is working on presenting the mayor with a petition for allowing residents to keep hens. You can see their online petition here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/628/301/780/legalize-chicken-keeping-in-iowa-city/
With the increase of technology, petition websites, and social media like Facebook, it’s becoming easier and easier to get the word out for petitions. It’s not clear how many signatures would be necessary to obtain for a petition such as this since it would be different for each city, but it shouldn’t take much. With even just a few residents in smaller cities, their presence at a city council meeting would make a strong statement.
Setting up a table at farmers’ markets, schools, grocery stores, etc., you can spread the word FAST! Check out I-CLUCK’s Facebook group page for some more really good information.
With the information above, including Uncle Sam’s poster encouraging families to raise chickens, and lots of residential support, you can put together a thorough package to support the petition. Present this information to either your mayor or city commissioner. And pray about it! From the very beginning, God put us in charge of the animals, so it’s time to take back that God-given charge from the grips of factory farms and the government!
Once You’re Approved
With our approval, we began our journey. First, I ordered a book that came highly-recommended–Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and read every single bit of it!
Next, I searched for chicks. At first, we were going to get hens that were already laying so that we could have eggs right away, but decided that it would be a much better experience for the kids and the hens if we started out with chicks.
We purchased 7 chicks from a local farmer. We’re allowed 6 but accounted for one, ahem, death. Or in case one of them turned out to be a rooster. Six of them are gold sex links, meaning their sex is apparent at birth because of their color. Our seller said that he is about 90% sure of these.
Links are supposed to be very good layers and very docile hens, making them great for families with children. We also bought a Splash Orpington which are incredibly beautiful as you can see! These, however, he could not be sexed from birth so there is a 50-50 chance on this one!
Our chicks started out in our living room where we could watch them off and on throughout the day!
As they got bigger, we continued to work hard on their coop and moved them up to a large cardboard box from our local warehouse store. When I saw a large cardboard box, I mean 4 feet by 5 feet by 3 feet tall! I recommend calling your local warehouse store to have them save you a box if you are going to have chicks. That way, you can just throw it away when you are finished with it! (We do this with our guinea pigs as well and just start over with a new box every month or so.)
We have finally finished their coop and are transitioning them outside this week. It’s been an exciting journey so far and I can’t wait for our first fresh eggs from the coop!! Until then, we keep watching our chickens grow while we run out to our local farmer’s house for fresh eggs each week.
Here’s some more pictures of our family’s suburban chicken coop:
For more information, here are some of my favorite websites on raising chickens:
Tons of information including many, many pictures of chicken coops, a forum for asking questions, and more.
I like Tilly’s Nest because she provides lots of great information on raising backyard chickens organically and naturally!