You heard it here, if not first, then perhaps with the most enthusiasm: A Backyard Chicken Craze is Sweeping the Nation! Inspired by the Slow Food movement, the spreading (and, unfortunately, true) rumors about the conditions of factory chicken farms, and—I'm sorry to say—nostalgia, city dwellers are once again starting to keep chickens in their back yards. Also, I would not be surprised if the return of burlesque theater is causing a spike in the demand for feathers.
Friends of mine will tell you that I've been clucking about this for a few years, but I am happy to be beaten to the punch, as I am far too lazy to be a trailblazer in this regard. In fact, I am thrilled to have so many examples to follow.
For several years I heard tell of this only through assorted green magazines and the odd local newspaper article ("Neighbor Plays Fowl"). Imagine my delight when my brother mentions that his friends are starting a Chicago Chicken Co-op (not to be confused with Coop). But were they serious? These kids are full of fun. But evidently a few of them have actually been keeping chickens for several years. My brother belongs to the social milieu who seem to like stuff just before it becomes into a major trend, so I knew it was a good predictor of things to come. And when I saw the phenomenon written up in the New York Times this summer, I knew it was a done deal. Hardly even news anymore, really.
My friends Julia and Brian, two of my great role models for sustainable living, recently built a chicken coop in their back yard in Minneapolis. He posted the pictures on Facebook. Brian was very encouraging, saying that the chickens are really very easy to care for on a daily basis. And you only have to clean out the coop twice a year! This I found shocking, but Brian is very clean and conscientious, so I believe him. He said the hardest part was building the coop; he himself went the Fancy route (as the pictures attest) but recommends taking an easier route, like repurposing a dog house or, better yet, finding someone else's castoff coop.
Foodies and hipsters aside, we should also acknowledge that many immigrants have been quietly keeping chickens in their yards all along without any fuss. Well maybe a little fuss: in 2007, Chicago Alderman Lona Lane (D, 18th ward), tried to pass an ordinance banning chickens from her ward, citing health and sanitary concerns. One source in this article from the Chi-Town Daily News attributed some of the resistance to anti-immigrant feeling. The ordinance did not pass. If anti-immigrant feeling was not enough, one wonders if a rising tide of anti-bourgeois-foodie-hippie feeling might eventually become a factor? Actually, I think we will be fine until the avian bird flu strikes.
If you are ever looking for an enjoyable way to pass an hour, visit Backyardchickens.com. There you can find all manner of information on coop design, chicken care and feeding, as well as some pret-ty cute photos. But the best is the BackYardChickens Forum, where you can find out what makes a chicken-lover's heart go pitter-pat. Turns out they are quite a passionate bunch.
At the moment I am still too nervous (I hope you appreciate my restraint with the puns), or maybe just too lazy, to get my own chickens. My yard is not that big and I'm not sure how much precious space I'm ready to devote to a chicken run (although Brian tells me they don't need much). Also, what about my neighbors? On the one side they definitely wouldn't care (in fact, I'm sure it would win me favor with the little kids). When I mentioned it to my other neighbor in passing, he shrugged mildly and said something about rats. I think he already has his reservations about my compost piles (which also generally merits a roundabout mention of the rats). Roberto is a great neighbor and I would prefer not to alienate him.
Do they stink? Sometimes a little, says Brian, on a hot day.
But boy, that guano makes some great fertilizer.