May 15, 2012 / 4:45 PM / in 7 years

New pecking order for U.S. chickens: backyard city coops

ORLANDO (Reuters) - Forget farm-to-table. The newest locavore trend in U.S. cities comes from the backyard: eggs out of the urban chicken coop.

Lee McLeod holds his chickens in his backyard in Gainesville, Florida May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Steven Johnson

“It is part of the creative class trend,” said Orlando city commissioner Patty Sheehan, who pushed through an urban chicken pilot program last week.

Within hours after it was adopted by city commissioners, all 25 permits were scooped up and a waiting list of 25 formed.

“We had people waiting outside of city hall to sign up. I’ve never had anything that popular, to be quite honest,” Sheehan said.

“The people that are interested in it are the young professionals, people that enjoy growing their own food. It’s part of the progressive food movement.”

Raising backyard chickens in the city is growing in popularity nationwide, driven by Americans’ desire for fresher, local, wholesome and safe food, said Dennis Mudge, the University of Florida’s agriculture extension agent in Orlando.

“Everything is moving toward raising your own food and this is just a natural way to do that. It’s really picked up and, besides, it’s so much fun,” Mudge added.

In preparing for the Orlando pilot program, the city staff counted 166 U.S. cities that already permit backyard chickens, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

A recent National League of Cities meeting in Phoenix featured that city’s third annual “Tour de Coops.”

Some trendy owners are forking over hundreds of dollars on upscale coops.

In its online catalog, housewares company Williams-Sonoma offers two exclusive coops, handmade in the United States from certifiable sustainable wood, priced from $660 to $880. For an additional $400, the store will also ship a screened run “so your hens can enjoy fresh air, exercise and foraging opportunities in a safe, enclosed space.”

“Some of them (coops) are replicas of their house. It’s hilarious what’s going on,” Mudge said. “These are going to be the best treated chickens in the world.”

Baby chicks cost $3 to $5 each, depending on the breed and sex (females are more expensive). Young hens that have just started laying eggs cost $15 to $25 each, according to livestock suppliers.

The Orlando pilot program, like many modern ordinances geared toward downtown chicken farming, limits permit holders to a maximum of three hens that must be kept in a backyard coop set back at least five feet from a neighbor’s yard and 20 feet from a neighbor’s home.

Some older ordinances allow homeowners to keep a greater number of chickens - up to 15 in Miami - but require setbacks of up to 100 feet, thus limiting the ability to raise chickens on small residential lots near the urban core.


Sheehan said opposition to urban chicken farming typically comes from the people concerned about the potential disturbance from aggressive, crowing roosters, which are banned in Orlando.

“A lot of people don’t understand you don’t need a rooster to make eggs,” Sheehan said. “Most neighbors are placated when they realize there’s not a rooster over there. And if you can give them a few fresh eggs here and there, that’s a good way to make peace.”

Slideshow (8 Images)

Sheehan said hens are quieter than dogs, and produce a lot less waste: 1.5 ounces per hen per day, which makes great compost, versus 12 ounces per average dog.

And, like a dog, Mudge said urban chickens can be pets that provide eggs for the family as a bonus.

“They like to be held. They’ll sit on your lap. They’ll follow you around, and they make great pets,” Mudge said.

Editing by David Adams and Doina Chiacu

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