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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chickens are Chic says WA Post

Given that Salem specifically modified its ordinances to allow pot-belly pigs (which can become quite large), it's astonishing that a few people are terrified of a few small birds . . .

Hot Chicks
Legal or Not, Chickens Are the Chic New Backyard Addition

. . . "Chickens are America's cool new pet," said Dave Belanger, publisher of the magazine Backyard Poultry. When he launched it three years ago, "we were thinking 15 to 20 thousand" subscriptions, he said. The print run for the bimonthly is now 100,000.

Belanger's magazine is published in Wisconsin, where five years ago chicken activists in Madison succeeded in getting the city council to reverse a ban on chicken coops. Madison's ordinance is typical of other cities'. You can raise chickens for eggs, not meat; they must be enclosed in a coop or run; and it's strictly a hen party: Roosters who crow day and night are prohibited.

In Baltimore, you can keep up to four hens (no roosters, ducks, geese or, darn, ostriches), in a coop no closer than 25 feet from a neighbor's residence. A one-time fee of $60 is required for the permit. . . .

The District's ban stands in contrast to other cities in the nation that have either permitted poultry all along or succumbed to pressure recently to allow them once more. In and around Washington, the convergence of so many jurisdictions each with its own rules has clouded the question of whether chickens are allowed. The resulting confusion has produced two types of chicken owners: Those who raise poultry openly and lawfully and those who do so in the shadows.

Kevin Conrad is confident he meets the requirements of Montgomery County (see sidebar on local ordinances), but elsewhere in Takoma Park another owner, fearing the loss of chickens his daughter views as pets, is willing to talk only anonymously.

He started keeping the chickens early last year and has three hens. Two of the chickens he raised turned out to be roosters, and they were given to a friend in a rural area. His neighbors have been supportive and share in the eggs, he said. Chickens "are easy pets, and the eggs you get from them are spectacular," he said. Two close neighbors also keep chickens, and he is about to allow another neighbor's daughter to keep some hens in his coop in exchange for chicken-sitting when needed.

I am walking along a block of rowhouses on Capitol Hill to meet a young professional who is also flying under the chicken radar. She offered to show me her coop, but anonymously, because she feared that her enterprise was unlawful. She leads me through the house to the back yard, where three Rhode Island Red hen hybrids live in a homemade coop and adjoining run, which is enclosed with chicken wire. "I bought a circular saw to make it," she said. The coop is lined with newspapers (try doing that with a laptop), and the base slides out for cleaning.

When she returns from work, she lets the hens out to roam in the garden, which includes newly planted fruit trees and raised beds with lettuce, beans and strawberries in growth.

"It's been fascinating," she said. "All my neighbors know about them, and some of the neighborhood kids love to come over and collect the eggs. They're really curious about them, and they love to feed them."

She got the hens -- named Dree, Dot and Fluffy Bottom -- in March as 1-year-old egg layers and says they are quiet and their coop is easy to keep clean. "I named them after my grandmothers. Well, not Fluffy Bottom," she said.

"I really like producing my own food," she said. "My father always had a vegetable garden."

The District's anti-chicken stance troubles activists such as Liz Falk, who ran an inner-city vegetable garden on Seventh Street NW before moving the enterprise to the former playing field of the shuttered Gage Eckington Elementary School in LeDroit Park. "Other cities are more welcoming of urban agriculture than us," she said.

To those who would say chickens should be raised only in the country, Falk would say no. "Why don't we grow food where the people are? It's so much more sustainable," she said. She'd like to keep poultry at the garden, called Common Good City Farm, but "we are unclear as to the law."

So what's it like to keep chickens? From what I gather, they are exasperating, dumb, funny, beautiful and so hopelessly ill-equipped to survive on their own that you have to love them. They also have a distinct social hierarchy. In the Capitol Hill garden, Dot rules the roost and poor Dree is last in the pecking order.

Whether in the country or city, unprotected birds will usually fall prey to an array of predators, including hawks, owls, raccoons and, of course, foxes. . . .

Wedewer gets about half a dozen eggs a day and raves about the flavor, the size and color of the yolks, and the stiffness of the whites. The chickens live in an Amish-built playhouse and a caged run that Wedewer and her husband, Harry, put together from lumber and chicken wire last year when they got the birds. "I make my own cheese, my own wine vinegar, my own wine," she said. "Why not have chickens?"

In the evening, the Wedewers like to sit in lawn chairs by the vegetable garden and watch the birds scratching around. "We call it chicken TV," she said.

For the Conrads in Takoma Park, the chickens have been a way to introduce their children to the joys and grimmer realities of the natural world. One of their birds was taken by a fox, another by a raccoon. "It's like a big science project," Mary Cush said.

For her most recent birthday, Anna Mae had friends over for a slumber party. "When we woke up, we all got to go into the coop and pick our own egg for breakfast," she said.

Peddling Revolution -- via Pedal-Powered Transport!

Here's one Oregonian writer who has a post-newspaper career started . . .