Comment of the Day: A Scofflaw’s Urban Chicken Primer

COMMENT OF THE DAY: A SCOFFLAW’S URBAN CHICKEN PRIMER “I have 3 hens. I’ve had 3-4 hens for 15 years now. Don’t tell. Hens for Houston is not talking about roosters (I hope – they SHOULD be illegal). You don’t need a rooster; hens will lay almost-daily eggs with no rooster around. 2 – Hens make very little noise – they might crow a minute or two after they lay the mid-morning egg, that’s it. And they do make a great alarm – we always know when something unusual is going on. Once, one of our chickens came to the back door, squawking, and pecked on it to let us know that a sick possum had broken into the coop (about 60 feet away from the house). 3 – Personally, I think a limit of 5 birds would be reasonable. That’s 3-5 eggs per day. 4 – Composted chicken manure is gold. And it doesn’t smell. 5 – Most of my neighbors have no idea that I have chickens. The others have kids that have minded them for me when I’m out of town. 6 – They make a fantastic first pet for a child; introducing the concept of twice-a-day feeding and watering, putting them to bed each night and letting them out in the morning, without having to deal with litterboxes or accidents. . . .” [Practically_Yours, commenting on Chicken Ordinance Has Hens for Houston Seeing Way Too Much Red]

25 Comment

  • I was skeptical of the proposed revisions to the chickens ordinance when I first saw it, but if all of these ideas were included, I might support it.
    I would, however, note that most neighborhood deed restrictions also prohibit the keeping of poultry as well as other farm animals. These rules supersede local codes that would allow chickens. So if this passes, check your deed restrictions before going out and getting chickens.

  • I love it when neighbors keep chickens. I beg for eggs and then repay the kindness with baked goods. Same for the bee people. And the berry People. Its the circle of life. :)

  • I’ve had chickens (before I lived in the city). If you think they don’t stink to high heaven you are seriously deluding yourself. If you want to live on a farm, go live on a farm. Don’t be the weird guy with chickens at his house that the neighbors pray stays downwind.

  • Chickens belong on a farm and so do the people that raise them. This is just another hipster fad and when they are bored with it or realize raising chickens is more work than fun the poor chickens will be the ones to suffer.

  • Believe it or not, but I think that this law exists to keep neighbors friendly. Inevitably, chickens don’t like being cooped up. when they range about, they end up in other people’s backyards, other people are likely to keep raised gardens with vegetables growing. Chickens will get in the garden. Chickens will kill the vegetables when digging for food.
    When this happens often the owners of the gardens end up buying a bb gun to remove the problem as they know talking to inconsiderate people who don’t keep their chickens locked up is a waste of time.
    People that let their chickens roam that end up destroying gardens, and the inevitable dead chicken are not great ways to make friends with neighbors.

  • Everything starts off as a fad before it has an opportunity to become an ordinary practice. Urban (and suburban) chicken coops may follow the same trajectory.

    In any case, I know folks who raise chickens and they say there is one more advantage beyond those listed above–eggs from different breeds of chickens taste better (as do eggs that are fresh). I haven’t had their eggs, so I just have to trust them on it. But it makes sense–just as homegrown tomatoes, for example, taste superior to supermarket tomatoes, one could reasonably expect the same from chickens.

    I don’t see why having chickens should be illegal (or effectively regulated out of existence) in Houston–I’m sure commonsense regulations like the 5 chicken limit suggested above would be enough.

  • I am a cat person, and thus a completely dispassionate observer of dogs.
    Country dogs: usually sitting near the porch, mellow, friendly in a laid-back way to all, not just their “owner” — if there is such; independent, free to roam but not inclined to run away, always ready for a (leashless!) walk or a ride should anyone offer. They get along well enough with the other dogs in the area by honoring some contract of their own making, seemingly.
    City dogs: with their owner at work, in a little fenced yard, barking and miserable; or kept in the house, going berserk at the arrival of guests (at the homes of friends with big dogs, I always seem to end up in a sort of waltz with the dog; and my neighbor’s dog would really not settle down unless my hand was safely in his mouth, for some reason; the next family had 3 indoor dogs who were forever going to school and, I was told, would learn there that my neighbor was the alpha male of their pack; they were doted on, but never calmed down, in seven years, and were among the unhappiest dogs I have encountered, judging by how constantly I heard them reprimanded); on walks or around other dogs, completely hyper; given a chance, will take off and usually too stupid to find their way home.
    Reading the comments about chickens, I thought it might interest you to know that some people don’t think dogs really belong in the city.

  • I’d much rather my neighbors have chickens than their loud, obnoxious, untrained dogs who run around off-leash (gated street) and tear up everything in sight. Keeping chickens at least has tangible benefits.

  • @Jack – 3 chickens roaming my back yard will not stink. A farm-style coop with 24 birds living it will. Smell is an issue of the dilution factor…keep the flock small, it’s a non-issue. Also, if you don’t like “the weird guy” and think deed restrictions and stupid ordinances about non-issues like chickens are needed to keep him check, move to The Woodlands. It’s the weird guys who make life (and this city) interesting. Plus, they’re usually a lot of fun to hang out with.

    @Jack & k rog: I would love to live on a farm, but can’t because I don’t own enough land and have a job in the city that requires me to live here. Along that same line of thought, should I stop growing my own vegetables, as well? That’s pretty hick-ish.

    @toasty – The bitch (I mean neighbor) next door has already thoroughly destroyed any hope of amicability between us, without adding any chickens to the mix. You just gave me a great idea for getting revenge…thanks!

    @luciaphile – Great line of thought! Come to think of it, other animals that don’t belong in the city and should be banned include CATS, squirrels, birds, insects, fish, and the list goes on…

  • We can just bring in a pack of wild foxes and let them loose in the Heights. In a few weeks, problem solved.

  • I’m wondering about the chicken “coops”. Are these chickens actually kept prisoner in the coops at all times?

    Seems to me that would be terribly cruel, and seeing that animal cruelty is frowned upon by most folks I’m surprised that so many people think this is fine.

    I am a city/country person. In the country everyone has chickens. The chickens are cooped in the evenings and let out each morning to roam around.

    Is that how city folks do with their chickens? Serious question.

    Or, are the chickens left in their little cages all the time?

  • Chickens for a first pet? And then you eat them?

  • In regards to modern scofflaws: when there are so many laws on the books that the DA’s position is more political than upholding the rule of law, then there is no rule of law.

  • I am a dog person, and thus a completely dispassionate observer of cats.

    Country Cats: Independent, mellow, friendly in a laid-back way to all, not just their “owner” — if there is such; independent, free to roam but not inclined to run away, serving the purpose to keep the rodent population in check. They get along well enough with the other cats in the area by honoring some contract of their own making, seemingly.

    City Cats: with their owner at work, kept in small apartment or house, scratching on furniture, tripping up guests and scratching/biting at guest’s ankles from their hidden spots under the couch. Those allowed to, roaming neighboring yards, digging up flower beds and kid’s sand boxes to crap in them. Meowing and carrying on loudly at night when they go into heat. Given a chance, the ones kept in doors will take off and usually too stupid to find their way home.

    Reading the comments about chickens, I thought it might interest you to know that some people don’t think cats really belong in the city.

  • I don’t know that keeping chickens in the Heights is a “fad”. I have pictures of a 1930’s era former owner holding chickens in the backyard. Does that make him a pre-hip-storic?

  • Being spayed, my cat never knew a thing about going into heat, sadly for her.
    Her one regrettable kill was a myrtle warbler.
    She exchanges pleasantries with the couple hundred people who walk by each day, many of whom walk up into the yard to look for her.
    I’m not sure what she did in your kids’ sandbox, because I’ve not been reduced to following my pet around with a plastic bag; but I expect she took a crap there.
    Better hurry and shoot her before Obama takes your BB gun!
    By the way, here’s a challenging trick for you to teach your dogs: I actually witnessed a dog on the trail here, carrying his own little plastic baggie of poop until he came to the trash can, and then fling it in.

  • Lots of interesting perspectives here!
    Trying to answer some of them:
    @Jack: I said “COMPOSTED chicken manure”. We clean our chicken coop every week. By the end of the week, inside, it is a bit “stuffy”. But you can’t smell it outside the coop. We take the shavings+manure to the compost pile, dump it on, and spread about an inch of leaves on the top. NO smell, I guarantee.
    @Pyewacket: Our chickens have a 4x8x5-foot ventilated shed to sleep in and lay their eggs in. The shed is inside a 10x20x6-foot pen surrounded by metal fencing with bird netting spread over the top (to keep doves out of the feed). This keeps the chickens contained, safe, yet they are still “free-range”. Chickens are forest birds & don’t naturally wander too much. That’s way more room than they really need. Some folks use “chicken tractors” (google that) to give their yards the benefit of the chicken-bug-termination program and manure without composting. Others make O-shaped runs & put their gardens inside. The chickens can prevent bugs from reaching the garden, and yet the garden plants are safe.
    @DarbyMom: We don’t eat our pets! They’ve lived out their circle of years (about 5 average), and are laid to rest (about 2 feet deep) with a lovely, reverent service of thanksgiving. We have plucked some feathers from each one “to remember them by”.
    Hope this answers some questions/concerns.

  • The point, clearly missed by you, was not anti-cat, anti-dog, anti-chicken, anti-aardvark or anti-whatever. I am a responsible multiple cat and dog owner, actually. The point, is that posts like yours can be skewed to any situation. Just like the comments of “my chicken coop doesn’t stink” and “only 5 chickens is appropriate”. There’s always someone(s) who doesn’t follow the rules, like dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs when the walk them, cat owners who let their cats roam wild and shit in neighbors flowers beds and people who’ll own more then 5 chickens and not keep them in their yard and not keep the coop clean. Who are YOU going to call when that person is YOUR neighbor(s)? We already have situations of dogs running loose and out of control feral cat populations, what agency do you want to have to start policy chickens? Are you willing to have your taxes increased for the additional personnel required? Are people who want to keep chickens willing to pay a fee to offset the additional administrative costs? Living in a city means conforming to an urban environment. My wife grew up with horses and still has one, guess where it lives? Not in our backyard in Houston, its happily hanging out in the country on a relative’s farm. What’s that you say? You can’t live out the country because your job requirements make it necessary for you to live in the city? Well, that’s a concessions you chose for the job and lifestyle you wanted to have.

  • Chickens all over my neighborhood. It’s great!! If it wasn’t for the dog I would have a couple myself.

  • Now, I’m totally anti-aardvark. Too many of those pesky aardvarks now roaming the city and taking up the first page in the phone book!

  • Wow, Steve, a few chickens really have you on the run.

  • I would never trust anyone who claims to be dispassionate about dogs.

  • Olfactory receptors get desensitized pretty quickly, so people who live with chickens basically don’t smell them. The neighbors, on the other hand, who only get an occasional whiff of chicken s**t (depending on the breezes), will smell it every time, because whatever gets desensitized gets REsensitized once the stimulus (i.e. chickens**t) is removed. Then the lovely cycle can start all over again.

  • @Chef: I can assure you that my olfactory receptors function perfectly normally. I can smell my neighbor’s dog run positioned on the other side of the fence extremely well. Ditto for the stinky cat poo another neighbor’s cat leaves behind. Unfortunately neither of those can be composted since they are meat-eaters.

    Even the neighborhood dogs don’t know where our chickens are.

  • This is from a marketing newsletter “Cool News of the Day” by Tim Manners:

    “People wanting to be self-sufficient and eating locally grown food is synonymous with people who are affluent,” says Rob Ludlow in a Wall Street Journal article by Anne Marie Chaker (1/30/13). Rob owns, an online community of “170,000 chicken enthusiasts” who keep their own coops. This confluence of money and the “modern homesteader” is paying off for retailers like Williams-Sonoma, whose new Agrarian line of homesteader products “features a $1,300 chicken coop and a $500 beehive,” among other items.

    So successful is the Agrarian line that Williams-Sonoma is expanding it and giving it its own catalog. Terrain, a home-and-garden concept via Urban Outfitters, is on a similar path, offering a “$228 metal-roof birdhouse” and “$269 tailored gardening jacket,” for example. Urban Outfitters CEO Richard Hayne says Terrain takes direct aim at “women ranging from their mid-40s to mid-60s,” and “the spending potential of well-heeled women whose children are grown.”

    As he explains: “Their demand and desire for apparel wanes” and Terrain steps in with “a lifestyle concept.” Retail sales for the category, “which includes annual spending on organic-labeled food and environmentally-friendly household products” is estimated at $200 billion a year, according to Charlie Hall of Texas A&M University. It’s a lifestyle that resonates with 55-year-old Eliza Zimmerman: “It’s what I did with my grandmother — the chickens, the gardening, the canning, the bees … It is my Zen — a memory of what made me feel safe and good and warm.” ~ Tim Manners, editor.