Keeping chickens in urban and suburban areas, while far from being a new concept, has emerged recently as an increasingly popular trend. From keeping them as pets to using them as egg-laying or meat food sources, or for pest control, municipalities across the country have had to consider the pros and cons and enact or update their municipal codes accordingly with backyard chickens legislation.
Raise a chicken, win the war
Even though chickens have been in existence for somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 years, keeping them in the backyard did not reach popularity with Americans until the early 20th century. Until World War I, chickens were primarily raised on large family farms.
With the advent of World War I came the first government-sponsored effort to have U.S. citizens keep backyard chickens. As a result of the war, many European nations were not only fighting invaders, but fighting famine. Upon the United States’ entry into the war on April 6, 1917, American food supplies became critical for keeping U.S. troops fed and replenishing dwindling food resources for its allies.
To push as much food into the war effort and overseas, the U.S. government began a campaign to encourage urban American families to “keep hens and raise chickens” as a patriotic duty and for personal food security.
As families again faced food shortages during The Great Depression, backyard chickens helped keep many from starving. And in 1941, when the United States entered World War II, victory gardens and backyard farming were again looked upon as patriotic and important to sustaining food security for those on the homefront when ration books came into play.
To market, to market
Once the war ended, however, backyard farming waned in interest. Supermarkets replaced corner butcher shops, and many people traded farm life for suburbia. As suburbs began to sprawl, acres of farmland turned into single-family housing. Food on post-war tables was now being shipped hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles from its point of origin due to advances in transportation and refrigeration technology.
Production levels on large farms grew and egg prices fell dramatically. It became much easier and more convenient to drive five minutes to a grocery store and purchase cartons of eggs and cellophane-wrapped broilers than the work it took to raise and maintain even a small flock of chickens.
Look who’s coming (back) to dinner
As sustainability became a popular trend in American culture, movements to increase recycling, reduce single-use plastics, address climate change and pollution, and provide “cleaner” and closer food sources, some continued to dabble in backyard farming. When the COVID-19 enveloped the world, it ignited a whole new surge of interest in raising chicken in urban areas.
The reasons were many. Food supply chains broke. Grocery store shelves were low on product, sometimes even bare. As lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were mandated, people were looking for ways to occupy their time. Some took to trying new recipes and making custom obstacle courses in their yards. Others took up gardening and keeping chickens. And as the pandemic has continued to impact economies locally and worldwide, the rising cost of eggs has become a bigger concern as well.
Whatever the incentive, citizens are petitioning their municipal officials to update or create ordinances to allow some forms of livestock – especially chickens – in their urban/suburban neighborhoods.
Benefits of raising chickens
Beyond being a backyard source for eggs, raising small flocks of chickens provides a wide variety of benefits, including:
- Pest control – chickens eat all kinds of bugs including ticks, grubs, roaches, spiders, grass hoppers, crickets, ants, mosquitos
- Composting of kitchen scraps – chickens can – and will – eat most kitchen food scraps (with the exception of processed foods that can be unhealthy and even dangerous for them to consume)
- Affectionate pets and educational opportunities for families
- Boosting mental health
Concerns and hazards
Keeping chickens (and other types of poultry or fowl) doesn’t come without risks. Proper care should be observed and acted on to avoid certain health risks. Of greatest concern is the spread of diseases like salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis, chlamydophilosis (psittacosis), and avian influenza. With strict attention to washing hands, avoiding the tracking of waste on shoes, and moderating close contract with the birds, risks can be greatly reduced.
Additional nuisances that can come into play are the noise and odor associated with chickens. Keeping coops clean and free of wet feed can help manage odor and pests around small flocks. Cleanliness will also reduce problems with rodents. Noise is mostly an issue when roosters or hens are kept. Each can vocalize loudly whereas chickens will remain quieter with softer toned clucking.
How can municipalities manage this issue?
With the desire to keep chickens on the upswing, municipalities are receiving impassioned requests from their citizens to make the keeping of backyard chickens possible in their communities. In order to support the idea while managing its impact on neighbors, local governments can update or create legislation that addresses topics such as:
- Types of livestock
- Number of chickens
- Structure design
- Property maintenance
- Violations and penalties
Useful examples of backyard chickens legislation from the eCode360® Library
If your community is simply interested in legislating or updating ordinances related to keeping chickens in urban or suburban areas, here are some useful examples that can be found in our eCode360 Library:
Updating your municipal code is vitally important
Submit your code updates as soon as possible and ensure constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Make it part of your Board meeting close-out process to send your adopted legislative changes to General Code when everything from that meeting is already right at hand.
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- A History of Chickens: Then (1900) Vs Now (2022)
- U.S. Department of State: U.S. Entry into World War I, 1917
- Bawk to the future: How backyard chicken keeping began as a war effort
- Urban chicken keeping
- Victory Gardens
- Back to Basics: The Benefits of Backyard Chickens
- Take a Closer Look: Ration Books
- Bawk to the Future: A Century of Americans Keeping Chickens
- Clean eating: What does that mean?
- COVID-19 pandemic
- COVID-19 has broken the global food supply chain. So now what?
- Desolate store shelves, empty streets: These 16 eerie images depict coronavirus in America
- Stay-at-home order
- From quick shortcuts to slow cookers, how we’re eating now
- Long Island couple creates custom-made obstacle courses for backyards of any size
- The pandemic’s gardening boom shows how gardens can cultivate public health
- Pandemic boosts demand for backyard poultry flocks
- More people raise backyard chickens as egg prices continue to soar
- Six Benefits of Owning Chickens
- 14 Environmental and Garden Benefits of Backyard Chickens
- The Many Benefits of Backyard Chickens
- Benefits of Raising Chickens
- Six Unexpected Benefits of Having Chickens
- Common concerns with backyard or urban poultry keeping
- eCode360 Library