As more and more Americans become committed in ways both big and small to the idea of sustainable living, the urban chicken movement is sweeping across the country faster than you can sweep out a chicken coop. But the idea of backyard flocks of fowl is not welcomed everywhere. Fierce battles are raging in many communities, dividing the population into pro and con chicken camps.
The opponents have their own list of concerns, including chickens creating disturbing noise level; bad smell from waste; the practice of butchering in public view; the attraction of predatory animals; the attraction of pests such as mice and rats; the lowering of neighboring property values; and the potential for salmonella.
I'll briefly address these concerns with what I know to be true. As for chickens and noise, a flock of 10 creates a noise level about equal to normal speaking volume. That doesn't include roosters, which can start crowing at 3am, but most communities don't allow roosters and they aren't necessary for chickens to lay eggs.
Chickens lay eggs for about 2 years, after which they reduce the amount of eggs they lay and begin to eat more, making them no longer economical. This is the time many owners decide to butcher the chickens, a practice which-if done out doors in view of neighbors-is often against a community statutes. People then do it in their garages, or people who don't want to do it at all give the chickens away or find a butcher who will butcher the birds for them.
Property values are not proven to lower neighboring property levels. Several realtors have stated that they have never known them to do so, and one realtor goes as far as to suggest that allowing chickens actually raised property values when people were relocating to the area. Not because the transplanted people wanted to raise chickens, but because it identified a community as progressive in sustainable living.
As for the rest of the concerns-pests, predators, smell and the possibility of salmonella-it comes down to cleanliness. The coop must be cleaned at a minimum of once per week, and seed and scraps are never scattered about the yard, but put in the coop in containers and uneaten food promptly removed. Salmonella gets on the shells of the eggs and contaminate the egg when they're cracked open. For that reason they should be removed once per day or discarded, and as an additional precaution the eggs should be washed before cracking.
There are several things you should do if you want to raise chickens. Check your local ordinance to find out if they're allowed and, if so, how many you may keep. The numbers vary from town to town. Secondly, study. Many guides are available for free from the internet or from your county extension service. In addition, many communities have chicken groups where you can learn a great deal about what is required in your area, plus seek advice and guidance. Chicken people are very close knit and they are very supportive to those who are starting out.
Finally, are the eggs really better? Yes. In a study conducted by Mother Earth News, free range chickens have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta-carotene. And they taste better too. From my experience, the shells are thicker, the yolks are so yellow they're practically orange, and they're tighter, that is, when you crack them into your skillet they don't spread out as much.
Raising chickens is not for the casual owner. They definitely are work, but they can also be a very worthwhile endeavor. I guess by now your can tell which side of the argument I came down on.
I'm a chicken people.