- They don't bark, bite or require daily walks. They even
offer tokens in return for their care.
- More and more urban and suburban elite are moving beyond
keeping poodles and cats and adopting another kind of animal to coddle:
- "They're just so relaxing to watch," says Robin
Fox, a Miami resident who began keeping chickens in her apartment in the
late 1990s. "They're friendly birds, they're fluffy and they give
you eggs. Dogs don't give you eggs."
- While some immigrants have long recognized the benefits
of keeping chickens in urban lots (free fresh eggs and chicken breasts)
the concept appears to have taken flight, so to speak, among urban yuppies
and suburban elite who build elaborate coops for their flocks.
- And then there is Fox, who says she must have chickens
in her life, no matter the inconvenience.
- "The only problem is they can't be potty trained.
You have to change their paper every day," says Fox who reports some
of her furniture is spotted by chicken droppings but she's sure only she
can see the stains.
- Chicken Rules
- Steven Keel, the owner of Egganic Industries in Ringgold,
Va., says that sales of his elaborate $1,500 Henspas - low-maintenance,
high-comfort homes designed for urban and suburban chickens - are up 15
percent. The McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, reports they're sending
more mail-order chicks (ranging in cost from about $1 to $5 per chick)
to addresses in upper-class suburbs.
- And the City Chicken Workshop sessions at the Seattle
Tilth Association have been filled to standing-room only. The two-hour
classes held four times a year teach new chicken owners the basics in building
coops and keeping their animals healthy. Director Pamela Burton says they'll
soon be adding classes.
- "The demand is too great," she says. "We're
thinking we'll have a beginning chicken class and then add intermediate
- What's there to learn about keeping chickens in urban
lots? For starters, says Burton, it's good to know if it's legal.
- The city of Seattle allows residents to keep up to three
small animals, including chickens. New York, Los Angeles and Miami ban
chickens in private lots, though many residents ignore the rule. Other
cities that permit keeping chickens include Key West, Fla.; St. Louis,
Mo.; and Mason City, Iowa.
- Brooklyn's Lonely Wild Rooster Gets a Harem
- Even if a city allows residents to keep live poultry,
chicken owners stress that keeping their neighbors happy is also key since
unhappy neighbors can lead to chicken evictions.
- "The trickiest part is making sure they blend in,"
says Bart Pals who keeps about 25 chickens in his 50-foot by 250-foot backyard
city lot in Mason City, Iowa. "We also give eggs to our neighbors.
- To ensure his chickens "blend in" and look
pleasant, Pals plants petunias around his hens' cages and keeps the pens
- Others go to more extremes.
- Chicken Condos
- A recent show by the Seattle Tilth Association featured
the latest in chic coop designs. Among the most elaborate was a seven-part
cedar structure including a fully-insulated main tower with sand-blasted
glass windows decorated with etchings of chicks and hens. The coop has
four windows, complete with screen and storm windows, a thatched roof and
a swinging drawbridge.
- The owner, Ray Nichol, declined to speculate on how much
he had spent on the abode but told the Seattle Times , "Chickens could
care less. But if you're going to have them as pets, it's not much of a
leap to make their habitat something you can enjoy looking at!"
- Another important rule, says Seattle Tilth instructor
Jennifer Carlson, is to "avoid the boys" - roosters, that is.
Roosters are likely to annoy the neighborhood with their crowing while
the females stick to what Carlson calls "soothing clucking" sounds.
- "I have my cup of coffee out by the coop in the
morning and watch the girls," says Carlson, who lives in Seattle.
"It's a very nice way to start the day."
- As Carlson suggests, many urban chicken owners derive
more than eggs and poultry from their feathered pets.
- Chicken Therapy
- Cook, who kept up to three chickens on her second-floor
balcony of her previous apartment, swears her chickens recognize and run
toward her when she walks in. Trisha Anderson, who keeps chickens in her
suburban lot in Northern California, likes comparing her hens to her co-workers
after a frustrating day at the office.
- Keel argues chickens can fill a spiritual hole in an
increasingly technology-focused society. Keel, himself, sells computers
to earn his primary living and produces his Henspas as a side business
- "People sit in a cubicle or an office and they want
to be able to touch something real," he says. "Chickens don't
take much time, but if you want you can set up a chair and stare into their
eyes all day. There's something therapeutic about a chicken."
- Cook, a trance music performer, says it wasn't a technical
society, but a Martha Stewart moment that led her to the joys of keeping
- "Martha Stewart is my idol," Cook said about
the domestic marketing queen. "When I saw her on TV with her chickens,
I realized that is it. That is exactly what I want."
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