Saturday, November 13, 2010

Backyard Chickens Not Worth It?

Today's Sarasota Herald-Tribune features a story (THE GREEN LIVING EXPERIMENT) by Susan Carpenter of the Lost Angeles Times. Ms. Carpenter has spent the last two years trying various ostensibly sustainable strategies around her home (and writing about her experiences). Of all the things she's tried, she ranked keeping chickens as the lowest. This blog entry exams why that may be and whether backyard hens are inevitably a loss leader.

Susan's bad experience can be traced to at least two errors. First, she obtained her hens from animal services, a compassionate gesture, but one has to wonder if her hens may have been past their prime and that's why they were available. But more importantly she didn't construct a predator resistant coop, so her ignorance led to the demise of her chickens. No one can make chickens rewarding and productive if they can't keep them alive.

But beyond bad coop design, are chickens worth it when the local corner pharmacies are pushing eggs at 99¢ a dozen? Those eager to avoid the argument might point out that no one asks for a cost/benefit spreadsheet for their pet dog or cat, but, that aside, what's the bottom line?

That all depends on your assumptions. If you sink $300 or more into a fixed coop, spend another $150 outfitting it and buying some ready-to-lay hens and feed them organic layer pellets at roughly 66¢ a pound, then your return on investment, as expressed solely in eggs, is destined to be a negative number.

But people don't get pets to save money and there are other ways to crunch the numbers. Building from scraps and recycled materials can dramatically cut coop costs. Chicks are inexpensive. That minimizes the fixed start-up costs. So setting those costs aside, and, based on an earlier blog "Tons of Rotting Garbage or 1,000 eggs a day?" if you fed your hens half on kitchen scraps and what they could find in the yard and half on that high-end organic feed, six hens might produce three dozen eggs a week at a total feed cost of $10.00. Then, when browsing Whole Foods, you notice organic eggs are going for $4.49 a dozen. Now your chickens are looking pretty good because you're getting three dozen for what your neighbor is paying for about two.

But wait, there's more. You may not need all those cable channels if you have chickens. Yes, they are that entertaining. You may drop that expensive collectibles hobby. The eggs you give neighbors may come back as grapefruit or tomatoes --put that in the plus column. Oh, and now you have organic fertilizer -- better get a price check on that and add it to the avoided cost column. And, guess what, if you decide you really didn't want chickens, your movable coop can be sold to the next owner, allowing you to "re-coop" most of your construction costs.

So as pets go, the balance sheet on backyard chickens can actually look pretty good.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Response to Sofia: Why 4 chickens, Why movable coops?

Backyard Chicken supporter Sofia wrote to ask why four chickens and why movable coops? As for the number of hens, CLUCK recommends 6 and staff, 4. For an analysis of why we support a slightly higher number, see the blog post Fine-Tuning the City Code for Pet Hens. As for the movable coops (also known as chicken tractors), we see three distinct advantages that render movable coops a better choice for the owners, the neighbors, and the chickens.

The owner argument may be particularly salient in this hurricane conscious part of the country. We have been concerned that fixed coops could be viewed as accessory structures that need to meet hurricane wind codes -- a requirement that could make coop construction costs prohibitive, especially for just four birds. Sheds, for instance require a building permit. Small movable coops are consistent with a small number of birds (coop design will help keep flocks from expanding) and avoiding permitting paperwork is a benefit for owners and city staff alike.

The neighbors will benefit because coop location can be adjusted. There's more to it than simply one time minimization of visual intrusion. Neighbors change and move. It makes sense to have a coop that can also adjust to changing conditions and perceptions. One neighbor may be a snowbird or take extended vacations, so the coop could be closer that property for awhile, then relocated. Another neighbor may volunteer to take care of your birds while your away, so you drag, roll, lift, or skid the coop over there where it is more convenient for them. And if you ever decide to get rid of your hens, the coop goes with them to the new owners.

As for the birds, they will benefit in several ways. First they will get to different sections of the yard, minimizing impacts (scratched up areas) and maximizing new bugs, seeds, etc. You can put the coop in your garden plot after harvest to weed, till and fertilize the soil. And when hurricanes do threaten, the coop can be tucked away in a carport or garage.

There are hundreds of mobile coops designs available. Over 170 images are available at The City Chicken. Many are triangular prisms and most have wheels. By looking at so many designs, it is pretty easy to deduce what the key features are. If that seems too complicated, plans are available for sale online. And at least two local entrepreneurs are building and selling chicken tractors: Ira Klineschmidt and Mike Lasche.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chickens Not a Problem After 2 Year Test in Colorado

Naysayers in Longmont Colorado predicted allowing chickens would mean more work for code enforcement and animal-control officers. Now two years later, the City Council has voted to extend the ordinance and remove a prior limit on how many households could have chickens. Read all about it in the daily camera.

How ya' gonna keep 'em in Sarasota?

Here along the North Trail we have somewhere around five educational institutions and attract smart and creative students from around the state and country. Most leave when they graduate and that's to be expected, but those that stay or return contribute immeasurably to Sarasota's economic, social, and artistic vitality. Sarasota's reputation as an elderly community probably reads as a minus to many young professionals, but our climate, beaches (and inertia) conspire to keep recent graduates here. But we need to ask: what more could we be doing to attract or retain these creative, entrepreneurial types?

My informal polling suggests a more vibrant (later) downtown music/social scene, community gardens, and (drumroll) chickens. I don't know about other institutions, but New College students not going to graduate school head out to places like Portland, Asheville, Austin, New York, Boulder, and Seattle and, surprise, all these places allow backyard urban chickens. The terms and conditions vary from 3 to 9 hens, but they all allow hens.

Of course, should they migrate to Chicago, Madison, Atlanta, St. Louis, Baltimore, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles, Denver, Miami, Des Moines, Boise, or Louisville they could also have a few hens there.

The City of Sarasota, usually a leader, needs to catch up with the rest of the country if we are to remain competitive in attracting and keeping the young and the skilled.

Wording of Proposed Residential Urban Chicken Keeping City Code Amendment


Sec. 8-2. Keeping livestock and certain animals prohibited.

(a) Except for a retail establishment engaging in the lawful sale of animals and Sarasota Jungle

Gardens, it shall be unlawful for any person to keep, harbor, raise or maintain the following:

(1) Any livestock;

(2) Any poultry, except chickens being kept, harbored, raised, or maintained as

accessory to a residential single family structure, subject to the following


a. No more than four (4) chickens may be kept, with roosters prohibited,

b. No person shall slaughter any chickens,

c. The chickens shall be provided with a movable covered enclosure (i.e. “chicken

tractor”) and must be kept in the covered enclosure or a fenced enclosure at all

times. No covered enclosure or fenced enclosure shall be located in the front

yard nor shall it be closer than ten (10) feet to any property line of an adjacent


d. All enclosures for the keeping of chickens shall be so constructed and

maintained as to prevent rodents or other pests from being harbored underneath,

within, or within the walls of the enclosure and to protect the chickens from

predators. Enclosures shall be kept in neat condition, including provision of

clean, dry bedding materials and regular removal of waste materials,

e. All feed and other items associated with the keeping of chickens that are likely

to attract or to become infested with or infected by rodents or other pests shall

be kept in secure containers or otherwise protected so as to prevent rodents and

other pests from gaining access to or coming into contact with them;

(3) Any rabbits, except those being kept, harbored, raised or maintained:

a. As pets within a completely enclosed dwelling or detached garage capable of

housing at least two cars;

b. In an outside enclosure, coop or pen, up to a maximum of two rabbits.

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a) above, the city manager or his designee

may, by special permit, authorize the keeping harboring, raising or maintaining of livestock,

poultry or rabbits (not within a dwelling) within the city limits. A special permit may only be

issued for a specified limited period of time and shall set forth such conditions or requirements as

shall be deemed necessary to mitigate the potential adverse effects upon neighboring properties.

In determining whether a special permit shall be issued, the city manager or his designee shall

consider the nature of the request, the potential benefit to the city or the general public which

may result if the special permit is granted, and any adverse effects which neighboring properties

may experience if the special permit is granted.

(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a) above, private restrictions on the use of

property and keeping of animals shall remain enforceable and take precedence over the standards

herein. Private restrictions include but are not limited to deed restrictions, condominium master

deed restrictions, neighborhood association by-laws, and covenant deeds. The interpretation and

enforcement of the private restriction is the sole responsibility of the private parties involved.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Residential Urban Chicken Keeping City Code Amendment Nov. 29th

The Planning Board of the City of Sarasota will be considering the Residential Urban Chicken Keeping City Code Amendment starting at 6:00 p.m. on November 29, 2010 in the Commission Chambers at City Hall, 1565 First Street. Ten Issues will be taken up that evening.

City Staff are recommending the measure. The measure will need three votes from the Planning Board to be recommended for adoption by the City Commission and there is a possibility only four members may be present.