Chicken City

Tomorrow night, Thursday, September 2nd, the Providence City Council will vote on an ordinance to permit residents to keep egg-laying hens in the city. Southside Community Land Trust stands behind this proposal to allow urban chicken-keeping in Providence, believing that access to fresh, locally-raised eggs is beneficial for nutrition, the environment, food safety, and economic self-reliance.

More broadly, SCLT believes that incorporating urban chicken farming into Providence’s local food movement—already strong thanks to thriving community gardens and farmer’s markets and a tradition of culinary arts—would further distinguish the city as both a center for urban food culture and a leader of green initiatives.

Some Providence residents have expressed legitimate concerns about the consequences of allowing their neighbors to raise backyard chickens. SCLT has offered to serve as a community resource on this subject, and we are committed to educating city residents about responsible chicken-rearing. With that in mind, here are some facts about chickens that will hopefully put a few common misconceptions to roost.

Myth: Chickens make noise.

Fact: While it’s true that roosters crow, hens are actually very quiet animals. They do not squawk unless they are afraid, and they go to sleep at night just like other household pets.

Myth: Chickens are dirty and spread disease.

Fact: This fear is understandable given the recent headlines about eggs contaminated with salmonella in the media. However, it is important to remember that those eggs came from an industrial-scale chicken farm. Confined animal feeding operations are much more likely to harbor diseases because they pack a large number of animals into a tight space (one that is often devoid of sunlight or grass). Home-raised eggs, on the other hand, are less likely to contain hazardous bacteria because individual backyard chicken coops with a limited number of hens are more protected from the spread of illness. Backyard chickens do not have to be dosed with antibiotics or synthetic hormones, and their eggs have also been shown to be naturally richer in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E than those from industrial settings.

Myth: Chickens are normally confined to rural areas.

Fact: In reality, more than 65 percent of major U.S. cities, including Portland, New York, Seattle, Denver, Madison, Baltimore, and New Haven have chicken-keeping ordinances on the books.

Myth: Chickens take up a lot of space and consume valuable resources.

Fact: Actually, chickens need surprisingly little room. Poultry associations designate that chickens require only 3 square feet of ranging area per bird. The initial cost of setting up a small coop and pen can be as low as $100, and hens cost very little to feed, especially if their diet is supplemented with weeds, grass clippings, bugs, and kitchen scraps. A single hen can lay about five eggs per week, saving families money on their food budget and providing a high-protein form of energy. The average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate; by raising chickens right here in Providence, citizens will be substantially reducing their carbon footprint.

Myth: Chicken waste is bad for the soil.

Fact: On the contrary! Chicken droppings are extremely high in nitrogen, an important nutrient for plant growth. They can even be added to compost, reducing the need to purchase chemical fertilizers for the lawn and garden.

Myth: Chickens attract pests and predators.

Fact: In point of fact, chickens are an excellent form of pest control. They will dine on cockroaches, tomato horn worms, aphids, grubs, and other unwanted insects. They will even eat small mice. And the presence of chickens does not attract predators any more than does the presence of other domestic animals such as rabbits and cats.

We hope this information is helpful in making up your mind on this issue. The City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m. tomorrow evening in the Council Chambers on the third floor of City Hall (located at 25 Dorrance Street). To identify your ward representative and express your opinion, visit www.providenceri.com/CityCouncil/council-find.php. If you have questions about the ordinance or about urban chicken-keeping, you can contact Leo Pollock, education director for SCLT, at education@southsideclt.org or (401) 273-9419 ext. 28.

You can also learn more about backyard chicken farming by attending “Raising Urban Chickens,” a free workshop offered as part of the “Plant Providence: Growing Food in the City” series. The workshop will be held on Saturday, November 13th at 1 p.m. at City Farm, SCLT’s three-quarter-acre urban farm at W. Clifford and Dudley Streets. SCLT will also be offering another “Raising Urban Chickens” workshop and a hands-on “Build an Inexpensive Chicken Coop” workshop in 2011.

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3 Comments to “Chicken City”

  1. – There is lead in most of our soil in Providence
    – There will be animal cruelty
    – Baby chicks come via mail from abusive factory farm battery cage breeding facilities
    – it is nearly impossible to sex a chick – over 50% will be roosters. What will happen to them?
    – Live baby rooster chicks are used for packing material when chicks are shipped
    – Chickens cannot be taken to a regular vet – they need to see an avian specialist. How many people can afford that kind of veterinary care??
    – The RISPCA does not support backyard urban chickens
    – None of the national/international farm animal rights organizations support urban backyard chickens:
    http://farmsanctuary.typepad.com/making_hay/backyard-chickens/

    This ordinance is not promoting “sustainability” — it is purely human selfishness.

  2. The lead is a legitimate concern. Perhaps SCLT can offer suggestions in this regard. Chicks can be obtained LOCALLY, in a small number (6), from area grain stores. The occasional rooster may need to be culled from time to time (same as beginning of time); but people should not fool themselves into thinking factory chickens are treated humanely. Grow local isn’t just for veggies!

    • Thank you both for initiating this discussion on the blog and sharing your opinions. We do care about the health and welfare of the animals, which is why we are committed to offering multiple programs throughout the fall and winter about how to responsibly raise chickens and construct coops. Now that we have successfully done the policy work, education will be key to implementing the new ordinance in an ethical and sustainable way. I have passed on all of your comments as well as the statement from Farm Sanctuary to our Education Director, who is coordinating the Raising Urban Chickens workshop in November, so that the presenters will be aware of the legitimate concerns associated with backyard chickens—particularly issues with poultry suppliers’ sexing and packing practices, lack of access to veterinary care, and contaminated soil—and can hopefully address some of them at that time. We encourage everyone to attend the workshop to learn more.

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