Urban chicken trend on rise in Bay Area

January 2, 2009 6:36:13 PM PST
Most of us pick up our eggs at the grocery store, but more and more people around the Bay Area are skipping the trip and walking no further than their back yard.

There was a time when fresh eggs came out of nearly everyone's backyard.

"Maybe 40-50 years ago everybody had chickens. I mean it was normal to have chickens in the city," said Susan Anderson.

Oakland resident Susan Anderson is one of a growing number of people around the Bay and the nation who are turning back the clock and putting the cluck back in their backyard.

"I got them because I thought it would be really good for the kids to see the whole cycle of life," she explained.

Paul Cavanese and Ann Naffziger built a hen house behind their Alameda home.

"Our last flock we had for three years and they laid over 1900 eggs," said Naffziger.

In San Rafael a hen house has been built into a play structure at the Pollock house.

"The more I read about it the more I realized it just sounded totally easy," said Diane Pollock.

No one knows just how many urban chickens are in the Bay Area but we do know they are attracting a lot of attention.

"We know quite a few within just a half mile of here, and we know a lot of people who are thinking about getting them," said Naffziger.

Chickens, it seems, are catching on.

In fact, the website www.backyardchickens.com gets 6 million page views a month and 4,000 new posts on its online forum each day. There is even Backyard Poultry magazine which boasts 50,000 subscribers nationwide.

Urban chicken ranchers say it does not take much work. You will need a cage and some room for the chickens to roam of course.

"You just have to be careful that they are kept locked up because of raccoons. Raccoons at nighttime will go after them," warns Paul Cavanese.

But the cost is otherwise minimal.

"It's really cheap. It's chicken feed," said Pollock laughingly.

The chicks cost a couple of bucks and mostly eat table scraps. Chicken feed only runs about $20 for a 50-pound bag. And, not only will they eat garden pests while fertilizing your yard, chicken owners say they make great pets.

But, you will get what seems like an endless supply of eggs.

"We thought we were going to get 12 a week with 4 chickens but we got more like 16 a week," said Pollock.

But this is not just about eggs.

Images taken by many animal activists expose large-scale factory farms and the mistreatment of animals. The videos have led some people to be more concerned about where their food comes from.

"There are so many reasons to do it. The fresh eggs are great. It's great to know where the food is coming from and to know that the animals are treated well," said Paul Cavanese.

"I was little worried about where our food was coming from. I want to know where that food is coming from and I saw that, I think that bit where I saw them pushing the cows over with the bulldozer, just totally like got me," said Susan Anderson.

While chickens are popular, not every city embraces them and most have restrictions against noise-making roosters.

The former mayor of Moraga angered some neighbors with chickens she had in her yard.

"It turned out that we have an ordinance that basically says whether you're a horse owner or chicken owner, they're considered farm animals," explained Lynda Deschambault.

She had chickens for seven years but had to get rid of them. But, she is now taking up the fight for urban chicken ranching rights and pushing for legislation that will fill her coop once again.

"A lot of people are trying to get away from factory farming or supporting farmers markets, and to have chickens right in your back yards, it's great," said Lynda Deschambault.

So, before you race out and start your own urban chicken ranch you should check with your local city hall.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel