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A Chicken In Every Garage

In The Wall Street Journal today, Nick Timiraos reports that city councils across the country are squabbling over the pluses and minuses of letting homeowners keep chickens in their backyards:

Enthusiasts say chickens make great pets, especially for young children, and that their eggs taste much better than the store-bought kind. Ms. Palermo also uses chicken waste as fertilizer for her vegetable garden and composter and feeds grass clippings, carrot tops, and other green waste to her birds. "In 24 hours, it will be an egg and fertilizer," she says.

Advocates, who also tout the economic benefits of having free eggs, say the recession is driving an interest in backyard gardens that increasingly include chicken coops.

But critics of the backyard coops say chickens attract raccoons, coyotes, and other pests and that they create unsanitary conditions. And the foes say the cited economic benefits are nonsense. Just building a coop can cost hundreds of dollars and raising hens is time-consuming.

"It's silliness," says Terri Frohnmayer, a commercial real-estate broker who is co-chairwoman of one of Salem's 19 neighborhood associations and lives outside town next to a farm that has chickens. "Eggs aren't even that expensive anyway. What's next? Goats? Llamas?" Her advice to hen-loving neighbors: "Get a farm."

This is all in Salem, Oregon, where, oddly enough, you can legally keep a pet pig but not a hen. Strangely, the Journal doesn't explore what may be the most salient argument against urban chickens—the sanitation bit. Doesn't anyone remember avian flu? But, from what I gather, the pro-chicken contingent has a decent response to this: For one, proper maintenance can keep your poultry hale and disease-free; for two, these cluckers are far less filthy than all those pigeons pecking around our parks; and three, small-scale chicken farming is a heck of a lot cleaner than those massive factory farms, which, as Jesse noted the other day, are brimming with all sorts of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Still, the debates continue. Plenty of towns, like Ann Arbor and Madison, have repealed their urban-coop bans; others are holding firm. Here's a site where a person could (theoretically) procure a few samizdat chickens—35,000 members and growing. And, apparently, for those interested in the meat angle but too squeamish to dispatch their own pets, mobile slaughterhouses are springing up in states like Washington and Vermont to accommodate urban chicken farmers. Who knew?

--Bradford Plumer