12 December 2007

Urban Chickens

From back in Chicago, unfortunate news this morning: the City Council looks like it's preparing to ban the ownership of chickens within city limits.

Coming up for a vote Wednesday is a proposal to ban chickens, a former barnyard denizen that is pecking its way into cities across the country as part of a growing organic food trend among young professionals and other urban dwellers.

This supposed justification for the ban is ridiculous:

But the Chicago alderman who proposed a Chicago ban say chicken lovers forget that the birds attract rodents.

"This past summer I started hearing that residents were letting chickens out of their yard and they were leaving poop and mice were feeding off of it," said Alderman Lona Lane. "Then we started getting rodent-control problems and, sure enough, it was the chickens."

If anything, rodents are attracted to poorly-stored chicken feed rather than to chicken droppings. We had problems with mice until we began keeping the chicken feed in tight-lidded metal trash cans. And barn cats certainly help, too.

There have also been complaints about noisy roosters, and this is entirely justifiable in my opinion. No one has any business keeping mature roosters in a densely-populated urban or suburban neighborhood. But this can easily be solved by banning roosters, and allowing the keeping of females only. And with some good fencing, hens can be kept contained in one area of a person's property.

And another piece of advice to those thinking about maintaining an urban flock of laying hens: keep your neighbors happy by supplying them with fresh eggs as gifts. Happy neighbors don't call the police, particularly not when they have a "stake" in your flock.

What saddens me most about this ban is it's yet another attempt to separate people from the source of their food. Particularly in urban settings, people just don't know where their food comes from anymore. Eggs have become merely another factory product, to be purchased at the mega mart in pristine Styrofoam packaging. And for those who want an urban garden, this new ordinance will deprive them of a wonderful helper: chickens are outstanding consumers of bugs, and excellent producers of organic fertilizer. Instead, would-be gardeners will be increasingly forced to rely on chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

One thing I really enjoyed about living in Illinois, was working Knights of Columbus Bingo at our parish with an older Knight named Tom, who had grown up in Chicago in the 1940s. He had wonderful stories about life from that era. Everyone had some kind of livestock, he says --- right there in the City. Particularly during the War, if you wanted to eat, you needed to raise something in addition to what the ration cards allowed. Goats, chickens, rabbits --- even dairy cows were not unusual. (Please, no comments about Mrs. O'Leary...I think that's an urban legend, anyhow.)

The Council vote is supposed to happen today. My Chicago readers still have time to call their Alderman and register an opinion.

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