Five chickens live in my sister’s backyard. They hang out in a coop behind her Portland, Ore. home, and they rise with the sun and go to bed when it sets. Each of the hens — Comida, Rojo, Food, Gordo and Dumbo — lay eggs, and she collects these in the mornings to cook breakfast and use for dinner at night.
The chickens dine on food pellets, scraps and bugs. She works for a commercial organic farm on Sauvie Island, a fertile 26,000-acre chunk of land that sits in the Columbia River. So, the leftovers they eat are things like bruised tomatoes and wilted lettuce. Sometime she lets them out of the coop to roam the yard and peck at apples that have fallen from the tree.
These chickens are spoiled, unlike the ones who produce the majority of eggs found at the grocery store. Those eggs come from hens who act as a manufacturing line. They are raised with thousands of other chickens, don’t see the light of day and probably can’t walk. Movies like “Food Inc.” and “Super Size Me” shed light on these corporate factories and often make the audience think twice about purchasing the standard grocery store dozen.
People say that farm-fresh eggs just taste better and that they have more nutrients, like Omega-3s. Others want to stand against the mass production of eggs. But the movement toward backyard chickens is a combination of many factors that really comes to knowing from where one’s food comes.
And it’s not just for country bumpkins.
Across the United States, major metropolitan cities and small towns are adopting livestock regulations to address the growing trend to urbanize animals. My sister lives just minutes from downtown Portland, three blocks from the freeway and chickens are fair game. More than 100 cities nationwide allow fowl, including New York, Miami and Denver (on a chicken-by-chicken basis). There aren’t official numbers, but the resourceful website backyardchickens.com boasts more than 145,000 registered users.
In Aspen, it’s less common. When I called the Community Development department, they didn’t have an immediate answer for me when I asked, “Can people raise chickens in the city limits?”
Raising chickens for personal use on private property appears to be OK under city zoning, as long as they’re not a crowing nuisance to neighbors.
Maybe it’s too cold. Maybe people would rather pay the $5 at the farmers’ market for fresh eggs than tend to a flock everyday. Maybe most people don’t have yards, and that makes having a chicken coop tough. Or maybe, it’s just a trend that hasn’t hit Aspen yet.
The towns of Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have all amended their municipal codes to include language that either permits (Basalt and Carbondale) or prohibits (Glenwood Springs) fowl within the city limits. So, there are people raising poultry somewhere in this valley.
One of my sister’s chickens has stopped laying eggs, and they’re ready to make it a la king. (But that’s off-topic in this vegetarian’s column).
She’s thinking they’ll replace it with a duck to diversify the coop and their menu.
By the time urban ducking takes off, maybe we’ll have some backyard coops here in Aspen.
Christine Benedetti would have chickens if she had a yard. Tell me about your fowl at firstname.lastname@example.org.