Owning Chickens: Outlaws for a Good Cause

| 11/9/2009 11:09:42 AM

In the early hours before the sun rises, especially on a rainy day in the Oregon mountains, the lucky insomniac can find a place of unspeakable, timeless bliss in his alone hours, with only a cat for company.

They used to be gods in Egypt, but in 21st Century America, they’re just companion animals and living, shedding indoor decoration. Yume (it means “dream” in Japanese) is resting on the windowsill, pushing away sleep like me. He neither writes, nor does he toil or spin, but his presence is conducive to the flow. Occasionally, we have long discussions. Recently, I discovered that we both like eggs. He suggested that I write about it.

Yesterday, I made an omelet with three eggs. The bald fact of it would seem to be no big deal, except: These eggs were one day old, with huge orange yolks, laid by free-range hens. But wait, there’s more. Those chickens live on the farm of a world-class artist. Don’t know how much you pay for eggs, but this dozen was delivered to my door for the amazingly low price of $2.50, and they’re such good eggs that I’ve taken them to local, secret restaurants and paid for my breakfasts with one dozen — green, brown and utterly organic, seething with good art and wholesomeness. These are not ordinary eggs.

By doing so, I’ve probably violated some ordinance or other, relating to public food. OK. My conscience is clear; I watched those eggs being picked from under happy, free-range, bug-eating chickens, and put into recycled cardboard cartons by the hands of a genius artist. Then I hand-carried them in a cooler to a little restaurant that is locally famed for excellent breakfasts, talked with someone, and that’s how a dozen eggs went into the food chain without government authorization. The diners who ate them probably felt better all day, without knowing why.

It is becoming fashionable to raise chickens, even in urban environments. I happen to know firsthand that the city of Forest Grove, Ore., prohibits keeping “farm livestock” within the city limits; yet, I also know outlaws who do so. And there is a movement afoot to change the rule, if it has not already been rescinded by now …

Chickens. Eggs. Manure for the garden. If there is a downside to the ownership of chickens, someone please explain it to me. In her classic book, The Egg and I, author Betty MacDonald made a hilarious case for not living on a chicken ranch. A thousand chickens is arguably too many. But everyone should have a dozen chickens. They’re far more soothing to the jangled city psyche than colorful fish swimming in a tank on a bookshelf. Hens make a soothing clucking noise, and they give you eggs on your breakfast plate that are better and fresher than Bill Gates eats, unless he also keeps chickens.

Stephanie Vasquez_6
4/7/2010 10:42:30 PM

I live in Forest Grove and played a part in the revolt for suburban chickens. My hens clucked quietly in the backyard for a year, with my neighbors gladly accepting eggs, before I took the issue up with city council. I started a website, wrote a proposed code, organized an online petition and hung posters in local businesses. Craigslist helped me find supporters, and eventually two local papers picked up the story. By the time I finally presented my PowerPoint at a council meeting, the effort had so much support that it was only a few months before my girls were legal residents. Funny thing is I didn't need them to be. The code department told me enforcement was "nuisance-driven", and all my neighbors love the hens. No one was coming after me over them. It just seemed like one of those rules that was so illogical it just had to go. Good thing the council saw it that way, too, since a lot of chicken-keepers came out of hiding to make the point. Now if I could just convince them that a softly bleating goat is more useful and less annoying than the barking, aggressive pit bull down the street.

Brad Cox
1/24/2010 8:51:47 PM

This spring my family is going to start raising chickens. My kids will be 1 and 3. This will be there first pets. For me, the chickens will be used as pest control and fertilizer. And of course, for eggs. We live on two acres in east Texas, this should be a fun adventure for the whole family. Brad www.bradscorner.com/blog

Geoff Taylor
11/10/2009 2:29:01 PM

When my Mom went back to Iowa to visit relatives, and this was many years ago, she was struck by how few family farms had chickens. During two Gold Rushes, chicken eggs fetched a silver dollar apiece. During the Great Depression, my grandparents sold eggs to buy school clothing. If you are considering raising chickens in an urban environment, and are worried about breaking the law, consider that it's like not putting enough change into a parking meter: You might get a ticket, but it's not immoral, unethical, criminal, or unwise to keep chickens in a municipality that -- uh, shortsightedly? stupidly? doesn't grasp the concept of Victory Gardens and eggs that are ten minutes fresh in an omelet. My view, anyway. When I lived in Forest Grove, I was delighted to hear that the local police department rolled three vehicles to a report of a dead chicken in the road. Sometimes life just gets arrantly hilarious ...

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