“A Fowl” of the Law

By Tyler Danke, in his recent newsletter from Purely Poultry.

For people who want to own chickens, but cannot due to local ordinances, it may be difficult to believe that the Department of Agriculture once issued posters encouraging people to keep chickens (see below). But, it’s true. During WWI, the Great Depression, and throughout WWII, American citizens were told to plant gardens, keep chickens, preserve produce, car pool, and take other frugality measures.

Comparing those times today creates a stark contrast. Today, there are reports of families being fined for having gardens in the front yard, when gardens were once a sign of patriotism. Prospective flock keepers all over the country are fighting for the right to have a few hens, whereas in the past, having a few hens was seen as the right thing to do. People were more likely to think you were odd for not having some fowl!

Obviously, much has changed in the last 80-90 years, and in many ways we are better for those changes. But declaring chickens illegal does not represent positive change, and in many cases, chickens remain off-limits due to ignorance. Despite the fact that people who keep chickens know that they aren’t “nasty” there is a widespread public perception that they are, indeed, nasty. And loud. And smelly. And possibly disease-ridden.

It takes work to educate people and to show them the benefits of having a few birds. We know that lots of our readers are working hard to help change laws related to keeping chickens, and we would like to help. Here are a few links to resources that may be beneficial to you. Also, we would love to hear about your situation, so please feel free to share your story on our Facebook Page. You never know, someone in our community may have some good advice (they usually do!).

Thoughts on Moving Foward

Some of our suggestions for moving forward with urban chickens at this point:

1. Patience & gentle persistence (a marathon, not a sprint)

2. Education & awareness about general sustainability principles (i.e., letters to the editor, viral Facebook letters, etc.), with minimal or maybe even no mention of chickens (I have a letter brewing in my head right now)

3. Powerful, robust, irrefutable & clear data about the first 3 fears (disease, over-worked staff, bad apples). I think we had good facts about this stuff, but I have some ideas of how we can do it even better so that council members wouldn’t be able to throw out some random salmonella data or random work-load guesses, and have it hold weight to our data, for instance.

4. An expansion of our FAQ document into a booklet to include more data mentioned in #3, to include local pictures of families in the Fox Valley raising chickens, and to include more basic chicken info, such as how they survive in the winter, how one composts their waste. Don, who attends the monthly mtgs regularly, is a writer and has already approached me about taking the lead on this project, and I think it would be cool if some Lawrence students could help him, possibly even for internship or class credit.

5. Community visibility, maybe in a year or so, such as being out at Farmer’s Market passing out our booklet from #4, maybe a showing of Mad City Chickens movie at Appleton Library with some speakers to follow, etc.

6. Coops tours in neighboring communities for city staff and council members (and even inviting our most vocal detractors), once some of this other above stuff is done, which I think can address fear #4. Prejudice & fears are easy when one does not have first-hand experience with something. My sense is few of the council members have had first-hand experience with urban chickens, and even those who voted against would be willing to join us on a coop tour, and would probably have a fun time with it. We’d need to insure them the tours would be friendly. And, to my recollection, I don’t remember a single chicken detractor saying they had first-hand experience with urban coops. But I do remember a number of people saying they weren’t so sure at first, until they saw a urban coop in person and that swayed them.

7. Consider adding a few more passionate chicken supporters to our leadership team.

A few internet resources that I think could help us, both in details & in strategy:



Shannon Kenevan