"What are you building?" the cashier asked as we paid for several sheets of plywood and some 2×4s. When we told her she said, "a lot of people are building chicken coops this summer."

City ordinances are changing to allow for backyard chicken keeping. From Portland to New York City, ordinances are being revised, spelling out what will be allowed as cities respond to pressure from residents for permission to raise chickens. (See ordinances for information about your city.) Most cities prohibit roosters (this video shows why) and backyard slaughtering, and limit the number of hens allowed and the placement of coops near homes and property lines. Many prohibit backyard chickens altogether, though if neighbors don't complain residents raise them anyway.

Urban chickens were common in the 19th century, and helped supplement family diets and budgets during the Great Depression. While the current urban chicken movement did not emerge in response to economic woes, it may play a part in reshaping how we think about ourselves as consumers. The trend is part of a growing movement encouraging people to buy local or raise their own - whether beans and corn or eggs and honey.

Blogs from chicken-keepers suggest that most of them raise chickens in support of sustainable, simple, and healthy eating. But people keep chickens for multiple reasons. Some are protesting the inhumane lives hens in battery cages at factory farms live. Some want to be more connected and in control of food growing processes that sustain them.

For Mark and me, getting chickens is also how we hope to control the larvae that become pear slugs that eat the leaves off our fruit trees. We like that chickens will scratch through our garden in the fall after we're done harvesting, ...

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