Fresh Ideas: Carson City should allow urban chickens

Ah spring, and a person's heart turns toward chickens.

Chickens? Absolutely. To feel spring in the air, visit S&W Feed on South Carson Street. By the front door is a galvanized horse trough full of baby chicks. It's worth a visit, especially with young children.

In our mayoral race last year, urban livestock became a campaign issue. It turned out that two of the candidates had illegal livestock. They are far from alone. The Worldwatch Institute reports that a growing number of city dwellers are raising their own chickens.

Why keep chickens? I asked Jean Bondiett, another of last year's political candidates, and also a keeper of livestock (she lives on a one-acre lot, however, so her chickens are legal). Jean and her husband Bob have maintained a chicken flock for more than 19 years. Jean says the fresh eggs are great.

If you're convinced of the health and environmental benefits of eating locally, well, you can't get much more local than your own backyard. Eggs from backyard chickens also are a great source of cheap protein for unemployed families.

What about disease and smell? Jean says the chickens, with their voracious appetite for insects, keep her yard remarkably free from flies and bugs. She has to clean out the coop regularly, but then, you have to clean up after any pet.

What about diseases? Bird flu expert Dr. Michael Greger, speaking to the filmmakers of "Mad City Chicken," a documentary about urban chickens just out in DVD, says that small-scale bird tending doesn't increase the risk of transferring avian flu to humans. In fact, free-range chickens are healthier than their factory-farm sisters, where the high bird density means diseases spread quickly.

Chickens have personalities, a range of different songs and vocalizations, and beautiful variety of plumage. Another great place to take kids is the annual Northern Nevada Poultry Show, where there are always many gorgeous birds.

Jean says about chickens: "As long as people don't have roosters, I think people should have them in every backyard."

But as our mayoral candidates found out, that's not legal in Carson City. Municipal Code reads, "Horses, swine, fowl, sheep or other animals of a similar nature shall not be maintained on any lot or parcel other than a lot or parcel zoned agriculture, conservation reserve, single family one acre (or larger)."

I can understand not keeping a horse in my backyard, but a few chickens? Properly cared for, they're no more a nuisance than any other pet. Many cities do allow urban chickens. Las Vegas municipal code, for example, says that residents may keep hens if animal control is notified.

I think Carson City code should be amended to allow up to six fowl on any parcel. But Jean is right " no roosters.

- Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a 19-year resident of Carson City.

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