This column is all about chickens. You heard me, chickens. Check it out.
Each week, while working out on the StairMaster at my gym, I read the Chico News & Review from cover to cover. This last year, I’ve learned a lot about chickens and city policy.
In June, the Chico News & Review ran a story about Brad and Shannon Schreiber. They’d been raising two hens in the backyard. Their hens laid about a dozen eggs over the previous nine months. Then a neighbor complained. The city told the Schreibers to get a permit or the chickens would have to go. In Chico, these permits cost around $1,500 for homeowners and $3,000 for renters. You can imagine the outcome. It was curtains for the chickens.
Our story led to a public outcry. And the Chico City Council took up the matter of these expensive fees in a September meeting.
I suppose this would be the right moment to admit that I do not now nor have I ever raised chickens. But in my lifetime, I have eaten approximately 43,000 eggs. And of all those eggs, the eggs laid in someone’s backyard, by a hen that I knew, tasted significantly better than the other 42,994 laid by perfect strangers.
But back to Chico. The city council agreed to an October showdown. In the previous year, there had been 16 complaints about chickens. Pro-chicken supporters pointed to numerous other cities that had embraced backyard chickens, including Seattle, which has a two-year chicken permit that costs $50. Madison, Wisconsin, has a five-year permit for 20 bucks. In San Francisco, you can have four hens without a permit.
Finally, the issue came to a vote. One of the council members, Jim Walker, had to excuse himself from voting, because he kept chickens in his backyard and had no permit. But even without his vote, the council agreed unanimously to shelve the fees, at least for now. Permits for dogs, who in my humble opinion can cause a lot more problems than chickens, will continue to cost $12.50 a year for spayed or $25 for unaltered dogs. I think this is fair. When chickens start biting people and pooping on strangers’ lawns, perhaps then we can talk about raising their fees.
It’s a small victory for delicious eggs, diverse backyards and successfully rethinking an outdated policy. Here in our fair city, we also have government codes forbidding individuals from raising chickens in their backyards. In Sacramento, organizations such as Environment and Agriculture Task Force, or EAT Sacramento, have been lobbying to legalize urban chickens. Maybe we’ll follow in Chico’s footsteps.
By the way, on a related note, I should warn you that the Chico News & Review’s last issue of the year asked, “Is squirrel the new sustainable meat?”
What do you think, dear readers?