Coming Home to Roost

Keeping a flock of backyard hens has gone from being homey to being oh-so-stylishly vogue.

By Denise Foley

Photography by Matthew Benson

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roosterGathering fresh eggs, with their exquisite pale blue, creamy white, and even chocolate brown shells, is just one of the many charms that comes with keeping chickens. As the recent chicken renaissance continues to gather momentum, coops are becoming an increasingly common sight in urban and suburban back yards around the country. The recession and an unabated interest in local and organic foods have certainly contributed to the enthusiasm for chickens, but many people who keep a small flock do so for a simple reason: Chickens make fantastic pets

Getting Started

Before purchasing birds or planning for a coop, it is important to check local regulations and homeowner association rules. Many municipalities ban roosters (don't worry, hens lay eggs without them) and limit the number of hens a household can keep. Some communities require signed agreements from neighbors, permits, or an appearance before the zoning board, while others have ordinances that restrict the size and placement of outbuildings.

Sometimes the rules are surprising—pleasantly. New York City, for example, has never banned hens, says Owen Taylor, the training and livestock coordinator for Just Food, a nonprofit that works to improve access to fresh, healthy, locally grown food in the city. "They're considered pets, like cats and dogs, so zoning laws do not apply," Taylor says.

10 Fun Facts About Chickens

In communities that outlaw poultry, chicken activists are joining together to challenge the laws. Tracy Halward formed the Longmont Urban Chicken Coalition after her family was cited for illegally keeping chickens in their Longmont, Colorado, back yard. The coalition scored a victory when the city council voted to allow a pilot backyard-chicken program, and in March 2009 issued permits to 50 residents, including Halward. Similar grassroots movements have overturned chicken bans in Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Bozeman, Montana. So backyard flocks may become common once again.

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