Friday, March 29, 2013

City Council to Consider Allowing Backyard Chicken Coops

by Max Marbut, staff writer

For the past two years, Lauren Trad as worked to adjust the law to allow residents to maintain chickens on properties in most areas of Duval County.

She was one of more than 50 people who attended a meeting held Tuesday by City Council members Doyle Carter and Don Redman on the topic, the first step in possible legislation to amend City zoing code to allow small flocks of hens on property zoned Residential Low Density, which includes most free-standing single-family homes.

Under current code, poultry are permitted only on property zoned for agricultural or rural residential use. In addition, poultry must be at least 50 feet from any property line.

Trad said her family discovered its appreciation for chickens during a vacation on a dairy farm in Costa Rica. She said her children were fascinated by the egg-laying hens at the farm and decided to try their hand at urban agriculture in San Jose.

They installed a chicken coop in the backyard and purchased some pullets on the Internet, she said.
"About a month later, we were getting eggs," Trad said.

She said the eggs were fresh and she knew what the hens had been fed, altogether making the eggs a low-cost replacement for the organic, free-range product she was purchasing from grocery stores.

Trad said it also served as an educational experience for her children and has made them aware of where food comes from and the responsibility of caring for another living creature.

A year after the hens arrived, Trad learned raising chickens in her backyard was not allowed under the zoning code and said it concerned her when her children were watching her break the law.

One day when asked, Trad admitted to her daughter having the hens was an illegal act.

"That was hard for a mom to say," she said.

The illegal leghorns were relocated and Trad founded a grass-roots effort to change the law to allow small flocks of hens – no roosters – to be kept in most areas of Duval County.

She established a website,, and began collecting petition signatures in support of amending the zoning regulations.

It now has more than 2,000 signatures.

Trad on Tuesday submitted a list of suggestions for proposed legislation and a letter from Bradley Burbaugh, agricultural agent for the Duval County Extension of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

In the letter, Burbaugh cited benefits of backyard birds, including decreasing grocery bills and providing garden fertilizer. He said having a small flock in the backyard "should cause no more problems than those raised by the presence of cats or dogs." Burbaugh said backyard chickens are allowed in Seattle, Chicago, Denver and other cities and according to Newsweek magazine, more than 65 percent of major U.S. cities have chicken-keeping ordinances.

Trad also presented "Basic Guide for the Backyard Chicken Flock," published in 2010 by the institute.
The guide to urban chicken management includes instructions for feeding, housing and caring for hens and an overview of varieties of chickens and their characteristics.

If the potential legislation is enacted, the change would affect more than 139,000 households in Duval County that would be able under the law to keep chickens in the backyard.

"I'm from the Westside. We've always had chickens," said Carter.

"Chickens are part of life," said Redman, who grew up on a farm in Oklahoma.

Carter and Redman said the next step is to evaluate the laws in effect in other municipalities and then develop legislation to introduce to Council.
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