Exposing the Chicken Underground

Chickens hiding out from the law isn’t pretty, but it’s taking place in cities across the U.S. The exact number of illegal chick-immigrants is difficult to know, but it has caused a big flap. All the fuss hasn’t kept the underground chicken movement from taking flight.

This chick clique may not be what you expect. Normally mild-mannered homeowners are sneaking chickens into their back yards, hoping that the police won’t be waiting with handcuffs when their mail-order flocks arrive. They’ve gone to court to fight for the right to raise chickens in their own back yards, and they’ve made great strides.

The Brits are the instigators of entire brood-ha-ha with their "eglu" invention and the raising of chickens in London in 2003. The idea caught on in Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon where folks are already known for being a little different. From there, it spread along the West Coast, and to Chicago. It’s become so pervasive that no large city in the U.S. is without a chicken underground.

The motives for raising city chickens are varied, but most cite the sustainable farming goals that include the idea of raising most of one’s own food. Keeping food production close to home not only allows the end-user to monitor the conditions under which it is grown, it eliminates the need to transport it from farm to market to home, thus reducing the carbon emissions associated with transportation.

Advocates also argue that it is better for the chickens since they aren’t raised in factory farms. The backyard setting allows for small flocks, usually limited to 4. Most cities require henhouse permits and don’t allow the pens to be located within 25’ of their neighbors. The Urban Chicken Underground has a good list of links to members of the chicken movement.

I’m a big fan of self-sufficiency, not such a fan of raising chickens. But hey, if someone else wants to raise them, I’ll cheer them on. One of the benefits of the urban chicken is that it creates demands for other grass-roots businesses and small mobile slaughtering services; chicken owners can barter urban eggs for urban produce, and so on.