Backyard Chickens: WWI-Era Solution to Almost Everything

Over the course of the past six or eight decades, certain things have come to define, in part, our modern existence: Making a living out of your home has been increasingly restricted, especially in predominantly residential areas; the production of goods has fallen to fewer and larger hands; and we’ve now heard just about all we can stand about the helpless generation, with their legion of helicopter parents herding them about.

Now contrast that reality with this USDA poster from just under a century ago, courtesy of online foodsteaders The Icebox Chronicles. In a simple, pragmatic way, the Fed somehow manages to address personal food security, childhood responsibility (the picture even shows them doing all the work), recreation, income potential, and patriotic duty all with a simple plea for backyard chickens.

But times have changed, you say. Today’s world is modern and convenience-driven. We no longer have to fend for ourselves in such old-timey ways. And that may be true, at least presently, but have we become so comfortably detached from the basic workings of nature that we’re now compelled to greet the prospect of a neighboring chicken (not even a rooster!) as though it were a landfill? Or a sex offender? (Like this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or ….)

Zoning codes successfully manage all kinds of things that have the potential to be a problem but are not inherently so. So what’s up here?

There’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about a chicken. It’s pretty much a cat with wings that pays you back in food and fertilizer. Which makes me wonder how something so simple, something once promoted by the U.S. government as an easy, self-reliant balm for a host of domestic (and national) challenges is now, less than a century later, a growing source of community angst.

They’re fine. They’re harmless. And they’re a helluva lot quieter than a leaf blower.

Scott Doyon

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  1. I agree with the article. In our town, zoning allows chickens but with a 15 foot setback. This makes our reasonable sized backyard too small to make the chickens practical.

    Some of our friends either ignore the zoning or have bigger yards and do have chickens. In visiting them, the chickens have always been quiet.

    Contrast this with our neighbors with dogs waking us up at all hours of the night and jumping on the fence and barking at us.

    For me, I prefer the chickens over the dogs and would prefer that at a minimum they have the same zoning restrictions for setbacks.

  2. Bruce Miller says:

    Not quite as easy as ordering a drive through Big Mac for a snack folks. America not hungry enough for this yet. my question: “Why are Asians still eating bugs, worms lizards, ‘everything with it’s back to the sun”?

  3. yes, the distinction between farm and yard was set pretty tight in the past. not wanting farm animals in the ‘burbs made some sense but there is a difference between 4 laying hens and a small herd of cattle.

    like most, our town does not allow farm livestock in town. a few years ago, a group got the city council to consider a new ordinance allowing very limited backyard poultry. council dismissed the idea with a comment essentially saying they did not wanting to have our town thought of as a hillbilly-ish place. you know, hillbilly-ish like ann arbor …

  4. Much-needed post, Scott… Thanks so much! FWIW, come to Miami and discover a major US metropolis with chickens roaming the streets with no harm to the humans. Or visit the classic small town of Key West and discover exactly the same thing. The rejection of visible sources of food in the city (gardens and animals) is either a declaration that we want to starve or a declaration that we want food from oil. Bad choices both, IMO.

  5. Yea, I have a chicken blog and have many readers tell me that they cant raise chickens because of the zoning laws in there town. They do have enough space but the law requires them to be a certain distance away from there neighbors.

    I still have a hard time why the laws haven’t changed about this because I believe dogs are a lot noisy and destructive than chickens. I here people all the time they attract rats but that is not true. I have been raising chickens for many years and never had problems with that.

    My town was trying to ban backyard chickens last year but since I live in a very liberal town that law did not get passed.

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