Jefferson County, Chickens and “Your Backyard”

by John Wolforth, Planning and Zoning Director
comments open from Nov. 20 until Dec. 9

Jefferson County is about to embark on drafting regulations to allow chickens in residential zone districts. As we move through the regulation review process and public hearings, here are some things to think about!

Most citizens have become painfully aware of our nation’s economic crisis. Experts warn that the crisis will likely get worse before it gets better. While gas prices have gone up and down, the cost of food, utilities, property taxes, and other services continue to rise. Many local citizens are having a difficult time making ends meet.

A readily available source of eggs saves money, gas, and time. A chicken coop takes less space than a garden tool shed and hens cost very little to feed. In addition, fuel costs and emissions from transporting eggs to the store by semi-trucks and from the store by cars are reduced.

Chickens in Backyard Coops Are Attractive and Clean
Unlike commercial poultry operations or rural farms, people in the city who keep chickens as pets tend to keep them in very attractive enclosures. They take great pride in their pets and backyard coops that they often hold annual tours to show them off. In cities like Denver, Portland, Seattle and Madison, chicken enthusiasts participate in tours, classes, and clubs, adding fabric and educational opportunities to their communities.

Chickens themselves do not smell. Any possible odor would be from feces, but five small hens generate less manure than one medium-sized dog. The manure is not likely to accumulate because it’s a source of free fertilizer for the garden. Once tilled into the soil, manure no longer causes objectionable odors. Dog and cat feces cannot be used as fertilizer or composted because they contain pathogens that can infect humans. Therefore, dog and cat waste is more likely to accumulate and smell.

Not only do chickens produce less waste, most people who keep chickens in the city also have a garden and therefore compost their chicken manure. If composted and added to the garden, the water quality impact would be virtually nothing. Chickens also reduce the need for pesticides because they eat bugs and weeds, further reducing the potential for water pollution.

Chickens Play an Important Role in Sustainable Living
More and more people are interested in living a sustainable life style. Government, utilities, and non-governmental organizations are encouraging citizens to reduce their consumption of resources. A small number of backyard chickens allow us the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and support the local food movement.

People who have backyard hens are less likely to use harmful chemicals and pesticides in their gardens. Instead, they desire their yard to be healthy and environmentally-friendly. They consider chickens a natural extension of their garden because they eat weeds and bugs and provide fertilizer.

Organic gardeners seek natural fertilizer to enhance their garden soil as they grow fresh fruits and vegetables. Chicken manure is one of the most efficient natural fertilizers providing essential nutrients to build the soil. Backyard hens provide the most local source of fertilizer available. It is easily composted, without any transportation costs. Chicken manure is a great addition to sustainable urban gardens. Backyard chickens eat grass clippings and food scraps, thus keeping these products out of the local landfill by reusing them on site.

We are encouraged to eat locally, reducing the need to transport food long distances. What better place to start than the availability of food right in the back yard. National and local news media have given the 100 mile diet (eating only food grown within a 100 mile radius of your home) substantial coverage over the last year.

Backyard hens can help promote a 100 yard or even a 100 foot diet. Imagine the lowered gas consumption as trips to the store are made less frequently. Becoming a more sustainable community becomes easier with the availability of eggs from backyard hens.

The Urban Chicken Movement
According to the Worldwatch Institute, “… an Urban Chicken Movement has swept across the United States in recent years.” Some people want organic eggs and garden compost, others are concerned about food security, others want to “eat local” to save resources, and others wish to enjoy the entertaining, fun pets hens can be. There have been lots of news articles written about this growing trend, which is increasing primarily in upscale neighborhoods.

The ordinance amendment is not unreasonable or unusual. Cities like Denver, Portland, Boise, Madison, Seattle, and Fort Collins (just to name a few) have relaxed their zoning laws to allow for a few backyard hens. In fact, according to Newsweek Magazine, more than 65% of major U.S. cities now allow backyard hens.

It’s also important to remember that during the Great Depression, families with chickens fared much better than those without. Given our current socio-economic situation, keeping a few backyard hens has never been more practical.


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