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Give urban chicken farming a chance

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 03, 2012 6:30 AM

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Urban farming, specifically backyard chicken farming, has cropped up once again as an issue in Iowa City.

Iowa City Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chicken Keeping has begun to advocate for the issue through a grass-roots effort as opposed to its previous effort that was shot down by the Iowa City City Council in 2008.

Despite the obvious objections, such as, "Yikes, there's a chicken in my neighbor's backyard," urban chicken farming should be allowed and encouraged because it promotes sustainability and gives the public access to food that is healthy and cheap.

Jarrett Mitchell, an Iowa City business owner and former candidate for the City Council, advocated for urban chicken farming as part of his platform. He described the public's apprehension about urban chickens as a lack of understanding.

"The percentage of citizens who participate in keeping [chickens] is small, and they are proven to be the most responsible members of the community," Mitchell said.

A common misconception regarding chicken farms is that they would be unclean. However, keeping chickens in backyards would still be regulated by the city. If the concern is animal waste, compare the waste of a chicken with that of a Great Dane. Just because the animal in question is now a chicken instead of a dog, we should not forget that it is the responsibility and duty of the owner to clean up.

Mitchell also noted that a recent ordinance allowing urban farming in Cedar Rapids has proven that keeping chickens could be successful in Iowa City.

The City of Five Seasons is much more progressive than we are on this issue.

In Cedar Rapids, households are allowed to raise up to six urban chicken hens in the backyard. Those households need a permit, and they must abide by certain health conditions.

The beauty of it is that Cedar Rapids has it right. Urban chicken farming makes citizens become more self-reliant and environmentally conscious. It lessens the amount of resources necessary to produce, ship, and refrigerate eggs. And, in turn, this particularly releases the chokehold gas prices has on transportation costs to get the eggs from a factory farm all the way to your door.

Not only is there a misconception about the animals, but people are turned off by the idea of urban farming itself.

But backyard chicken farming can have an effect on the health of the Earth, and it can benefit the health of people and their families. People collecting eggs from chickens allows them to regulate what the chicken is eating and gives them the peace of mind of knowing where exactly their breakfast is coming from.

Also, the costs of urban chicken farming are considerably less than the average person would think. While some start-up costs are inevitable, it can take as little as a year for people to make good on their investments.

The cost of a full-grown hen is around $10, so let's say you only have one. An average hen lays around a dozen eggs per week, amounting to 624 eggs per year.

A basic chicken coop costs around $200, and feed costs around the same every year. The national average of the cost of a store-bought egg last month was 15 cents each. You would then need your hen to lay around 2,733 eggs to recoup your losses. At the average egg-laying rate, it would take you fewer than five years to break even. If you had six hens, it would around nine months.

Backyard chicken farming would be beneficial for Iowa City. It's promotion of sustainability fulfills the goals and values of the community at large. The City Council should re-evaluate its conceptions about urban farming.


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