published Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Cook: The price of chicken

To understand why urban chickens matter, think back two years ago, when readers of Outside magazine voted Chattanooga the best city in which to live in the U.S.

There were 18 other cities on the list. Like Cher or Usher, these places are so fabulously well-known, they're known by one word only: Boulder, Portland, Charleston.

Of those total 19 cities named the best in which to live, 17 allow chickens in the city limits.

Every city but Ithaca, N.Y. ... and Chattanooga, Tenn.

"It's never been restricted," said the kind woman who yesterday answered the phone at City Hall in Hardwick, Vt., which came in 15th place. "We don't disallow any livestock within city limits."

Chickens, of course, are not why any of those cities made the list. But they are part of the background, an extension of all the things that would make a city endearing and liveable.

Urban chickens represent more than just poultry; they're part of the evolving Chattanooga image that goes by many different names: the Gig, local food movement, Main Street revival, hipsterism, Make Chattanooga Weird, the outdoor scene and young farmer population.

That's why Tuesday night's City Council vote to continue the prohibition of city chickens is a disjointed derailment of the direction our great city's heading in, like building the Gig infrastructure but not allowing laptops.

"You're kidding," one man said afterward about the vote.

It's no coincidence that the long-standing pro-chicken effort has peaked this year, of all years: with the city's progressive mayor, championed by Chris Anderson, the City Council's most progressive member, at a time when Chattanooga's image as a young, cool place to live is at an all-time high.

"Best Town Ever," the Outside magazine proclaimed.

You build it? They come. And some bring coops.

Because chickens are lovely. Their day-old eggs, infinitely better than the store-bought ovals that pass for eggs. The cluck-clucking, a kind compliment to the quaint cricket-chirp on summer nights. Their backyard presence, an active form of resistance against the crimes of factory farming and junk food culture.

And their grape-sized-excrement, a composting gold for gardeners everywhere.

"Dealing with the poop," Councilman Russell Gilbert began.

It was standing room only when council members voted last night, but not so earlier in the afternoon's educational meeting, when Gilbert, fellow councilman Larry Grohn and one representative from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department began discussing chicken poop.

(I imagine the stenographer startled, struggling to transcribe for the first time in city's history, the word "poop" into official records.)

For a fascinatingly long time, council members, citizens and experts spoke about all things chicken:

What kind of bugs do they eat?

Does their poop run downhill when it rains?

Where do chickens retire when they no longer lay eggs?

"This is way better than TV," the man next to me whispered.

One woman drove from Nashville to speak. (Her name was, perfectly, Robin.) I was struck realizing that in the annals of City Council minutes, more time will have been spent discussing how to handle chickens within city limits than, say, handguns.

It all seemed bizarre and Monty Python-esque, such a nonissue turned into such an issue.

"Chicken-gate," one friend said.

Council members, to their credit, took this quite seriously, yet the drama over this issue also felt out of place. Will there be a packed house the next time the council discusses street violence and education?

In this city, chickens remain stigmatized, and all those citizens out there who already keep illegal, underground chickens must continue to do so.

Maybe next time, someone should try to legalize ostriches ... animals that don't see all the things happening around them.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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nucanuck said...

Since I live far away and don't need a CTFP subscription, I no longer have access to CTFP articles, but for some reason I am able to write a chicken comment.

I am smiling as I type about my former home town banning chickens at a time when the emphasis on self-sufficiency is on the rise. The debate has been repeated in town after town and progressive towns have embraced raising chickens over and over. So why not Chattanooga? That's a real puzzler.

I live now in Victoria BC, a metro area of about 340,000. We have long had city chickens with little fanfare. Mostly you would never know that we have chickens hither and yon. Oh, one couple built a fairly elegant chicken condo in the corner of their front yard that caused a little conversation, but in the end, it was much admired. My family hasn't gone to the chickens yet, but we do swap kale and lettuces for eggs with a neighbor. Since there is no tax on most food, it's all legal.

Come on Chattanooga, don't let chickens hold you back.

July 10, 2013 at 12:55 a.m.
Facts said...

As a middle-aged man who grew up on a working farm, the unintended consequences of dealing with chickens, of the dirtiest farm animals, will abound. Those who are very attentive and careful will avoid the health problems. Most will learn pretty quickly, though, that dealing with waste is not as sophisticated as one might have imagined.

July 10, 2013 at 8:14 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Most city chicken owners here have very few chickens, less than ten. The chickens eat a lot of waste food scraps and their poop is used in the garden. Roosters are forbidden.

What's to be against?

July 10, 2013 at 9:25 a.m.
DCbigfan said...

We used to have 3 hens and a rooster when we lived in Winchester. They were no trouble. They were not noisy, not dirty, and they roosted on a ledge on the back of our garage every night. We kept their wings clipped and they stayed inside our fenced back yard, coexisting with 2 large labradors. I miss the crow of the rooster in the mornings but I really miss the fresh eggs we collected almost every day.

July 10, 2013 at 10:53 a.m.
fairmon said...

I admire the councils standing up to the challenge. We had chickens when I was growing up. I am sure most people have no idea what is involved with taking care of chickens or the lung health hazards. I do not want to hear the neighbors chickens clucking, crowing, croaking etc. nor do I want the feces that close daily,

July 10, 2013 at 2:58 p.m.
jesse said...

I think David has a THING about chickins!

Might as well letum have PIGS!!

July 10, 2013 at 3:43 p.m.
nucanuck said...

I am always surprised when people don't prefer micro solutions at the individual level over large scale production. It seems to me that with so much food coming from thousands of miles away, we would welcome local and individual producers of almost everything to regain control over our local food supply.

Leading cities have already worked through the possible problems related to chickens and found ways to make urban chicken raising compatible with city living.

July 10, 2013 at 3:44 p.m.
fairmon said...

Chattanooga is surrounded by small farmers that bring their produce to a local market. Eggs from nearby but outside the city are abundant. Those farmers and growers depend on locals buying their product to make a living and continue the hard work they know how to do. The few that want to play farmer or chicken grower should find a residence outside the city limits where they can have enough property to avoid disturbing the neighbors. I applaud the council for resisting a small special interest group that fail to consider all the ramifications of their "play like" farmer fantasy. Would they wring a chickens head off, scald and clean it, let it flop around on their manicured lawn with feathers flying so they can prepare a meal of fresh chicken like the country folks do. Some of the advocates sound like they think chicken salad can be made from chicken droppings. Thank you council members, I am thinking the voters did good with the house cleaning.

July 10, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
nucanuck said...

fairmon, the chickens and eggs from the general region are mostly from chicken factories that use lots of chemicals and hormone additives to chicken feed. In addition to that, a substantial percentage of all fish caught in the world, a process that is stripping our oceans, is used to feed chickens and pigs.

Encouraging urban food production is a growing trend and won't change because one city's wishes to buck the trend. There is something curiously amusing about people opposed to individual effort to provide one's own food. I wouldn't have thought of you as a government-control-of food-production type.

July 10, 2013 at 7:16 p.m.
fairmon said...

nucanuck said...

. I wouldn't have thought of you as a government-control-of food-production type.

I am not but I do support building codes that protect property values in a sub-division. And, I do not want to hear a bunch of chickens in neighbors yards plus all the litter and other issues. Plant and grow all the food you want but no animals....including hogs, chickens, cows, goats etc. There are numerous sources of organically grown vegetables in this area that those growing them would be very glad to sell people as cheap as they can grow their own.

July 11, 2013 at 1:22 a.m.
nucanuck said...

fairmon, do you have any data that would indicate the problems you allude to in the many cities that now allow/encourage urban chickens? Have you spoken with a city chicken owner about the feedback/complaints that may have been lodged about the owner's chickens or do you just have a strong opinion against the idea?

After six years living in Victoria, I am yet to hear of a complaint about neighborhood chickens, but I admit that there could have been some. The main thing seems to be banning roosters (and their crowing). No one wants to put up with that.

July 11, 2013 at 2 a.m.
fairmon said...

nucanuck ask...

Have you spoken with a city chicken owner about the feedback/complaints that may have been lodged about the owner's chickens or do you just have a strong opinion against the idea?

Both. I have not talked to chicken owners but I have heard from their neighbors (actually only two locations) but more than one of the owners neighbors. They have not complained to the neighbor. It is not legal in the city but some few do have chickens. The complaining neighbors are not willing to report or complain to authorities because of the potential conflict with a neighbor. The proposed ordinance required getting permission from all the neighbors before asking for a permit which invites conflict among neighbors. There are a few locations outside the city proper with large tracts (acres) of land with no close proximity neighbors where there could be manageable chicken ownership. I can imagine the reaction to an attempt at an ordinance that limiting.

July 11, 2013 at 6:07 a.m.
jesse said...

Chickins STINK and make a buncha racket!

If ya got 5 acres and no close by neighbors Then O.K.

Some poor slob livin on a subdivision on a 1/4 acre lot w/ 5 neighbors around him w/ chickins??He's gonna have to move or suffer!!

July 11, 2013 at 9:22 a.m.
nucanuck said...

jesse, how about, chickens MAY stink and make a bunch of racket?

I can assure you that chickens in my city and many others are not creating the problems to which you allude. It's all in how you go about it.

July 11, 2013 at 11:14 a.m.
jesse said...

Look at the probs. we have w/dogs and cats and they are our PETS!!

You think folks are gonna be doing a better job w/chickins??

How many tims have you walked out to pick up the morning paper and stepped in sumthin OR seen where one of your neighbors walked their dog in your yard?

TRUE the chickins ain't gonna be runnin loose BUT the chickin lot is gonna get NASTY and smell to high heaven who's gonna keep it cleaned up proper?Maybe 1 outta 10!!

July 11, 2013 at 1:39 p.m.
nucanuck said...

jesse, are you saying that Chattanoogans aren't up to the standards of Americans in other cities where city chickens co-exist within neighborhoods? Is this a gene pool problem specific to Chattanooga? I know city chickens work in Victoria and I read that they work in many other cities. If chickens were the problem that you anticipate, I suspect that city chickens would be a contracting trend, not an expanding one.

July 11, 2013 at 3:21 p.m.
fairmon said...


Perhaps the Chattanooga ordinance should permit only clean non clucking and stinkless droppings chickens imported from Canada will be allowed. jesse and I thought there would be a flood of just regular stinking chickens. There is nothing like the odor of a wet Tennessee chicken.

July 11, 2013 at 7:52 p.m.
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