Send your question to Umbra!
Q. Dear Umbra,
Have you heard of the underground backyard chicken movement, and would you recommend it for people who want chickens, regardless of city ordinances?
Westminster (no state specified, maybe to protect innocent chickens)
Photo: Taber Andrew BainA. Dearest Denine,
Don your feathered fedora, pull it low over your eyes, and let’s venture into the subterranean realm of secret backyard chicken coops. (Perhaps they will be the new speakeasies.)
First, anyone interested in the issue should peruse this immensely thorough and useful piece by Jill Richardson about getting your city to allow backyard chickens. She dispenses great advice about how to investigate your area’s laws, gather pro-chicken allies under your wing, and eventually approach your city council.
And yes, if at first you don’t succeed, Richardson says, “Civil disobedience might be the right way to move the issue forward in your city, as legalizing backyard chickens becomes much more pressing a question once several families have backyard flocks in violation of the law.” Agreed! We can’t all be Tim DeChristopher (bless him!) — and taking a stance on backyard chickens may be your own brave form of peacefully challenging a law you see as unjust.
If you decide to join the underground chicken movement, Richardson advises you to be a model chicken-keeper by picking docile chickens (no roosters), quelling your neighbors’ fears, and maintaining a safe and clean coop. And make sure you’re OK with the consequences if you run afoul of the authorities. In Philly, where secret chickens are on the rise, “First-time offenders can expect a fine of $150-$300 if caught, but according to animal control the code is rarely enforced without a complaint coming in from a neighbor first.” Which is why the part about making nice with the folks next door is so important. In a comment on Richardson’s post, user ewerb says to simply go for it (especially since city officials are often overwhelmed — bigger birds to fry, if you will):
[D]on’t wait for permission from overwhelmed, understaffed petty bureaucrats who eat from vending machines to support common sense solutions to your home grown food goals. Join together with like-minded neighbors, figure how to do it, and then help others. Eventually our elected “leaders” will either get of the way or follow along with what is working.
Amen. Who knows, your town may already have a burgeoning chicken movement that is flying under your radar. As the Dayton Underground Chicken blog says, “If enough of us band together, we can convince the city to create some policies and code to make having these backyard beauties more legal.” Find some others to join with you and go for it. A few households with illicit backyard chickens may be all your city or town needs to topple the status quo — especially if you serve up your civil disobedience with a side of mouth-wateringly orange-yolked eggies.