I haven’t always been legal. I have a big 6-foot fence around my backyard thinking I could keep my girls safe, secure and secluded. I had to; because, believe it or not, there was time when my girls were an underground flock.
It all started in the spring of 2013. I love baby chicks. They are so adorable; I can’t resist them. So, I bought 2 ducks, 2 turkeys and 6 hens. (Okay, yes; I have a problem.) Likewise, I wanted to raise them and give my grandchildren an opportunity to see them grow…something I missed as a child. Before the purchase was made, I arranged with Wrangler Man to take them when the chicks reached a size they could survive on the farm. It was my secret hope, though, that I would be able to raise the chickens for fresh, daily eggs. In addition to the ultimate entertainment of having hens, I also wanted to decrease my dependency on commerce and increase my ability to raise food; healthier than what could be purchased at the local grocer.
So, I kept them. The lot of them. I loved going out to the hen house and gathering the eggs. For the grandchildren it was like Easter morning finding eggs in the nesting box. Well, my dream came crashing down by way of something I received in my mailbox. An envelope contained a “courtesy letter” from the code enforcement officer. The letter was complete with pictures of my backyard showing my blatant disregard for the chicken code (and my neighbors blatant disregard for my privacy…but I digress). The letter informed me that my lot wasn’t allowed to have chickens because it was under 10,000 square feet.
I was baffled. I live in a community whose heritage was farming…self-reliance. How could the community be against chickens? I posted on Facebook my sadness and frustration over this whole ordeal. A friend, and farmer in a nearby community, saw my post and gave me a suggestion of who to contact on the city council. Well, because I was leaving town for my summer vacation, I only a days to get into compliance. I gave away my six laying hens, two baby ducks and two goofy-lurkey turkeys to mi amor. (Is there a Christmas carol in there…somewhere?)
Operation Chicken Code
Motivated by my sadness, I went to work to save the chickens. I contacted the member of the city council recommended to me. His campaign platform was resolving issues with the city’s codes and enforcement. He was a great help, but I wanted to find others in the city interested in changing the code. At first, I tried to put up petitions at the local farm stores, but policies prohibited displaying them. So instead, I made flyers and passed them out at farmers markets, community events, including tacking them on every community bulletin board I could find. The flyer referred readers to a Facebook page providing information on this campaign. The goal of the page was to build awareness about the city’s ordinance and organize support in in amending it.
I also contacted the local newspapers. A few articles were published about the ordinance; an online, two opinion pieces (here and here) and other various stories ran throughout the process ordinance change.
Amazing that at one point the government encouraged citizens to raise hens.
To sum up, the whole process took about a year. The ordinance was finally amended in April 2014. The ordinance still has a minimum size lot of 6,000 square feet to have chickens. I don’t understand why the council saw the need to keep a minimum size lot to have chickens, but at least it’s better than before. So, I’m celebrating the change…and I’m LEGAL!
Top 5 Lessons I learned:
1. Social media is a great way to generate leads to resolve your issue. If I hadn’t posted on Facebook my frustration, I wouldn’t have received the contact information from a friend’s comment.
2. Social media is also a great way to build a community with the same interest. Start a page for your campaign. It’s a great channel to rally the troops and inform them what is going on as well as solicit their help. To increase followers, I had drawings for free t-shirts. Audience members were entered into the drawing if they liked, commented and shared the post.
3. Get the media involved. It’s a great way to get your story out there.
4. Contact city council members. Find someone to advocate for you. It may take a few tries before you find someone willing to go to bat for you.
5. Contact other organizations whose mission is similar to your cause. They may be willing to help advocate with you and they may be able to increase your audience with their members too.
How about you? City Codes got you down? Do you have a similar story with backyard chickens? Please share what’s happening on your side of the asphalt farm.