The Metro Council is again considering an ordinance that would make it legal for Metro Nashville area homeowners to keep a few hens. Members of UCAN – Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville — are busy drumming up support, and this weekend they brought together gardeners and other advocates from across the community for an update. The take-away message for those who might be new to the urban-chicken advocacy community was this: Chickens are good. Spread the word.
UCAN would like you to know that hens are suited to life in the city. A micro-flock – two to six hens, based on the size of your property — can happily inhabit a small coop. In exchange for housing, the hens will eat ticks and other bugs, weeds, and food scraps, “tilling” the garden as they go. They process what they eat and fertilize the soil. Plus, they’ll give you breakfast, and the fresh eggs from a happy, well-fed hen are far superior to the supermarket variety (high in Omega-3 and lower in cholesterol, says UCAN. And they taste better).
A lot of the talk at Saturday’s meeting focused on misconceptions people have about chickens moving into the neighborhood, but the UCAN folks want to ease fears by pointing out the rules and regulations of keeping a micro-flock that are built in to the proposed ordinance, and debunking some of the myths. Such as:
Myth: Chickens are noisy and smelly. It’s important to understand that Metro’s ordinance is about keeping domesticated hens. Roosters are noisy, and roosters will not be allowed in backyard coops. Hens go quietly about their day, maybe clucking a bit after they lay an egg, and the clucking is no louder than the sound of human conversation. A dog barking is louder than any hen. They go to bed at dusk and sleep all night. As for the smell: UCAN says cleaning up after a hen is easier than cleaning up after a dog, and hens in a properly cared-for micro-flock have no perceptible odor.
Myth: Chickens attract predators and pests. The proposed Metro ordinance spells out all the ways a coop should be made predator-proof, and how food should be stored. (You can read the whole ordinance here.) Even if it weren’t the rule, smart hen owners would want to have predator-proof coops and enclosures at any rate, to keep out the neighborhood coyote or other dogs, or to prevent a large hawk from swooping in and plucking out a prized hen.
Myth: Property values will go down. Advocates are happy to point to a report that of the top ten cities Forbes has identified as being the best for real estate investment, Nashville is the only city that does not currently allow homeowners to keep hens. “This suggests that the other nine cities on this list of robust markets have not seen a decline in value due to backyard chickens,” says UCAN. Like other places, maybe Nashville could become a showplace for innovative, attractive, upscale coops.
Fact: If the proposed ordinance passes, you’ll have to pay for a permit to keep hens. That’s just one of the many rules spelled out in the bill that would make urban chickens good neighbors.
UCAN has a Facebook page that provides a lot more information. There’s a bright yellow t-shirt you can buy for a $25 donation. At the Jan. 3 Metro Council meeting, when the bill is up for a second reading (it passed the first reading Nov. 1), they hope to have a flock of supporters wearing bright yellow. Meanwhile, they suggest, write your council rep to voice support of making hens legal in Metro.
I should admit here that I don’t plan to add a micro-flock to my backyard garden. I already have too many projects and not enough time. But I met a lot of people who want hens (or who want the micro-flock they already have to be legal) and who are passionate about good garden practices, good food and sustainable living. I bought the t-shirt, and I’m writing to my councilman. I’m happy to spread the word.
Fellow blogger John Harkey, who writes about living well while living “green” in an urban setting, takes a closer look at the existing Metro law and considers the broader vision of the “new realities” of how people in cities want to live. Read his post, “Urban Chickens: Under the Radar or Under the Regulator” here.