Atlantic Cities

Backyard Chickens May Have Jumped the Shark

A friend of mine is moving this month from the densely packed streets of Brooklyn to the wide-open spaces of Telluride, Colorado. One of the things she won’t be able to take with her are her beloved backyard chickens, which she and her family have tended for years.

Yep, they let you have backyard chickens in Brooklyn, but in the mountain community of Telluride, population 2,200, according to the municipal code, "No person shall keep, board or care for any noncompanion animal within the Town."

And so my friend recently posted a picture of her chicken coop on Facebook, asking if anyone wanted to come and take it away. The chickens themselves have already moved to Bethesda, Maryland, where apparently they are welcome.

The urban backyard chicken trend has been around long enough now to earn its share of ridicule. You might even wonder if backyard chickens have officially jumped the shark (a perilous thing for a chicken to do, surely). And not everyone, apparently, is as conscientious and thoughtful about their chicken-keeping as my friend.

A headline on Gothamist recently asked "Are NYC’s Hipster Farmers Abandoning Their Chickens?" That item was picking up on a story from NBC News, "Backyard Chickens Dumped at Shelters When Hipsters Can’t Cope, Critics Say." According to the NBC story, chickens bought by would-be urban back-to-the-landers end up abandoned at shelters when they stop laying (typically after about two years) or simply prove too messy and complicated to care for.

"It’s the stupid foodies," Mary Britton Clouse of Chicken Run Rescue in Minneapolis told NBC. "We’re just sick to death of it." She added, "People don’t know what they’re doing. And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there."

Sean Casey, of Brooklyn’s Sean Casey Animal Rescue, told Gothamist that he finds a few chickens abandoned in the borough’s Prospect Park every month, but that he is able to quickly find good homes for them – presumably with people who are ready for the responsibility of caring for an animal full-time.

And Ron Ludlow, who runs the website BackYardChickens.com, there are now 200,000 members on his site, which only started in 2007. "Hundreds of thousands of people are realizing the wonderful benefits of raising a small flock of backyard chickens, the pets that make you breakfast," he told NBC.

Of course, when a trend like urban farming goes mainstream, people are going to try to make money off of it. You may not be able to keep chickens in the town of Telluride, but you can keep them in a “Telluride Chicken Coop” from Dare 2 Dream Farms in Lompoc, California ($1,075 with run, $875 without). Right now, the luxury kitchen and housewares retailer Williams-Sonoma is selling no fewer than 10 different models of chicken coop, starting at a list price of $399.95 for a two-hen plastic cube and going up to $1,499.95 for a four-hen chicken coop that incorporates a planter for herbs, "hand built in Washington state from solid western red cedar custom milled by a local, family-run saw mill." You can also get a handcrafted egg basket for $44.95, and for just $19.95 you can get a dozen ceramic eggs that you can place strategically in your coop to "train your chickens to lay eggs exactly where you want them to."

Or, if keeping chickens sounds like too much trouble, you could just put the ceramic eggs in the basket on your countertop. They’d add a rustic touch to any kitchen, from Brooklyn to Telluride. 

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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