I live on an urban street, and a few houses down, my neighbors, who recently moved from Latin America, keep a few chickens and a rooster. Every morning when I walk to the train I look for small, brightly colored birds, as they strut around the grass, pecking for insects. It always brings a smile to my face.
I love hearing the muffled sound of the rooster's calls (not always in the morning, but sometimes in the afternoon, too), which reminds me of my grandparents, who had all grown up on farms. I prefer it to the steady parade of sirens, booming speakers, diesel delivery trucks or screaming neighbors, who seem to be the loudest animals of all.
Recently, more and more urban and suburban dwellers have started raising chickens in their back yards. They get to enjoy farm fresh, all-natural eggs that are raised without hormones or antibiotics, and they can cook the occasional bird. Chickens can eat lawn pests, produce fertilizer, and even serve as pets, reconnecting people more to the land and our farming past.
However, in Chicago, the City Council's Health Committee has advanced a proposal to outlaw the keeping of hens and roosters in residential areas, reports the Chicago Tribune. The measure is expected to become law next month.
Those opposed to urban chickens have been lining up arguments against them, claiming their food encourages rats and raccoons, and that they can smell or make unwanted noise. People are afraid they will lead to unsanitary conditions.
Part of the resistance is lack of cultural understanding, as many of the folks keeping chickens are recent immigrants from Latin America, where the practice is widespread.
Communities across the nation are going to have to monitor and debate the pros and cons of urban chickens, particularly as America's population continues to climb. At the same time, the scale of the issue is dwarfed by the contamination to air, land and water, not to mention use of fossil fuels, that result from mechanized, often cruel factory farm production where the vast majority of chickens come from. At least with urban chickens people can actually see where their food comes from, instead of completely out of sight, out of mind.
In the meantime, I hope to keep seeing my neighbor's chickens. Maybe someday I'll get a few of my own.
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