Backyard chickens could be making a comeback

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Workshop educates city, county officials about urban agriculture

By Randy Patrick

It’s been a year and a half since poultry purge, but some would-be urban farmers are hatching a plan to permit townies to raise chickens for their eggs.


On Tuesday, the Planning Commission held a workshop at the Old Courthouse to educate city and county officials on the benefits of urban agriculture.

The speakers included Extension Agent Robbie Smith, Nelson County Beekeepers Association President Gene Englert and Nick Kipper, who raised chickens on a vacant lot until Bardstown’s code enforcers cracked his eggs operation.

Kipper said no one complained about his chickens; they got “caught in the dragnet” after someone’s hens flew the coop and were sighted on the lam.

“When I got busted for chickens and became an outlaw, I started trying to find others in the community that had chickens,” he said. They talked about why they raised chickens, what would satisfy their food needs and what might satisfy officials and assuage concerns of residents.

The result was a draft of proposed regulations presented at the workshop. They included limiting the number of mature hens to no more than 12 for non-commercial purposes in residential areas, banning roosters and not allowing the birds to be butchered. The proposals also include rules for enclosures and cleanliness, and for reducing noise.

“Your regulations can be written in any way to define what you’re asking for,” Kipper said. “None of the cities I’ve talked to will permit turkeys or guineas or peafowl,” and some don’t allow roosters.

Planning Director Janet Johnston-Crowe, who facilitated the meeting, said the proposed rules could be the starting point for a city ordinance as well as changes to zoning regulations, which now require five acres or more, even in the country.

She cautioned advocates it would be incumbent on them to educate the public about the issues.

“There are probably twice as many people who are going to be opposed to this as who are going to want it,” she added.

The director said it’s interesting Kentucky’s large cities allow raising of chickens, but it’s been slower to catch on in small towns in agrarian areas.

Smith said after the workshop today’s urban farming craze began in blighted big cities as a way to offer nutritious food at little cost.

“It’s not a new thing. People have been raising gardens and stuff in urban settings for many years,” he said, especially during hard times, but health concerns are what’s driving it now.

“There’s more of an interest in local food, and it’s about food security,” he said, explaining that people want to know what they’re eating.

Kipper would rather he and his family eat eggs from hens treated humanely than from factory chickens.

“Country eggs taste better because you can taste the happiness,” he said.

He said most people who raise hens in urban settings do it right.

“It’s something people ought to be allowed to do,” he said. “I don’t like having to ask permission when I’m not hurting anybody.”

The meeting was attended by county magistrates, city councilors and planners with many questions.

Magistrate Keith Metcalfe raised several hypothetical questions, including about complaints of discrimination by people who want to raise roosters but not hens.

Johnston-Crowe said changing the rules could open a “Pandora’s box,” and whatever regulations arise need to be specific but easy to enforce.

City Councilman Joe Buckman asked why the proposed regulations would limit the number of chickens to 12.

“That would be enough to feed a family of four, to keep them in eggs,” Kipper said.

More than that, and most city lots wouldn’t be large enough to accommodate the chickens, which each need about four square feet of cage and 10 square feet of yard.

Asked why “mature” chickens are specified, he said it was because hens have a short span of production years and must be replaced from time to time. A productive hen will lay an egg a day.

Pat Swartz, who raises free-range chickens for her family’s table, thinks about someday selling her farm and moving to a neighborhood.

She said she thinks people should be able to raise chickens in town if they follow reasonable guidelines.

It’s more expensive to produce eggs for oneself than to buy them off the shelf at the grocery, she said, but it’s a comfort to know they’re healthful and as for the flavor, there’s no comparison.

“They just taste better,” she said.