You soon may be able to keep more chickens

Plan Board next week may raise the limit on how many chickens city residents can have


Krista Ruggles cares for her four hens at home in Gainesville on Thursday.

Erica Brough/Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.

Two groups of urban chicken farmers are hoping to convince Gainesville officials to allow them to expand their flocks.

Members of the Gainesville Friends of Hens and Backyard Chickens Gainesville will be at the Plan Board meeting on Thursday with a petition asking that people who raise chickens at home be allowed to have more than the current limit of two.

Friends of Hens organizer Becca Huy said city staff is recommending increasing the number to between four and six — the number allowed in many cities surveyed, depending on lot size.

Huy and others believe residents should be allowed 10 to 12 chickens because there are no limits on how many pets people can have.

"If dogs are too noisy or too smelly, people can call and complain," she said. "It should be the same with chickens."

If the Plan Board approves the proposal to raise the limit to between four and six, it will go to the City Commission on Aug. 15. If the commissioners approve, they will direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance.

Gainesville has between 500 and 1,000 people who raise chickens, estimates Wade Rodgers, manager of Alachua County Feed and Seed.

The chicken keepers live in all parts of the city, except in apartments and duplexes, which are not allowed to have chickens, Huy said.

The number of chickens in cities is increasing because it is part of a green movement in which people want to know what goes into the food they eat, she said.

In Gainesville, the Friends of Hens, a loosely based organization started a year ago, and Backyard Chickens, a national forum started in 2000 that has a Gainesville forum, are leading the push for the rules change.

Although other people are interested in raising chickens, the proponents say, many are waiting until the limits are expanded so that they can start with a small flock.

"Sometimes it's hard to get chickens because of the pecking order," Huy said. "You can't get different ages because the older pick on the younger."

In addition to having more eggs from more hens, increasing the number of chickens improves their social conditions, which makes them quieter and less likely to disturb people, she said.

Huy noted that regulations already prohibit people from owning roosters, eliminating one of the bigger concerns: neighbors complaining about early-morning crowing.

Another concern has been the waste generated by more birds, but Huy said that has been overblown. She cited figures showing that the waste produced daily by 10 chickens is 0.66 pounds, while one 40-pound dog produces 0.75 pounds of waste a day, she said.

Some owners, such as Krista Ruggles, who has been a chicken keeper since February 2012, have two lots for the purpose of having more chickens.

Ruggles, a member of both local groups of chicken keepers, agrees with Huy about the organic movement. She said the eggs she has received from her chickens Abigail, Beatrice, Clara and Daisy since August 2012 are better tasting and more nutritious eggs; they also have orange instead of yellow yolks. All these differences she attributes to the fact that they're free-range chickens that eat insects.

Experts also attribute the orange yoke to free-range hens having the opportunity to eat more pigmented foods, after which the pigment is then transferred to the yolk.

Ruggles also said that chickens don't cause disturbances or unsanitary conditions as long as owners are responsible. Besides her, she knows someone on the other end of her street who raises chickens and she also has a friend who lives two minutes away from her home who keeps chickens.

"My neighbors didn't know I had chickens until I showed them," she said.

"One day I mentioned it and they were shocked. It disproves misconceptions of when people say, ‘Oh, they're smelly. Oh, they're loud.' "

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