Chickens in La Mesa: Do Chickens Belong in a City?

Since last December, I've been engaged in a campaign to legalize backyard chickens in La Mesa. Specifically, I am asking that anyone in a single family home in a residential zone be allowed up to six hens, no roosters, provided they are kept in a clean and well-maintained coop. It's an odd issue to be committed to, for sure. It's not what I ever envisioned as my entry into local politics. And it's gotten some strange responses.

My interest in chickens took off a few years ago, at the 2009 Cultivating Food Justice conference, held at San Diego's City College. I attended a class on raising backyard chickens and I was hooked. As pets, they are cute and friendly, but better yet, they dispose of your pests and kitchen scraps (by eating them), and in return provide you with healthier eggs than you can get at the store and safe, high quality garden fertilizer (manure).

Raising chickens wasn't practical for me, however, until I moved to La Mesa last year. Prior to that, I lived in an apartment. A key component to healthy egg production is allowing chickens access to grass (and bugs). Eggs from chickens raised on grass are found to be higher in vitamins and omega-3s but lower in cholesterol than store-bought eggs.

Now that I live in La Mesa, in a home with a yard, chickens became even more essential: their manure is a potent fertilizer. And sure, you can just go buy it at the garden store, but it's not quite so simple. In addition to wasting gas (to drive to the store), money (to buy the chicken manure), and a plastic bag (to carry the manure home in), often store bought chicken manure contains arsenic. The arsenic comes from a drug (Roxarsone) given to factory farmed chickens. Of course, no home gardener would give his or her backyard chickens arsenic, so their manure would be arsenic-free.

I anticipated that the top arguments against chickens would be their noise or their mess. In fact, hens make very little noise during the day and none at all during the night (they sleep from dusk to dawn), and the average hen produces only 20%-25% as much waste as the average dog. But those were not the complaints I've heard at all!

First and foremost, I've been told that "chickens don't belong in the city." Really? Tell that to New York, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Madison, Vancouver, and all of the other cities that allow chickens. Or maybe you consider New York City to be out in the rural boondocks compared to urban La Mesa. In those cities and the countless others that allow backyard chickens, they have sensible chicken policies that limit the number of hens allowed to a small number (typically between three and six) and require that owners keep them in clean, well-maintained coops. Anyone who has a huge flock of chickens or chickens living in unsanitary conditions is therefore out of compliance with the law. Some cities allow roosters, but most don't.

Second, a woman told me this week that chickens can spread dangerous illnesses like salmonella. This is actually an argument FOR backyard chickens. You see, factory farmed chickens DO harbor disease. They live in unhealthy, crowded conditions, ripe for breeding germs. The chickens, fed an unhealthy diet and living in cramped quarters, have suppressed immune systems, so they are highly susceptible of disease. These conditions are the sanitary equivalent of a medieval city. And you know what happened to humans when we lived in medieval conditions? Bubonic plague. But that doesn't mean that humans are dangerous carriers of pathogens. It just means that unsanitary conditions for both humans and chickens can breed disease. Doesn't that, then, imply that we should produce eggs with chickens kept in sanitary, humane conditions - like chickens living as pets in clean, well-maintained coops in backyards!

I welcome more debate and discussion about whether or not we should allow backyard chickens in La Mesa. If you would like to help me advocate for backyard chickens, please send me a message on this website. You can also sign my petition to legalize chickens in La Mesa:

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Comment by hazel ross on July 4, 2010 at 6:07pm
Oh there is nothing like "home grown" eggs!
Comment by Jennifer Cuthrell on June 30, 2010 at 9:47am
La Mesa should ABSOLUTELY allow chickens. Whoever outlawed them needs to get a life! The same people who don't want government intrusion want to legislate our right to have chickens? What hypocrisy!

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