Friday, September 5, 2003

Chickens hip and fun, but don't run afoul of law

Maggie Downs

Confession: I raised two chickens in my college dorm room.

My foray into fowl play lasted only for about six months. The resident assistant on my floor grew suspicious about the clucking coming from my room and notified me that keeping farm animals within city limits was against the law. But during that time, I still learned pet chickens were like poultry in motion.

Turns out I'm not the only one. Recently, everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the Associated Press has reported that there's a chicken coup under way - fowl have become the hip, new suburban pet.

"It's a trend with broad appeal, embracing everyone from the back-to-nature crowd to 4-H types to the design-conscious multitudes who follow chicken-loving Martha Stewart's every move," proclaimed USA Today.

At least one person doesn't think Mr. Clucky can rival Fluffy or Fido for a spot on the couch.

"You don't even want chickens near your house," said Bob O'Hara, owner of Mount Healthy Hatchery in Springfield Township.

Throughout February through September, O'Hara's hatchery sells about 5 million birds. Few - if any - are pets.

Within city limits, it's difficult to have a pet chicken anyway. According to the Cincinnati Municipal Code, no poultry or livestock can be kept inside any dwelling. Fowl are also prohibited from running at large on park property. And for some bizarre reason, it's illegal here to dye chickens.

Still, some suburbanites are raising chickens for utilitarian purposes. Pet chickens, a throwback to a simpler life, feed the soul. They're a constant source of fresh eggs. And let's face it, backyards are about as free-range as you can get.

"I thought they'd be neat to have in my yard," said Justin Calhoun, 19, of Aurora, the owner of five pet chickens. "Most of my friends were like, 'Whatever.'"

Upscale homeowners are gobbling up high-class breeds and outfitting the birds with dwellings almost as nice as their own. Small backyard poultry condos go for about $200. Meanwhile, the ultra-luxurious Henspa Deluxe - which can be customized to match the paint and trim on your home - can run as high as $4,000. Forget the SUV - it's the size of your coop that really counts.

Mine were not lucky yuppie fowl. Instead, they were chickens of deception.

The sweet, fluffy creatures were a birthday gift from a boyfriend who scored the baby chicks for free by falsely telling owners of a hatchery he needed them as the last wish of a dying child.

A glass aquarium, some chicken wire and a study lamp provided a makeshift coop. They lived on a steady diet of feed and dining hall grub. While I went to class, the birds preened themselves and took dust baths in hamster bedding.

As babies, they'd sigh and fall asleep in my cupped hands. When they got a little older, they'd faithfully follow me around the small room.

Eventually, there was a chicken eviction. I was left with a vacant coop - and an empty heart.

So, suburbanites are learning what I've known since college.

Chickens are hip and fun. They're no smellier, noisier or more slovenly creatures than the average student.

And they're better pets than a lying (now ex-) boyfriend.


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Downs: Chickens hip and fun, but don't run afoul of law
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