Chicken Sagas and Hobo Homes

by Sandy L on June 18, 2012

So I’ve been spending every spare moment these last few weeks obsessing about my mom’s chickens.  The latest chicken permit hearing was last week and that in itself is a crazy story.  My town has what I’d call a process that’s almost impossible to comply with, mainly due to the cost.  Currently, applying for a chicken permit costs $311.  99% of the chicken owners in town do it on the sly because of the cost.  There is also lots of red tape involved. I applied for my permit in March and finally last Thursday, I was told, I could finally get my permit.  However on Friday, when I received my congratulations email from the town and final instructions to get my permit issued, I received a request for another $75 for their “recording fee.”  Also, that doesn’t include the other fees that I’m supposed to pay if I put up a shed or additional fencing in my yard.   I wrote back and told them I was going to wait and was very disappointed that this “recording fee” was not disclosed at the time of my application.  I mean, really, is it logical in any way to have upwards of $500 in permit fees just to get some chickens when a dog license is $25?  The other crazy thing is that any shed or coop has to be at least 10 feet from the property line.  That part of the guidelines will be pretty hard to comply with and every single one of my neighbors has their shed a foot away from their fence and not floating in the middle of their yard.

The good news is that the story does have an upside.  Part of my hundreds of dollars of fees went to a newspaper article announcing my application for chickens and one of my friends who is a city counselor in a different ward asked how it was going.  When I shared the ridiculousness of the process, he actually took the initiative to have someone file a motion to change the chicken permitting process to be a lot simpler and cheaper. He drafted it to be something more like a dog license where it’s a nominal fee, they hand you the rules and regulations, and you have the right to keep your permit unless complaints ensue.  This motion was raised at the council meeting last Tuesday and it passed!  So, I asked my permit guy to email me back when the new cheaper process is enacted and I will get my permit at that time.  In addition to that, the town finally put together official guidelines in collaboration with the board of health on how to keep chickens safely in your home. If it weren’t for the latest round of applicants and the uptick in demand, that wouldn’t have been completed either. I feel good that in a small way, trying to follow the process has led to the greater good of the community, so hurray for that.

The Coop

I’m in the process of building a nice 4×8′ lean to coop for our little chickens.  The walls are up and windows are in. We just need to put the shingles on the roof, stain the exterior, trim it out and install the door.  We bought a really nice door at our local ReStore for $40 and we are going to upgrade our back door with it and then use the old back door for the coop.  I also scored 2 double paned windows on Craigslist for $60, and I found my insulation used too for about 1/2 the cost, but most of the rest of the supplies I had to purchase new as my scrap wood pile is pretty well depleted at present.  I was disappointed to learn one of my double pane windows doesn’t stay open (should have checked that before I bought it, but it looked brand new so that was an oversight on my part). However, it is a chicken coop and it’s nothing a stick of wood can’t fix. I seem to recall most of the windows in my home growing up were like that and if it was good enough for me, it’ll be good enough for the chickens.

Last night, I glued down a single piece of linoleum on the floor for easy cleanup and my mom declared that this nice insulated little chicken coop was a lot snugger and cleaner than the home she grew up in.  She laughed that if a hobo stopped by her yard, he might just squat there for the night. I forgot to take pictures, but I’ll send some over once it’s all finished. She is so concerned about keeping her chickens warm this winter, but I think she forgets the kind of conditions her chickens had when she was growing up during the war.

In other news, my mom already smashed apart the perch I spent several hours on.  She declared it unfit for her chickens and wanted to use the perfectly round and straight branch I found in the woods for a bean pole instead.  That was a little disappointing but not totally unexpected as it’s just what she would do.  She used to critique every thing I did every step of the way, but she’s mellowed significantly over the years.

Other De-cluttering

I’ll be happy to make progress on the coop so that I can start working on my ultimate fisher cat proof enclosure.  Hopefully that won’t take nearly as much time and then I can finally do a last trip to the restore (this time to drop off excess things), shortly followed by the scrap yard to de-clutter the garage and a few other spots. The last yard sale did make a dent, but it wasn’t nearly enough of a purge at my mom’s house.  I’d also like to smuggle out a batch of tomato stakes as she’s got way too many. Maybe I’ll make a little bin to hold them in at the back of the garage.  Maybe I’ll even make that bin out of tomato stakes…brilliant. Right now, they are in two garbage cans that annoy me to no end.  The bins are very  top heavy and any time I try to move them, they tip over. It’s super annoying.  I should do that for her shovels too.  Even though I made a nice place for her to hang all her stuff up in, she just leaves everything on the side of the door instead.  Garage makeover here I come.  I just can’t be too sad when it looks like a hot mess again shortly after fixing it all. I did patch a humongous crack that ran the length of the foundation a few weeks ago (back when I still thought it was a good idea to house the chickens in it). At least that can’t easily be undone.

Have a great week everyone.  Now that it’s summer, my posting frequency won’t be as often, but here in New England our summers are short, so I feel a little guilty if I’m inside instead of enjoying the outdoors as much as I can. Take care.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter June 18, 2012 at 1:11 PM

Now I know why I haven’t heard from you much – you’ve gone to the birds. 🙂 I hope your coupe comes out great. I am sorry your mom killed your perch.


Sandy L June 20, 2012 at 2:18 AM

Crystal – I’m totally obsessed. I feel like my summer can’t start until the birds have a swanky place built for them.


Linda June 18, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Glad to hear an update about the chickens! Your experience with the legal route being so expensive and difficult to follow is, unfortunately, often the case.

Here in Chicago we’ve had no specific ordinance covering chicken-keeping (which has been a good thing!), but that is soon to change. I’ve been one of the folks asked for input on the draft ordinance and the first draft included a crazy provision: that only properites zoned R3 with a minimum of 5,000 sq ft be allowed to keep chickens. Since most residential lots in Chicago are zoned R1 and R2 and the standard lot size is about 25×125 (or 3,125 sq ft), that would mean that only a very small minority could legally keep chickens. Tracing back the source of those requirements, we find it is someone who has worked with an alderman who has been trying to outright ban the keeping of chickens in Chicago for about five years. What a sneaky tactic, eh? Add language to the ordinance that basically makes it impossible for people to legally comply as a way to de facto ban people from keeping chickens without techically doing so!

We’re still working on the draft ordinance, but considering that we have enough pro-chicken people working in our favor here I think we’ll get that clause struck from the final version. Thank goodness there are no fees involved, nor is there any language around coop placement or set-backs from property lines. There will be a ban on roosters, though, so my little rescue rooster will be an outlaw unless I can find a place to re-home him in the country.

My coop is pretty swank, too. I was visiting with a woman across the alley who just got a few chickens and her little son said something about my “big, fancy coop.” Well, I do place a premium on keeping my chickens protected and housed well. It’s easier on me to not have to get up in the middle of the night to chase off raccoons or get up with the sunrise just to let the chickens out. Now that sunrise happens at 5:15 AM, I’m happy that I have a coop/run combo that allows them to get out to the food on their own yet still be safe from predators. Babci should lighten up on the winter-proofing, too. The chickens need good ventilation in winter more than they need insulation. Show her this:


Sandy L June 20, 2012 at 2:24 AM

Linda – yes, I can’t quite understand why keeping chickens as pets is viewed so much differently than having a dog, cat, other birds, or reptiles. They each have their “safety concerns” and a yappy dog that barks all day is long is way noisier than any rooster. If I had a choice, I’d choose chickens as neighbors all day long. The dog across the way from me finally died after about 10 years of constant barking. It was like that Seinfeld episode. I’ve already spent a lot on these chickens. They’ll be well cared for..well except the roosters, of which we have many. They will become soup in another week or two.


laura June 19, 2012 at 3:33 PM

Wow I can’t believe how much it costs you to keep chickens!
Enjoy your summer Sandy 🙂


Sandy L June 20, 2012 at 2:24 AM

Thanks. Well hopefully the cost won’t be as high moving forward. I’m really excited about that.


Nicoleandmaggie June 19, 2012 at 8:05 PM

That’s awesome about getting the law changed.


Sandy L June 20, 2012 at 2:25 AM

Yeah, it’s pretty cool to drive change. Lesson of the day is that it is possible for a single person to make a difference, so yee-haa to that.


Josh @ Live Well Simply June 23, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Sounds like a cool project! I have a friend that builds chicken coops on a wheeled platform and sells them to suburbanites so they can have their own fresh eggs.


Sandy L July 18, 2012 at 6:16 AM

Josh – cool gig. Yeah, those portable coops are pretty trendy, but gosh they are expensive to buy from someone else. I couldn’t justify the expense for myself but I can see how it’s WAY easier to just have someone else think through all the details on your behalf.


retirebyforty July 11, 2012 at 12:38 PM

The coop sounds like a great place to live. 🙂
I would love some hens too, but our area doesn’t permit them.


Sandy L July 18, 2012 at 6:17 AM

Rb40- too bad. Hopefully that’ll change. Chickens are hot right now and many cities have to address the demand from the community.


Don July 11, 2012 at 10:50 PM

Wow, I’m impressed that you were able to change the fee structure! Kudos to you for making the process easier for others in the future!!!

Enjoy it (and the summer too, I know what you mean by a short summer and not wanting to waste it!)


Sandy L July 18, 2012 at 6:18 AM

Don – sadly, I just learned that the town decided not to reduce the fee structure for now, even though the petition passed, so it’s not as much progress as I had hoped.


Deidre Lin July 13, 2012 at 12:36 PM

Hi Sandy….I have not been around for awhile, job N such 🙂 I used to keep chickens when I lived in the country. Loved having them! I had mostly Guinea Hens which are great for keeping the bug population down! I am completely impressed with the fact that you took on ‘government’ and won! Kudos !!!

I will be stopping in more again…have missed your posts!


Deidre Lin @ TransFormX July 13, 2012 at 12:39 PM

By the way….I googled First Gen American to get your blog addy again…my other computer went down completely and I lost all my favs. Great news is that you were at the top of the Google listing!! Nice!!


Sandy L July 18, 2012 at 6:19 AM

Deidre – didn’t realize I was first. I’ll have to google myself. Welcome back.


101 Centavos July 29, 2012 at 8:28 PM

That chicken condo sounds great, Sandi.
Our city has a no-compromise no-chickens-allowed ordinance. Small yappy dogs are OK though. Strange times.
I wonder how long before there’ll be a drive-by egging at City Hall. 🙂


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