Philadelphia backyard chickens are surging despite city law

Philadelphia backyard chickens are surging despite city law

Maureen Breen holds chickens as she poses for a portrait on the block of her Fox Chase home in Philadelphia on Monday, May 31, 2021. Been is the president of Philadelphia Backyard Chickens. (Heather Khalifa/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A cooped-up flock of law-breaking Philadelphians continued to grow in number and prosper during the pandemic. Thousands of chickens are being raised citywide, according to one estimate, despite a 2004 ordinance designed to eliminate the practice.

This particular urban farming trend is becoming more popular, as penned-up residents look to the unconventional pets as a diversion during the lockdown and by concerns among increasingly health-conscious consumers about the source and quality of their food.

Maureen Breen, president of Philadelphia Backyard Chickens, a Facebook group, said her membership has leaped 21% in the last 12 months to 2,700 enthusiasts. She estimates that those growing numbers translate to a climb to 12,000 chickens in the area from about 10,000 last year.

“Some people repurpose an old shed, and some people spend thousands on a coop,” said Breen, a Drexel University accounting professor. “If you watch the budget on extras, you can make home eggs as cost-effective as buying high-end eggs at the grocery store or farmers market.”

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, the advertised prices for a dozen, large, grade A white eggs hovered about $1 nationally on June 18. That average was the same for the Northeastern states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A carton of large, organic eggs — closer to the kind of eggs backyard chickens provide — average $3.99 nationally and $4.03 in the Northeast.

Breen said it costs about $0.10 a day to feed a chicken a diet of only chicken feed — pellets made of corn and soy similar in appearance to dry cat food. At that cost, a dozen homegrown eggs would be valued at $1.20, Breen said. She added start-up costs, such as purchasing an enclosure and bedding, usually tacks on an additional $500. “That is if you want to keep your budget low,” Breen said. “But, I have fallen in love with my chickens, and I buy them treats.”

For the last decade in the rear of her Fox Chase home, Breen has raised a handful of chickens. She currently has five, each of which produces an average of one egg a day.

“I’m a gardener, and I like to grow my own food,” said Breen. “Raising chickens just seemed like the perfect complement. Now I can bring protein to the food I provide for myself.”

This jump in Philadelphia’s chicken population has occurred even though raising them is illegal for most residents. The 17-year-old ordinance, aimed at combating neighborhood complaints about noise and odor, limits chicken-raising to properties of at least three acres. And although most municipalities ban roosters, which crow loudly, Philly is one of the few that also prohibits female hens.

“Females don’t make a lot of noise,” said David Atkins, president of the Ohio-based American Poultry Association (APA). “But when you get a male crowing in the morning, it can really rile up the neighbors.”

There are some chicken lovers whose interest is unrelated to either eggs or meat. They groom the birds to vie in dog show-like competitions.

The APA, a sort of American Kennel Club for fowl, has seen a significant bump in membership in the last 18 months, Atkins said.

“Our organization is for folks that are interested in breeding chickens and other birds for exhibition purposes,” said Atkins, who raises fowl in Lucasville, Ohio. “These people go to poultry shows on the weekends and have their birds judged by licensed judges.

“And raising chickens in the backyard is how a lot of our members got started. It’s just something that becomes a lifelong obsession.”

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