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Washington Voices

City rules on chickens worth crowing about

Thu., July 15, 2010

I get tired of my Seattle friends slamming Spokane for being behind the times. Maybe I’m part of the cause.

Seattle folks were drinking Starbucks flavored venti lattes while I was still drinking Folgers (sometimes reheated), their kids were into grunge while mine were still tapping their toes to Abba and the Seattle streets are jammed with Toyota’s Prius while I am having my old Chevy overhauled to get another 40,000 miles out of it.

But “chicken limits” have turned the tables in favor of the Lilac City and now Spokane which was formerly behind-the-times is avant-garde or whatever term they use to describe coolness nowadays. My kids tell me that if you use the word “modern,” then you are not.

Seattle residents are limited to raising three measly chickens on their property, while we in Spokane have recently changed our code to allow for four (yes four!) chickens per residence as long as you don’t own a dog or a cat too.

Spokane residents are also allowed to own a rooster, unless he gets too loud. Unfortunately the decibel level of a most crowing roosters falls between freeway noise and Roseanne Barr giving birth to a porcupine backward.

Cathy Olson of Spokane says her hens average an egg a day. Cathy keeps her cluckers in a “chicken tractor” that she moves about her yard on Indiana Avenue near Gonzaga University. The “chicken tractor” is a large cage on wheels with no bottom. Cathy showed me her very green lawn where the tractor has recently been parked for a few days. I asked Cathy why the grass is greener. I’m not even “a little bit country.”

Kathy Callum and Bob Sloma are Spokane residents who also raise chickens in their yard under a chicken tractor. Their chickens each lay different color eggs, so they know which chickens are contributing and which are loafing.

Bob told me about the “Spokane Urban Chicken Coop Tour” that guides chickophiles to residential chickens cooped in the Lilac City. Some weird chickens. Bob has a white crested Poland hen which looks like it comes from Paris, rather than Poland.

But the tough part of urban chicken raising comes when the hens stop laying after a couple of years. Although the owner has a fresh-egg habit, can that person be expected to murder the hen that gave them those delicous free-range-yard eggs? Well, yes. Or, no.

Dan Alden, a Spokane chicken lover, suggests that you might give the barren hen to a friend to kill and eat in order to avoid the feeling of cannibalizing a family member. Hard choices.

Spokanites should enjoy this moment of supremacy over Seattle urban chicken raising, we can have four chickens but Seattle residents are allowed only three. But the gotta-keep-ups are circulating a petition throughout Seattle to raise their residential chicken limit to match Spokane’s lofty standard.

I did have the opportunity to talk to some chicken outlaws who live within the Spokane city limits. One had a half dozen chickens plus a skinny rooster. (My status as a cub reporter for the Voice gives me immunity from revealing the identities of these scofflaws.)

I sympathized with them in order to draw them out. The outlaws explained that they had recently moved in town from a farm and couldn’t stomach “store eggs.” Four hens did not produce sufficient eggs for their large family. However, they offered me a dozen as a gift.

I was touched and pretended to be a little bit country. And told them that farming was in my blood which is technically true, I did have an ant farm in grade school, I read the book “Animal Farm” in high school and drank Boone’s Farm in college.


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