In the heart of the city, Bea Lackaff maintains a slice of country life.
Like a growing number of Spokane residents, Lackaff raises chickens. She started 25 years ago at her home in the West Central neighborhood.
“It wasn’t a movement, but I certainly wasn’t the only one,” she said.
Across the river, Kate Burke is raising chickens at the home where she grew up.
“It’s really nice to be able to leave your backdoor and grab an egg for breakfast, Burke said. “I always wanted a farm, but I’m a city girl.”
Councilman Mike Allen raises chickens, as does the councilman he defeated in the 2011 election, Richard Rush.
In an effort to promote locally raised food, City Council President Ben Stuckart is proposing significant changes to city rules that generally would increase the number and kinds of animals allowed. In exchange, the new rules would require those who maintain farm animals to obtain an “animal keeping certification” by taking a class from Washington State University’s extension program. Stuckart also is proposing to loosen restrictions on selling locally grown fruits, vegetables and eggs in some parts of town.
Currently, rules allow four animals per home. So, a household with one dog and one cat can only have two chickens. Roosters are allowed. Pigs, goats and sheep are banned.
Under the proposal, which is under consideration by the City Plan Commission, roosters would be banned except in Vinegar Flats along Latah Creek – the only agricultural zone within city limits. Goats and sheep “excluding large meat breeds” would be allowed in all residential zones. Some small breeds of pigs also would be allowed. Male sheep and goats would have to be neutered and de-scented.
Under the proposal, fowl and small livestock no longer would count against the city’s maximum number of pets allowed. Farm animals would be capped based on the size of a property. The rules would allow one chicken (or turkey, duck or other fowl) for every 1,000 square feet of property or one small livestock, such as a goat or sheep, for every 2,500 square feet of property.
For instance, on a lot of 0.15 acres (about 6,500 square feet), a homeowner could have:
• Two dogs and two cats, under the four-pet limit allotted to each home regardless of lot size
• One sheep
• Four chickens
Other animal combinations that would be allowed for that homeowner include four dogs, two goats and one duck or four cats and six turkeys.
Stuckart said a major motivation is a desire of many residents to raise their own food, both for environmental and health reasons.
Another proposal from Stuckart would loosen restrictions on selling produce and eggs grown within city limits.
Residents within the city’s community development neighborhoods – areas with higher federal poverty rates – would be allowed to sell products during daylight hours on their property if the food was raised on their property and if they obtain a city business license.
Currently, it’s illegal to operate farmstands in residential areas.
Stuckart said he wants to try the idea in the community development neighborhoods because it is a tool to help those residents improve their lives. He added that residents on the outer edges of the city seem to be less enthusiastic about the idea. If it’s a success, it could be expanded to other neighborhoods.
Under the farm animal proposal, those who currently raise chickens would not be allowed to keep doing so unless they became certified.
Lackaff likes the idea of taking a class despite her long experience raising chickens.
“I might learn something,” she said.
But Lackaff opposes a rooster ban. She currently has one bantam rooster along with her four hens. She says keeping a rooster has saved her chickens from predators, in part because roosters make significant noise when the hens are in danger. Otherwise, she said, her rooster’s crowing occurs in brief moments.
“I find it 10 times more annoying to hear yapping dogs,” Lackaff said. “There’s been so much suffering, at least in my neighborhood, by people’s unleashed dogs.”
At least one neighbor doesn’t mind the occasional cock-a-doodle-doo.
“It’s kind of relaxing to hear him in the city,” said Kevin Vadon, who lives nearby with his wife and two kids and helps take care of Lackaff’s chickens when she’s away.
Rocio Crespo, a veterinarian who is the branch chief of Washington State University’s Avian Health and Food Safety Laboratory in Puyallup, said she likes the proposal requiring those raising farm animals to take a class. She sees a lot of bad advice online about keeping chickens and often meets chicken owners who don’t understand the challenges.
Raising chickens gets people closer to the land, and chickens have great personalities, she said.
“Chickens make wonderful pets,” Crespo said. She does not, however, believe that roosters add much benefit to a city flock because there are better ways within a city to protect hens, and fertilized eggs aren’t better nutritionally than unfertilized eggs.
Among the challenges of raising chickens, she said, is that their food and coops can attract rodents. They also attract parasites and are a potential risk for spreading disease.
Crespo’s advice to anyone wanting to raise chickens in a city lot: “Good luck and enjoy them. If they do it, do it for fun. Don’t think they will save money on eggs.”