Backyard chickens: Experts, owners talk about growing trend in Tulsa area

What is wrong with eating healthy?  No a dam thing !

By BRAVETTA HASSELL World Scene Writer on Aug 4, 2013, at 2:28 AM  Updated on 8/04/13 at 4:49 AM

Upon several visits to gardens around town – for stories on flowers and fruit, vegetables, compost, and beneficial insects – there incidentally have also been chickens.

Pecking chickens, huddling chickens, running chickens, nesting and even flying chickens.

It’s hard to put a number on how many chickens reside in the Tulsa area, but there is some indication that backyard chicken pens are growing popular locally.

Call it a trend, call it a movement, but sometime in the future, some chickens may be brooding in a neighborhood near you.

Across Tulsa County, the rise in urban chickens may be marginal but is not unnoticed. Calls to local animal shelters, inquiries at agricultural stores and classes focused on backyard chickens speak to a growing interest.

Jean Letcher, manager of Tulsa Animal Welfare for the city, said the number of calls with questions about chickens has gone up slightly over the past three or so years.

Lately, that means about one a month, and if it’s not people asking whether chickens are allowed within city limits, their neighbors are asking for them.

“They don’t know that people can have chickens and assume they’re holding them illegally,” Letcher said. “And half the time, they’re not.”

A permit isn’t required to have chickens, but the city does have laws on how they should be kept. What’s more, although Tulsa has a limit on how many chickens you can raise – it’s six – Owasso and Broken Arrow do not. Roosters, which are needed only for breeding, are explicitly prohibited in Owasso and Broken Arrow but right now are only discouraged in Tulsa, though Letcher hopes to change that.

Brandon Hemsoth, Owasso animal control officer, is skeptical about the trend really taking off. Broken Arrow Animal Control Director Lanny Dampf, however, is not.

“People are starting to get more and more chickens,” Dampf said.

The annual backyard chicken class that has been held for at least three years at Zarrow Regional Library continues to receive considerable interest.

“It has been standing-room-only every year we’ve done it,” library associate Nancy Shively said. Two friends of hers who raise chickens teach the class, which covers the basics on getting started, chicken care, coops and pens, and where to buy the chickens. Shively said people from across the Tulsa area come to the annual class.

Know what you eat

According to “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens,” the last time backyard chickens saw booming interest was in the 1950s when people were moving away from their farms. That part of home wasn’t to be quickly abandoned, and newly minted city-dwellers focused on bantams – a smaller variety of chickens – often to keep as pets.

Today’s backyard chicken may be considered a companionable pet by some, but it’s also indicative of a movement toward a new way living.

“I think people are concerned about being more self-sufficient,” Shively said. “I think people are feeling insecure about society in general and the food supply.”

Much like raising one’s own produce, those who raise chickens know what’s going into them, Shively said. They want to ensure the safety and quality of their food, part of the reason farmers markets are becoming so popular, she added.

“People are trying to get closer to their food,” said Bill Sterling of south Tulsa, who along with his wife, Melissa, raises five buff Orpington hens along with what Sterling calls an edible “food court” garden.

The couple bought the hens as pullets in March, and recently the chickens have begun to lay one to two eggs a day.

“They’ll crack you up,” Sterling said. “The way they run and kind of waddle and follow you around.”

There’s Big Leg Nel, Crazy Linda and Dirty Sally – the other two don’t have names yet because it’s hard to tell them apart, Sterling explained.

Sterling said buff Orpingtons are regarded as the golden retriever of the chicken world: affable, docile, a bit playful and, for chickens, pretty good layers.

Sterling said you can estimate getting about 240 eggs a year per hen. And the eggs are in keeping with the Sterlings’ preference for making meals with locally grown – or laid – food.

Plus, “factory eggs aren’t fresh,” Sterling said before running down what he sees as the differences between store-bought eggs and ones fresh from the backyard.

With the eggs the Sterling chickens have started laying, “the yoke tends to be more orangey. They don’t flatten out in the skillet. They seem to have more texture to them. … I eat it like you’d eat a factory egg – it just tastes better.”

Stephanie Lewis in midtown would say about the same of the eggs she eats every day, laid by the chickens she keeps in her backyard. But these chickens, as well as her turkey, quail, rabbits and vegetable garden, are also about a lifestyle of sustainability she believes in and encourages among others interested in urban farming.

“We’ve become a society that just thinks that everything comes on a shelf and that we have to go to the grocery store and we have to spend money and we have to do all of these things or we’re not productive or something,” said Lewis, whose family does not eat processed food.

Lewis started her garden about two years ago and added her chickens a month later.

“Yes, I went all the way in to this whole sustainable thing.”

Her grandparents had chickens on their farm in Kansas, but Lewis knew nothing about raising poultry, she said.

Following a damaging late-night storm, Lewis is a bit late to feeding her chickens and one turkey, but she talked about them with ease as she released some corn and crumble onto the ground for the fowl to eat.

Free-range birds lay bigger eggs and perhaps even more often, Lewis said

“If you’re free-ranging, you’ll definitely get one to two eggs a day. But if your chickens are caged, they might give you one egg every other day,” she said.

“My thing is all about spending less money and getting what you need.”

And there is something else to it, Lewis added. She and her husband will go out back sometimes and just to listen to the chickens. Lewis said the sound somehow creates a sort of calming harmony one might say connects man with nature.

With this urban farm, “It never ceases to amaze me every time I plant a seed and something comes up,” Lewis said. “I don’t even know how to share that with people.

“When you do it, then you get it. But if you don’t do it, then you don’t get it. You don’t even understand what it’s like to see a plant grow and then produce food that you’re gonna eat.

“Farmers must have the biggest egos.”

Here’s a look at local ordinances regarding raising chickens in residential zones.

Tulsa, Code of ordinances Title 2, Chapter 2

Owners can have no more than six adult chickens and 14 chicks younger than 8 weeks.

Chickens must be kept under the following conditions:

Your chickens’ building (coop) must be at least 50 feet away from your house.

Floor of coop should be easily cleanable and maintained in a sanitary fashion that doesn’t pose a public health hazard (i.e. free of rodents, vermin, offensive odors).

The outside openings of the coop must be screened to keep out flies and vermin, which can spread disease.

For more,

Broken Arrow, Code of Ordinances, Chapter 5

Chicken coop must be kept at least 40 feet away from your house.

Coop must be maintained in a sanitary fashion that doesn’t pose a public health hazard (i.e. free of rodents, vermin, offensive odors).

It is unlawful to maintain roosters within 150 feet of any dwelling or house trailer.

For more,

Owasso, Code of Ordinances, Animal Regulations, Article A, Sections 106 and 107

Chicken coop must be at least 50 feet away from your house.

Coop must be maintained in a sanitary fashion that doesn’t pose a public health hazard (i.e. free of rodents, vermin, offensive odors).

Animals that disturb the peace of a person or neighborhood, including roosters, are illegal.

For more,

Choosing your chickens

The breed of chicken you decide on bringing to your backyard will be based on a few factors including your purpose for the chicken (eggs, meat or as simply a pet). Other factors include the climate in which you’ll be keeping your chickens and what type of temperament you want.

Bill and Melissa Sterling of south Tulsa have five buff Orpington hens that Bill Sterling said are thought of as the golden retriever of the chicken world. Orpingtons, which are considered dual-purpose chickens, are good for eggs and meat, though the Sterlings’ primary reason for keeping the hens is for their eggs.

Chickens lay eggs for about two years but can live at least a decade, a cold reality of which Bill Sterling is aware.

“Right now they’re more pets than anything else,” Sterling said. “I don’t think Melissa will let me use them for anything other than eggs even when they’re not laying.”

According to Living the Country Life magazine, the top five backyard chicken breeds are:

  • Rhode Island Red
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Jersey Giant
  • Ameraucana
  • Leghorn

Chicken resources

Zarrow Regional Library associate Nancy Shively said many of the people who attend the library’s backyard chicken class often come with an interest in raising chickens for their eggs. And with that being the case, in addition to the cost of the coop and the feed, it’s important to consider the other costs associated with keeping a pet.

“Be ready for vet cost,” said Amanda Hein, assistant manager at Southern Agriculture, 6501 E 71st St. “And there’s not a lot of vets in town that see chickens.”

Consider looking to surrounding areas for professional help for your hen and do so before you get your chicken.

Shively offers a few resources for those interested in backyard chicken keeping:

Looking for chickens?

Check your local tractor or agriculture stores, as well as the classified ads.

Bravetta Hassell 918-581-8316

Original Print Headline: Grown at home

Copyright 2013 Tulsa World. All rights reserved.



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