Urban chickens popular but few towns allow them

Jokes might have you believe that chickens are well-versed at crossing roads, but these days they are crossing entire zip codes, being mailed from chicken hatcheries and ending up in backyard coops.

Keeping chickens is a growing trend in cities and towns across the nation. Laws on the books preventing urban and suburban flocks are being revised or repealed from Seattle to Annapolis.

Frederick is not yet one of those cities, but resident Eric Jenkins hopes to lead a “coop” d’etat in order to change that.

Jenkins said he and his fiancee bought six chicks that they kept in their yard from March to September 2011. Then they found out it violated city code. The animals are currently being kept for them on a friend’s Middletown farm. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get them back to Frederick one day, he said.

According to Jenkins, “they’re less trouble than having a dog.” He plans to contact city officials soon to get a discussion about the issue under way.

“Urban chickens are a real popular movement,” he said.

Which Frederick Co. towns allow backyard chickens?

Brunswick: No.

Emmitsburg: No.

Frederick: No.

Mount Airy: Code does not prohibit chickens, but requests for livestock within town limits are usually denied, according to the town administrator.

Middletown: No.

Myersville: No, but discussion of the issue is on the planning commission agenda for Tuesday.

New Market: Yes.

Thurmont: Yes.

Walkersville: Yes, but only if property is zoned agricultural.

Jeff Semler, a University of Maryland extension educator in Washington County, agreed.

“I know there have been communities that are pushing it,” he said. “It’s really kind of hilarious. You can keep chickens in Brooklyn but not in Boonsboro.”

One of the biggest objections nonsupporters have is roosters, Semler said. But many municipalities that allow chickens only permit hens. And, “there’s a misconception that chickens are dirty and noisy, but they’re neither,” he said. “They’re actually very trainable.”

Outside city limits, some folks in Frederick County are already enjoying backyard birds.

Jo and Jos Hindriks live on a wooded property off Gambrill Park Road. They have 14 chickens that together produce anywhere from nine to 13 eggs a day.

Originally, Jo wanted sheep. But since there isn’t anything resembling a pasture on their property, “I settled for chickens,” she said.

Last summer the Hindrikses built a “run,” a spacious enclosure for the chickens, around a shed they converted into a coop. They bought the chicks in September.

“I didn’t know anything about chickens when I started this,” Jo said. In fact, she had never even had domesticated pets before.

She was pleasantly surprised by her flock.

“It’s been so much fun,” she said. “They have very distinct personalities.

“It’s very relaxing to sit with the chickens around. I could sit in here for hours,” she said, holding a silky-feathered, cooing hen in her arms.

She also enjoys the bonus of fresh eggs.

“For me, the health part of it is important,” she said. “What goes in the chicken comes out in the egg.”

She feeds them high-quality pellets, meal worms and vegetation that grows on the property, she said.

One of Chris Renshaw’s favorite things to do with her free-range chickens is turn up a rock and watch them go after the bugs underneath, she said.

“You would think you had thrown a filet mignon in front of someone,” she said with a smile.

The former Rockville resident, who now lives on 21Ú2 acres off Urbana Pike in Frederick, said she would have laughed if someone told her 10 years ago that she’d have backyard chickens.

Now she’s in the process of building a bigger coop so she can add even more hens to her flock. Six adolescent chickens are currently in a pen in her basement, keeping cozy under a heat lamp until the weather becomes consistently warm enough for them to live outside. Until all their feathers come in, they won’t be able to withstand colder temperatures.

“They’re just so doggone fun,” Renshaw said. “And there’s just no way to explain the difference between fresh eggs and what you get in a store.”

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