Defending the Coops

The benefits of raising backyard chickens include truly fresh eggs (which have a rich red-orange yolk and more flavor) and the delights of raising a flock. But in many North American cities, assembling a chicken coop and keeping a flock of hens is now illegal.

When Emily Katt of Johnson City, Tennessee, was forced to sell her chickens and the coop that her husband built, she took action.

“I wanted to educate my children and reconnect myself to a self-sufficient lifestyle,” Katt told the Johnson City Press in August 2011. “Kids should be able to be outside and get their hands in the dirt and learn where their food is coming from.

Katt teamed up with fellow chicken owner Sam Jones to form Johnson City C.O.O.P. (Chickens On Our Property). On their website, jccoop.org, the pair attest that hens are quieter than dogs or parrots and, when well-cared for, do not smell. They also point to the environmental benefits, like fuel conservation and using composted droppings as garden fertilizer.

“I do feel strongly that [chickens] can be kept as well, if not better, than any domestic pet,” Katt said.

Nearly a year of emailing and calling city council officials and 230 Facebook “likes” later, C.O.O.P. achieved victory this past April. In a 3-2 vote, Johnson City commissioners decided in favor of allowing residents to keep a small number of health officer-approved backyard chickens.

“Three to two—chickens win,” said Johnson City Mayor Jeff Banyas.

Though the ruling has yet to be made official, the group is helping to generate support for other cities, like Orlando, Florida, that are considering pilot programs that would allow people to responsibly keep chickens in their backyards.

“It should be everybody’s right to grow a little bit of their own food,” Katt said