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Backyard Chickens Making A Comeback?

johnThere used to be a time when many families raised chickens for fresh eggs. These days, depending on where you live in the Coachella Valley, it’s illegal to raise your own chickens. A growing movement is working on changing that in Palm Springs.

In many cities across the country, it’s legal to raise your own chickens. Farm-fresh food isn’t just for people who live on farms. Many city dwellers are already growing their own food in backyard gardens, and the trend to raise chickens for fresh eggs is growing.

Going Organic spoke with John Murphy, owner of City Chicks, a business that builds custom, handcrafted chicken
coops. John, an urban poultry specialist, provides his services to people who live in the local areas where it’s legal to raise chickens.

Prior to John getting into the coop construction business, he worked at group homes for kids funded by the state. After becoming disheartened by the way the group homes were run and by the way the kids were treated, he decided to change his career path. “I’ve been building since I was a little boy,” said John. “I’ve always loved chickens and when I lived on the Morongo Indian Reservation, I had between 25 and 30 chickens—quail and pheasants too. I loved them all, but my favorites were chickens because of the eggs. Besides, chickens are the only pets that can make you breakfast.”

breakfastTHE SCOOP ON THE COOP

Raising chickens is a fun hobby for the whole family. “You know what, it draws families together. When you have a chicken coop, kids learn where food comes from and they learn how to take care of something. Parents look for ways to connect with their kids and raising chickens for fresh eggs can help bring back good old family values,” said John.

“The best reason to raise your own chickens is fresh eggs. But it’s going to cost you something to feed them. When the chicks first hatch you give them starter mash. When they get a bit older with little feathers, you give them regular feed, and about two weeks before they start laying eggs, which is between four and five months, you start them on laying mash and that helps the eggs develop. It’s a minimal cost because you can make the feed,” explains John. “You can clean out your refrigerator every week and give them leftovers. They literally eat everything. I mean everything. Pasta, fruit, bread, whatever. They’ll even eat beef.”

“Another great reason to have your own chickens is the compost they provide. It’s the best fertilizer out there for your vegetable garden. You can put your compost box right next to the coop, layer it with dirt and throw the chicken waste in there along with grass clippings. It makes for a very rich compost,” he adds.

“Chickens are like pets. People will just sit and watch them. They can be very entertaining. They’ll come right up and eat out of your hand, and you can hear the difference between each one. You’ll know which one’s talking, because every chicken has its own distinctive sound. I know this sounds crazy, but they’re very soothing. I call it Chick Therapy. It’s very relaxing,” said John.

City Chick’s customers get a starter package for their custom coops that includes four “day-old” chicks, a wa- terer, a feeder and a month’s supply of food. “City Chicks builds handcrafted custom chicken coops of all sizes for all budgets. I can build you a $50 chicken coop, or one for $1,800 and up,” John adds, “It’s only legal in certain sections of the city. Palm Springs is checker-boarded. You can have chicken coops on Indian land, so there are a lot of places in Palm Springs where they’re permitted.

Personally, growing up in the area, I’ve seen chickens my whole life. People have had them for many years. The government used to tell the public to raise your own chickens. Do your own thing. Be self-supporting. Be self-sustaining.”

CHICKEN SERVED MANY WAYS

John envisions multiple divisions for City Chicks down the road. “I want to take City Chicks to school classes. I’m planning on putting in a coop at Palm Springs High School for the kids as a pilot program. It just needs to get ap- proved. I also want to start going to retirement homes and convalescent homes. It will all be free. I’ve just got to find donors,” said John. “I also want to do ‘Rent-A-Chicken’. That’s big right now. You get a portable coop, two chickens and a bag of feed—very basic. You get it for a month, so you can check it out to see if you like it.”

“I’ve got a friend from Chicago who owns a large development company in the desert, and I’m going to build a coop on one of his models. He’s going to offer an optional home model for people who want to go green,” adds John.

CALLING FOWL ON BACKYARD CHICKEN BAN

John feels that it’s just a matter of time before Palm Springs passes an amendment to a municipal code that will allow for everyone to raise chickens if they want to. John said, “I started a Facebook page called CLUCK of Palm Springs—Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping. What I want is to get the right people in Palm Springs working together so everybody can have chickens. You know, you can have chickens in New York City, you can have them in Beverly Hills and Bel Air—why not Palm Springs?”

To regulate backyard chicken coops and make them legal, John is looking for an amendment to the City’s Municipal Code that stipulates; a three chicken limit, no roosters, no slaughtering and a 10-foot distance from adjoining structures. Additionally, John recommends that Urban Chicken-Keeping classes would be available.

“You’re always going to have resistance, basically because people are uneducated about owning chickens,” adds John. “They don’t know anything about them so they don’t like them. It’ll pass. It’ll take a little while. I’ve got a lot of drive. I’m willing to do whatever it takes, and some folks at Palm Springs City Hall have offered to help.”

For more information about City Chicks, visit www.WhatTheCluck.org.

BENEFITS OF RAISING URBAN CHICKENS

  • chickenChicken waste is free compost
  • Organic, antibiotic and hormone-free eggs
  • Natural Pest control
  • Soil savers: Excellent noise-free tillers
  • Recycle food and yard waste (composters)
  • Chickens maintain yards by eating weeds
  • May preserve heritage breeds
  • Chickens combat a common predator to bee colonies: Hive beetles

HOW JOHN’S CHICKEN COOP WAS HATCHED

nieceJohn was inspired to build his coop by his 10-year-old niece, Molly Murphy, the daughter of brother, Dan Murphy— head coach for the Palm Springs High School varsity football team.

Molly helped build and paint the coop and even named all the chickens; Uno, Beyonce, Lucy, Ethel, Sparkles, Oleo, Kizzy, and Koko—who answer when she calls them. She comes over to her Uncle John’s house nearly every weekend to gather eggs, work on the garden, and play with the chickens.