Egg heads

Fowl fans henpecked by city’s chicken prohibition

Finger-lickin’ good? Not so fast, Colonel Sanders! These hens be for laying eggs, not eating.

Finger-lickin’ good? Not so fast, Colonel Sanders! These hens be for laying eggs, not eating.

Photo By sena christian

For more information about updating Sacramento’s chicken ordinance, visit To sign the petition, click here.

Katie Towers loves to cook. She uses lots of fresh eggs, which she said are more nutritious and taste better than store-bought ones. But she and her husband can’t afford to buy organic eggs at the farmers’ market every week, which is one of the reasons why she wants the city of Sacramento to update what she calls an “outdated law” that prohibits residents from raising chickens within city limits.

If she had her way, she’d raise her own hens, each of which could lay up to one egg a day.

Raising her own chickens would increase her access to inexpensive protein. These eggs are low in cholesterol and saturated fat and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Allowing residents to raise chickens would provide families with easy access to high-quality, healthy food.

“We care about food security issues,” said Towers, who along with her husband, Paul Schramski Towers, is actively involved in Sacramento’s local-food movement.

Both are members of Environment and Agriculture Taskforce, or EAT Sacramento, a group working to encourage the city to join the 65 percent of metropolitan cities in the United States that allow residents to raise egg-laying hens, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Roseville.

The proposed ordinance change would establish a limit of six to 10 hens per household. Roosters wouldn’t be allowed, nor would chicken slaughter. The birds are to be used only for egg production.

Towers learned about chickens during her childhood, when her family’s hens acted as pets, each possessing a distinct personality.

A chicken doesn’t need much space, typically 3 square feet per bird in which to lay eggs and an additional 10 square feet for running space, she said. A person should have at least two chickens, because they’re social animals.

A pullet—or baby hen—costs about $2, and the animal will start laying eggs at 20 weeks and will lay for several years. The cost of starting and maintaining a flock is low; hens can be fed chicken feed or kitchen scraps.

“They’re easy to care for, they take up very little space and it’s good for the garden,” said Jaclyn Hopkins, a Sacramento resident who raised hens growing up in Kentucky. “They minimize pests. They love slugs and eat up flea and mosquito larvae. When they defecate, it’s good for the soil. Hens are not loud at all. They make a gentle cooing sound.”

Many Sacramentans already raise hens in their backyards, primarily in low-income neighborhoods or those heavily comprised of ethnic-minority populations.

Rose Xiong knows a Hmong couple who has raised 10 chickens for about two years now.

“It’s always in the back of their minds that it’s illegal,” Xiong said.

But the risk is worth the cultural payoff, she added. Hmong use fresh eggs (store-bought ones don’t suffice) for spiritual and religious ceremonies. For instance, boiled eggs are given to sick people to bring them good luck. In spiritual-calling ceremonies, a shaman uses a chicken to call for the return of a sick person’s spirit (the chicken is killed as part of this process). Xiong would like to see an ordinance that’s slightly more accepting of these customs.

“They’re just trying to live off what they can, and raising your own food sounds like a good idea,” Xiong said.

James Clark lives in a working-class neighborhood in south Sacramento. Three months ago, he bought five chickens to keep in his yard. A month later, three of his chickens were killed by neighborhood dogs. The other two escaped, and Clark found them roaming around the front yard (the surviving chickens are no longer kept at his house).

“It amazes me that it’s perfectly legal … to have these aggressive dogs,” Clark said.

His family goes through so many eggs, he thought raising chickens would save money. He’d also been reading Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food.

“It was a simple, back-to-the-land thing to do,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me that chickens might be illegal.”