Backyard chicken owners push for ordinance change

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by Doug Miller/KHOU 11

khou.com

Posted on June 21, 2012 at 6:13 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 21 at 6:30 PM

HOUSTON--A group calledHens for Houston hopes to change city rules so that residents have a right to raise chickens.

At a nice house in Bellaire, in the backyard of one of those big homes people sometimes call mini-mansions, Loren Raun keeps a couple of chickens.

Actually, they’re hens named Martha and Aunt Connie. They free range around her grass, clucking at each other as they trot through the garden and scratch the dirt. Raun, a Rice University professor, swears they’re great critters to keep around the house.

"We get eggs out of it," Raun says. "And they also turn out to be really fun pets. They’re very sweet."

But just a few blocks away, inside the city limits of Houston, most homeowners can’t keep chickens as pets. That’s why a growing social media movement wants Houston to loosen its tight restrictions on owning chickens.

"I’ve been in Houston for a while," says Claire Krebs, a recent Rice University graduate. "I love it.  I want to make it my home. But I also want to have chickens."

Right now, though, she can’t. Houston forbids chicken coops anywhere within 100 feet of a home, school, church or business, a restriction that essentially means most residents of the city can’t raise hens in their yards.

So Krebs founded a group she calls Hens for Houston. She extensively researched Houston’s chicken regulations and how they compare to other cities, then posted what she found on a web site. Now news of her quirky movement is spreading through social media.

"Chickens are actually really cool," she says. "They come in all sorts of colors. Some of them are frizzy, some of them are furry, some of them have these poofs on their head. And they lay eggs."

They’re also a common source of complaints rolling into Houston’s Bureau of Animal Control, which receives more than 1,000 calls a year from people upset that their neighbors are keeping chickens.

"Mainly the noise, the constant crowing, early in the morning, late in the afternoon, during the midday." says Jarrad Mears, an animal control officer. "We got a lot of day sleepers complaining about the chickens."

Others complain about the smell emanating from chicken coops. And then there are the gripes about the scratching. Always, the scratching.

"We get a lot of spring time gardners complaining about the chickens plowing up their freshly planted flower beds." Mears says.

But fowl fans—we’ll call them the "hen lobby"—like to point out that dogs and cats cause many of the same problems as chickens. And they argue that anybody properly caring for a chicken won’t create problems for neighbors.

"They’re a lot less work, honestly, than a dog," says Grant Raun, Loren’s son. "You just come out and feed them once a day and they’re fine."

As for the noise, chicken owners point out that roosters make a lot of noise, but hens make a quiet, cooing noise that’s barely perceptible from a distance. And they argue that chicken coops smell bad if nobody cleans them, but dogs can also smell might foul.

"You’re going to have smell if you don’t clean your dog, if you don’t change your cat litter," Krebs says. "So really, smell’s an issue for any pet."

Some city officials are skeptical about the effort, but Krebs is circulating an on-line petition and gathering support on Facebook. 

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