On The City Chicken Phenomenon

On The City Chicken Phenomenon

Three weeks ago I finally took the plunge and bought four baby chicks from the feed store.  Two Buff Orpingtons, one Rhode Island Red, and one Black Star.  Maybe it's "red car syndrome" (if you buy a red car, suddenly you notice red cars everywhere) but suddenly articles about chickens are everywhere.

I live in the country, but my chickens most closely represent City Chickens, in that they are going to be pets.  My various mailboxes (email, voice mail, and post office) have been flooded with articles forwarded by friends and family on the "growing trend" of raising chickens in the city.

I put this trend down to four things:

1.    Seasonality - baby chicks are traditionally sold in springtime.  This is partly a hold-over from the Bad Old Days, when parents would buy their kids baby chicks as Easter presents.  (A hearty WTF on that one.)  And partly due to agricultural tradition.  Although there's no reason why you couldn't raise and sell baby chicks any time of year, springtime is when people are going to look for them.  You don't want off-season chicken overstock, if you're a feed store.

2.     Incongruence - it's chickens!  In the city!  The news never tires of stories about incongruence.  City chickens are the "skateboarding dog" of the urban news reporter.

3.    Recession - I have noticed that almost all of these articles use the bad economy as an underpinning, the hook upon which they hang the city chicken phenomenon.  Most of these articles start out with a phrase like "in these tough economic times" or the equivalent.

4.    Actual Trending - this is the weakest of the four factors, if you ask me.  I have been hearing about city chickens for at least five years now, ever since the "eat local" thing really started taking off.  If you look at <a href="http://www.google.com/trends?q=city+chicken&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0">the Google Trends data for the phrase "city chicken,"</a> you can see that the trend line is pretty flat.  (Note the spikes at the end of the year.  I don't know about anyone else, but that's when I started researching chickens heavily, in preparation for the March due date.)

The truth is that the American homeowner's lifestyle is almost perfectly adapted for city chickens.  Chickens don't need very much space (compared to, say, goats or horses).  They regularly produce something that you can eat (eggs) for very little effort or involvement on your part.  (As compared to a goat or cow, which will only give milk when she has a calf - requiring the owner to knock up their pet once a year, then figure out what to do with the grown baby.)  A chicken's ideal habitat consists of a fenced yard, and fortunately America is chock full of fenced yards.

Environmental activists have been railing against the American habit (in some places, requirement) for lawns as a yardscape.  A lawn is a big empty patch of nothing, a null void in ecological terms, but one which is heavily dosed with an assortment of chemicals to keep it pristine.  Chickens help fill that void, and perform the handy trick of making it produce eggs that you can eat.  What's not to like?