Why the Big Deal about Chicken Coops?


The proper size of chicken coops in the proposed Denver ordinance on “food producing animals” (chickens, ducks, and goats) doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. Decide on a reasonable standard, then put the phrasing in the ordinance. The coop size is not the entire space allocated for chickens, by the way.  In the proposed ordinance, chickens get both a coop and a pen, and the pen size was expanded from 10 square feet to 16 square feet in the current draft, which is reasonable.

But what about the size of the coop, where they are protected from the elements and from predators, and where the chickens will spend a good portion of their lives? In fact, there is a fair standard for chickens, agreed on both by chicken enthusiasts and humane welfare advocates: it is a minimum of 4 square feet per chicken. Chicken Run Rescue, probably the only urban chicken shelter in the United States, puts forward this figure (it’s page 9 of their “Recommendations for Municipal Regulation of Urban Chickens”), which has been endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States.  It’s also mentioned in “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow, 2nd and 3rd Editions, and in “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Chickens,” by Jerome D. Belanger, who started the Backyard Poultry magazine in 1979.

Sustainable Food Denver (namely, Sundari Kraft), however, has argued for the figure of 1 square foot per bird. To give you an idea, 1 square foot per bird is essentially the amount of space that a laying hen would have on a “factory farm,” where they are debeaked and confined in tiny “battery” cages.

Amazingly, though, in the latest City Council committee hearing on April 5, even this minimal requirement was eliminated entirely! Instead, vague language was inserted requiring “adequate enclosed shelter space,” and stating that “adequate shelter must be provided to protect the ducks, chickens or dwarf goats from the elements and to prevent wildlife or other predators from gaining entry.” Well, a battery cage would do that.

This is obviously a bunch of nonsense. Chickens need protection, and there is a fairly common sense standard available. It appears that Sundari Kraft really wants to keep the standard lower. The chickens may be better off than on factory farms, but how much better? Especially in winter weather, they are going to be inside a lot.  These are not going to be happy chickens.

The average person in Denver does not want to have unhappy chickens in their back yard, or next door, either. In fact, I question whether even the average chicken enthusiast wants to keep unhappy chickens. I have met four people in recent years (outside of my organizational connections such as through Transition Denver), who have either expressed interest in keeping chickens or (in one case) actually kept a chicken illegally in Denver. All of them wanted to keep the chickens as pets until the end of the chicken’s natural life. I suspect that it is only a minority that wants to exploit chickens, extracting the maximum number of eggs from them with the least amount of space and expense, and then having them killed as soon as they stop laying eggs. The standards that Sundari Kraft advocates certainly cater to this approach.

Coop size for chickens shouldn’t be a controversial item in this bill.  We should be fighting this battle on different terrain, over issues of predators, noise, smell, disease, and the like. This ordinance will help ensure that cruelty towards animals becomes normal. It shouldn’t be in my back yard, and it shouldn’t be in anyone’s back yard.


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