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White Oak eases backyard chicken coop rules

By Richard Yeakley
April 10, 2013 at 10 p.m.


The city of White Oak became one of East Texas' most fowl-friendly towns Tuesday when its council loosened restrictions on chicken coops.

The adjusted ordinance allows chicken coops as close as 25 feet from a residence or occupied building. That's a change from a policy that limited coops to at least 200 feet away from a house - all but forbidding keeping chickens in any heavily residential neighborhood.

"The ordinance was already in place. We just reduced the footage from a dwelling to allow folks if they want to raise hens," said Mike Self, the city's Public Works director. "We have a lot of people that are starting to go that direction."

Self said there had been talk around town from any number of people who wanted to raise hens and have fresh eggs - so the City Council decided to make that more feasible.

Self added that he plans to buy chickens of his own and have fresh eggs, too, although he owns enough land to raise chickens before the ordinance changed.

"This is going to give a wide spectrum of citizens the opportunity to own chickens," Self said.

The trend to buy and raise chickens even in urban areas has been growing for several years.

Solid numbers nationwide are not available, but much anecdotal evidence has been given to support the growth.

Backyard Poultry Magazine reported its paid subscriptions climbed from 15,000 to 80,000 the past four years.

This past month, hundreds of visitors took the "Funky Chicken Coop Tour" in Austin.

In July, visitors to Seattle can take part in the "Seattle Tilth's Chicken Coop & Urban Farm Tour" to see the best coops in a city where chickens are one of the most common pets.

In addition to convenience, chicken coops have become a statement of fashion in some communities. A stylish coop can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Fans of the lifestyle point to a variety of reasons to raise backyard fowl: the ease and inexpensiveness to maintain hens compared to most other pets, the taste of fresh eggs and the chemical-free bug and weed control and fertilizer. Plus, advocates point out, raising chickens helps teach children about nature.

Rhonda Key, a cashier at A&M Farm Supply in Longview, said the store recently invested in chicks and chicken coops after a deluge of requests from East Texans who said they lived in a city.

"We had 18 chicks yesterday, and we just sold the last two," Key said. "We bought them to sell after we had a lot of calls."

Key said three of four $800 chicken coops had been sold since the start of the year.

"We have about two or three people call us each day and another two or three stop each day to look at the chicken coop. And these are people who live in cities," she said.

White Oak's new ordinance requires one of the shortest distances between a coop and an occupied building for an East Texas city.

Longview's city ordinance requires a coop be 100 feet removed from an occupied building. Hallsville requires 200 feet, and Gilmer requires 100 feet.

The city of Gladewater does not have a minimum distance a coop must be removed from a residence, but requires poultry be enclosed on the owner's property.

"There are still going to be sanitation requirements; we are talking maybe three or four hens per household," Self said.

Many White Oak residents voiced approval of the change even if they didn't plan on buying any chickens for themselves.

"As long as they don't have roosters, it will be OK," Ed Kirkland said jokingly. "I couldn't care less as long as they keep them to themselves. ... You could also have an increase in predators, but because they are enclosed, I don't think that would be a big problem."

Tammy Munoz said her neighbors tolerated her dogs, so she would be fine with them having chickens.

"It doesn't bother me. I was raised in the country and used to raise chickens myself. They don't yell about my rescue dogs, so I won't yell about their chickens," Munoz said. "As long as they are a responsible owner."

Munoz said although she has no plans to raise poultry again, it's good the opportunity is available.

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