Sarasota Gives Peeps a Chance

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get away from Code Enforcement!

Food is a big issue in today’s society. People want to know where their food comes from and what goes into making it. With the multiple salmonella scares in factory farms, it’s no wonder folks are flocking to get eggs produced by naturally grazing, free-range hens. Unfortunately, quality eggs such as these cost upward of $4 per dozen - and are beyond the budget of many.

This is only one of the reasons behind a growing movement toward backyard urban chicken-keeping. People are realizing that chickens make excellent pets, produce high-quality fertilizer for gardening, eat insects and table scraps, and produce quality protein for us to enjoy. Can Fluffy or Fido do that?

In June 2009, a concerned group of city and county residents in Sarasota, Florida got together to start a movement toward making it “legal” to keep these lovely little birdies in backyards, and CLUCK (Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping) was born. Until recently, it was against city ordinance to keep poultry in a residential backyard, in the city or county. Chicken-keeping actually had been allowed in Sarasota until 2000, when chickens were banned partially due to one inconsiderate homeowner who had a menagerie including 45 chickens, 40 rabbits, eight turkeys, two pheasants, and a pigmy goat on one single-family lot. From 2000 through 2011, the “Animals” section of the city ordinance specifically prohibited keeping backyard poultry.

Thanks in part to CLUCK’s efforts and many supportive residents, that part of the ordinance was recently changed. Volunteer CLUCK members spent many months preparing research and documents to support backyard chicken keeping, gathering petition signatures, going before City Planning boards, and talking with commissioners.

The people working behind the scenes on the chicken ordinance certainly did their homework. They campaigned, negotiated, strategized, lobbied, researched, blogged, compromised, organized, listened, met, and talked about chickens - all amidst protests claiming that backyard hens would destroy real estate values and become a public health issue. The CLUCK supporters submitted a 14-page case statement to city commissioners detailing the reasons - backed up with data - why keeping hens in urban backyards should be made legal.

All the hard work paid off when the city commissioners voted unanimously to officially change the ordinance in early February 2011. The new city ordinance mandates that no more than four hens (no roosters) be kept in a moveable coop or fenced backyard and secured in a coop at night, with minimum setbacks from property lines and adjacent structures, and prohibits the slaughtering of hens or selling of their eggs. The ordinance will be revisited in January 2014 to determine whether backyard chicken keeping has been successful.

Currently, chicken keeping in the county is only allowed on properties with certain zoning classifications. If you have a property zoned OUA (Open Use Agriculture), OUR (Open Use Rural), or OUE (Open Use Estate), you can have poultry, but they must stay from 100 to 500 feet away from nearby residential or commercial property lines. These types of properties are a minimum of anywhere from 5 acres (OUE) to 160 acres (OUA). If you are like many homeowners and have a good sized backyard in a neighborhood that is not deed restricted, but are zoned as RSF (1/4 acre lot), then no chickens for you.

Now that chickens are legalized in the City of Sarasota, CLUCK is focusing its efforts on educating potential and current chicken owners about successful chicken husbandry and working toward legalizing chicken keeping in Sarasota County.

The City of Sarasota has said “yes” to urban chicken keeping, and now it’s up to the county to give peeps a chance.

Did You Know?

  • Over 75 U.S. cities allow backyard chickens.
  • Compared to factory farm eggs, eggs from free-range chickens (who eat grass, bugs, etc.) have 1/3 less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, two times more Omega 3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, and seven times more beta carotene.
  • There is a 20-times greater risk of salmonella in eggs from factory farmed/caged hens than from free-range hens.
  • Chickens provide fertilizer, eat table scraps, control insects, and aerate soil in backyards.
  • Roosters are not needed for egg production.
  • CLUCK hosts regular “Chickens 101” workshops, in conjunction with the University of Florida’s IFAS Extension, for potential chicken owners.
  • CLUCK also holds regular meetings to educate, entertain, and strategize. Meeting topics have included coop comparisons, chicken breed show and tell, and documentary film screenings.

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