Monday, May 4, 2009

Feathered Neighbors: Hens in The Heights

The Heights is full of unassumingly cool people. Seriously.

Right now, raising chickens in urban areas is super-hip. The national craze is popping up everywhere, as featured in The New York Times and NPR. Tons of people are working to create more favorable city ordinances for raising chickens in urban areas.

Meanwhile, back in lil' ol' Houston Heights, we've had neighbors raising chickens in their backyards for, um, years!

Take Debbie, for instance. She's the mother of two children and an active community member. She also happens to manage a chicken coop in her backyard and has been doing so for the past four or five years.

When asked why she decided to take on a feathered flock of her own, she said, "I had lived in The Heights for a while and had seen chickens wandering around. A friend and I decided, 'Hey, we can do that!'"

Her husband constructed a chicken coop near their storage shed. They originally talked about slaughtering the chickens for meat but then decided just to keep them for eggs.

Currently, Debbie and her family own three Americanas that each lay an egg a day during the laying season. They stop twice a year for approximately two months at a time. Debbie and her family use the eggs to make frittata or deviled eggs, and they give eggs to their friends for gifts. Debbie says, "A lot of people take wine; we take eggs."

For Debbie and her family, their chickens are "somewhere between pets and livestock." They are "nice to have around," but they "don't mourn their passing."

Debbie's chickens often attract possums, and, if there's too much extra food lying around, they also attract rats.

Debbie makes taking care of chickens look easy and rustically fun. While I interviewed her, she pulled a hay-covered tray out of the bottom of the coop and started cleaning it off with sweeping and scraping. She says the hay can be added to the compost. She also mentioned that chickens can act like living garbage disposals, as she pointed to the french fry remnants of last night's dinner that she had thrown on the ground for the chickens to peck at.

Debbie knows she's violating the city ordinances that govern urban chicken raising in Houston, but she shrugs off the problem. She keeps only hens (no alarm-clock roosters!), and she says they only make noise when they are endangered. And, if they clean the coop once a week, "there's no smell."

So, Heights residents, what are your experiences with chickens in the neighborhood? Have you noticed a trend? Have you seen any problems? What do you think about the city ordinances that make it difficult to legally raise chickens in The Heights, due to our small plots of land?

Start clucking...


  1. I live at the corner of 18th and Harvard- and my neighbor has a HUGE bird pen in the back yard containing several chickens (along with other birds) Its never seemed to bother anyone around us.... During the day you can hear them clucking away... Kind of reminds me of our farm when I was a kid.

  2. My neighbor raised three chickens until recently when her lease was up and wasn't renewed by her landlord (so she had to leave the house). The neighbors all really enjoyed that she had the birds... there is something neat about walking outside to leave the house in the morning and hearing the rooster crow.

  3. Lots of houses in my neighborhood (including mine) have sheds that used to be part storage, part livestock shelter. But now our town ordinances prohibit most everything besides dogs and cats. Our town is too small to have chickens inconspicuously... It's funny- my county is the number one chicken-producing county in the US. We have billions of 'em, but I can't have them in my own backyard!

  4. My dog is fascinated by the sounds of Heights chickens when we are out walking. They are not noisy, but when you stroll by, you can hear them on the other side of the fence.

  5. I would really like to have chickens, but I don't think my landlord would agree. We need to collectively lobby city council to change Houston's ridiculous 100ft. rule.

  6. They don't seem noisy until you live next to them. Imagine hearing a rooster all day, every day for 4 years. It happened to me in The Heights. Fun...

  7. Yeah, I wouldn't be a big fan of living next to a rooster. I don't like to wake up that early! Hens, on the other hand, just seem to make a soft clucking sound.

  8. I didn't know you couldn't! I know several people around the city with successful chickens (hens only) and it seems really do-able, once you get the initial set up done. My yard is tiny, otherwise I'd be tempted to give it a go.

  9. Chickens are surprising and beautiful to see while walking/biking around in the Heights. Just another slice of country in our urban paradise.

  10. My family purchaced two hens a month ago and have become very attached. Unfortunatly our girls got out Friday evening and have yet to return. If anyone has seen them please let us know. We are located on the corner of 15th and cortlandt 713-553-0254