Raising chickens becomes a suburban pursuit

EDMONDS — Backyard chickens are on the march.

Listen carefully, and you might even be able to hear their steady advance through Snohomish County: the growing chorus of clucking in our cities, the squawking in our suburbs.

Urban meet-up groups have formed, and sustainability organizations such as Everett Tilth are teaching new classes on how to care for your chickens.

People have fallen in love with the birds as quirky pets, as tiny egg factories and as a way to reconnect with nature.

“A few years ago, people looked at you like you were strange if you were keeping chickens,” said Laura McCrae, who runs a local blog called Urban Hennery. “Now, everybody I know either has chickens, or is entertaining the idea.”

“It is expanding exponentially,” said McCrae, who started her blog after buying hens three years ago for her Everett home.

Since then, McCrae has moved to a new home outside of Arlington where she now operates a sort of chicken cooperative in her spare time. She keeps 23 chickens and raises broilers for slaughter.

In a place as rural as Snohomish County, of course, it is no surprise that some areas are chicken friendly.

Even some areas that are historically anti-chicken, though, might be coming around.

Edmonds, for instance, is considering doing away with its chicken ban. Keeping live chickens has been illegal there for decades, planning manager Rob Chave said.

Last week, the city’s planning board heard a proposal that would legalize hens. The issue could wend its way to the full City Council, although Council president DJ Wilson said he wants to focus on more substantive issues such as the city’s fiscal crisis.

Promoting hen ownership doesn’t have to cost a charming city like Edmonds any style points, Councilman Steve Bernheim said. Nor does it need to distract the city.

Hens are an opportunity for the city to enhance its green credibility, he said. Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., New York and other metropolitan cities allow them, he pointed out.

“Anytime you grow your own food, we are all better off,” Bernheim said. “Chickens are a little bit beyond tomatoes and beans — I wouldn’t suggest cows or pigs — but chickens really are quite manageable at the household level.”

Roosters are too noisy to be neighborly, but Bernheim wants the city to allow people to keep up to three hens. Current laws require the city to take chickens away from their owners if neighbors complain.

Bernheim said he has been getting lots of support for chickens from Edmonds residents who are afraid that speaking out in public could endanger their egg-producing pets.

Just outside city limits, suburban chicken owners don’t have to share that worry.

Caroline Scull lives in the upscale Picnic Point neighborhood in unincorporated Snohomish County.

Her address is Edmonds, but her back yard can feel like pure country.

Seven hens live in a 30-foot long chicken run that hides behind giant, well-kept rhododendrons.

“My friends often say, ‘Why are you living in Picnic Point? You should have 20 acres,’ ” Scull said.

The Scull family bought chickens a few years ago for the fresh eggs. They’ve kept the chickens because her children have fallen in love, she said.

Like most chicken owners, Scull said her hens haven’t saved her any money — feeding and caring for chickens can be expensive.

“It’s a thing of the heart. We like to be connected to the earth,” she said. “If you’re going to be doing it for the money, that’s maybe not the best thing.”

Chris Fyall: 425-339-3447, cfyall@heraldnet.com.

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