Urban chickens a growing Bay Area trend
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Heidi Kooy was not excited when she and her family first moved to the Excelsior District. To her, the sandwiched houses and industrial background was not the most appealing environment.

"I originally wanted a place with more space," Kooy said, "and...uh...livestock!"

Although she might not have the former, Kooy definitely got the latter. In May earlier this year, she purchased her first three chickens for her backyard to raise eggs. Since then, her yard has become a miniature farm, complete with a small dog, tomato plants and a pair of pygmy goats.

"It's not too weird really," Kooy said about owning farm animals in the city. "A lot of people in cities all over the world raise chickens and other animals without problems."

While Kooy's backyard might seem unusual, more and more San Franciscans are following this homesteading trend. Online discussion forums and blogs buzz with questions about raising chicks in the city. Organizations, such as Urban Alliance for Sustainability, promote the living off the land lifestyle with workshops for aspiring urban farmers. As enthusiasm for going green and sustainable living grows, chicken coops have been multiplying in the Noe Valley, the Mission and the Excelsior neighborhoods.

To Colin McDonneh and Mickey Thoms, taking care of chickens is a "labor of love." Thoms was hesitant about the idea when his then-girlfriend first suggested it two years ago. Deciding to go for it, they constructed a coop their large backyard that they share with four other neighbors in the Mission. "I eventually grew to like them," he said. "What's not to like about cute cuddly birds?"

According to the San Francisco health code, chickens qualify as small pets and don't require a permit for up to four birds. Also included in this category are hares, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, turkeys, geese, ducks, doves, and pigeons. Any of these animals must properly housed in a structure large enough for it to turn in one complete circle. And the chicken's coop must be at least 20 yards away from any door or window.

Although these are the rules, they are not strictly enforced, according to the San Francisco Animal Control Department. Officials usually come out to answer complaints, rather than randomly search for people with more animals.

For most chicken owners, problems with the neighbors are not as common as avian illnesses. A recent heat wave in the city caused one of McDonneh and Thoms's birds to overheat and die of dehydration. Kooy lost four birds--one of which she had to kill herself--due to a bug in her provider's flock. Now she can't take in any more birds, until she is certain they will not be infected by the two remaining chickens.

Despite the setbacks, Kooy is still optimistic and looks forward to the day when her chickens will lay eggs. "I know a lot of people would throw in the towel after that," she said, "but I am determined to make this successful."



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