Is Dayton chicken?

Residents say ‘yes’ to chicken ownership, will the city?

By Tara Pettit

Dayton has progressively moved closer toward its residents’ shared vision to transform post-industrial “dead spaces” into creative, more productive eco-friendly areas centered on community.

Amidst progress, however, Miami Valley residents have reached a major roadblock in their mission to become a more self-reliant network of neighborhoods. They have posed one all-important question in the pursuit of more opportunities for independent, sustainable living: What about chickens? 

Backyard chicken ownership in urban areas has been trending throughout the United States in more recent years with major cities in states like California and Vermont serving as poster children in demonstrating successful micro-farm city models.

USDA estimates that 1 percent of all U.S. households are already keeping chickens and 5 percent have chickens on their “five-year wish lists.” This would result in four times as many urban chicken flocks in 2018 compared to the current amount.

The idea of backyard chicken ownership was formally presented to Dayton city officials as a possibility in 2014, but was resisted, resulting in one Huber Heights resident turning her city zoning law concerns into action by forming a political action committee and circulating petitions to overturn the law.

The committee, Community Led Urban Chicken Keeping (C.L.U.C.K), made great strides in 2014 to garner substantial community support for the issue by securing approximately 600 signatures for its petition, but the organization failed to get an immediate decision from the Huber Heights City Council to place it on the city ballot at that time.

However, the organization has remained instrumental in recent residential efforts to get chicken ownership legalized in several Dayton area communities. Most recently, Beavercreek has welcomed chickens into its backyards for single-family homeowners with lots of 15,000 square feet or larger.

Huber Heights is following close behind as the city council recently approved sending a referendum to voters this fall.

Dayton City Council conducted a community survey of residents earlier in the year in order to measure support for chicken ownership. The survey was administered online, predominately through the city’s social media platforms, as a non-scientific, self-selected opportunity for individuals to voice their opinions on the issue.

The survey results were recently compiled, revealing strong support for chicken ownership in the city, as 79 percent of those surveyed responded in favor of changing Dayton’s zoning code to allow chickens to be kept and raised within city limits. Twenty percent of those surveyed were not in favor of chicken ownership within city limits and 1 percent had no opinion.

The survey also showed what supplemental regulations residents would favor in establishing zoning laws change to include city chicken ownership. Eighty percent of survey-takers favored implementing a regulation for proper maintenance and cleanliness of chickens and designated areas. This was followed closely by support for setting a maximum number for chickens allowed, as well as designating areas to be in rear yards.

In addition, the survey asked residents what prohibitions they favored: 93 percent responded that fowl should not be raised for fighting purposes, followed by prohibitions on allowing roosters, fowl for commercial use, and outdoor slaughtering.

Next steps require shedding light on chicken keeping, which can directly contribute to the visionary roadmap set by key Dayton officials in the journey of city reinvention.

Why chickens? 

“Chickens help people to be more involved with their property and sense of place,” Five Rivers MetroParks Education Specialist Connie Duncan explains. “They help people become more involved with their community, and people start to share their experiences and wisdom with others.”

Duncan coordinates programming at the Possum Creek MetroPark in Dayton, where she works closely with children to educate them about farming, livestock, and other land practices. She teaches children that the “world is like a spider web where everything is connected and anything you do affects everyone around you.”

Part of her educational workshops gives kids the chance to physically touch land and livestock and to engage in common farming processes that tangibly connect them to, what Duncan considers, practices central to the human experience.

The most obvious benefit of chickens to households is their ability to provide fresh, locally grown meat and eggs, filling a substantial need, especially in a city with food deserts.

Being connected to a local food source is becoming increasingly more important to many Americans as they to gain awareness of the prevailing industrial food supply systems that have traditionally supplied our food.

Raising one’s own meat is a key aspect in making these lifestyle changes.

The simple practice of keeping a small flock of chickens, much like one would keep multiple cats or dogs, meets basic needs in a sustainable way, while also creating a potential springboard for forging shared community experiences as neighbors share the harvest from their flocks with one another.

California-based chicken-keeping expert and author of several books about maintaining chicken flocks Christine Heinrichs cites food-sharing as an excellent way to rally community support around common goals involving chicken ownership in the neighborhood.

In her book, “Backyard Field Guide to Chickens,” Heinrichs lays out all aspects of backyard chicken ownership – from reasons why chickens make excellent pets to common misconceptions about raising them in small places – and includes detailed plans for how to best prepare for and maintain your backyard chicken flock. She believes that with proper education and the intention to integrate chicken flocks into the neighborhood environment to benefit the whole of the community (sharing fresh food), the practice of keeping chickens will help cities flourish.

“This could be the game-changer,” Heinrichs says. “I see every backyard flock as one less customer for the horrible industrial system that keeps chickens crowded in small cages for their entire lives. Growing local food builds community and produces healthier foods; and chickens are part of that.”

From an ecological standpoint, chickens are excellent stewards of individual food waste. They consume food scraps and produce high-nitrogen fertilizer from their own waste to assist in healthy

land generation.

Additionally, chickens naturally forage their immediate area and help till the land for healthy soil for future food production.

“Chickens are really natural recyclers and an important part of the permaculture cycle,” Heinrichs adds. “They keep the natural system going.”

Why are we chickening out? 

Two of the main reasons that city zoning laws exclude chickens include cleanliness and maintenance of the coop areas and public disturbance from the sights and sounds of the birds themselves.

Heinrichs, who provides detailed instructions on how to build and maintain a hassle-free coop area that is accessible for ongoing cleaning, smells, and bug attraction, contends that these concerns are not a problem when chickens and their living environments are well-kept. It then simply becomes a matter of maintaining any type of pet.

“Dogs and cats can also create problems if they aren’t cared for properly,” Heinrichs says. “It’s a husbandry issue.”

Advocates for chickens, including Duncan and Heinrichs, have identified a larger framework for public resistance to chickens – a result of being so far removed from intimate land practices.

“I think people have a fear of livestock because we have been so disconnected from our food,” Duncan says.

Similarly, Heinrichs believes the public is widely unfamiliar with chickens, and so they are grouped in one general “farm livestock” category, absent from everyday urban lifestyles. However, she goes to great lengths to educate people that backyard flocks of a dozen or fewer are “quite different from a farming operation” and deserve consideration within urban spheres.

Chickens for the soul 

Frances Tacy, owner of Franny’s Farm in Asheville, North Carolina, is no stranger to city-raised chickens or seeing the benefits of how one city decision to welcome chickens transforms the internal and external landscapes of neighborhoods.

She spent the first 13 years of her married life as the “city gardener and farmer,” one of a few pioneers at the time trying to implement self-reliant food growth practices within city limits.

“We had petitions; we marched in parades. It was great,” Tacy says. “We would go around and talk to people about chickens and pass out information to really increase awareness. It was face-to-face public interaction that really got a huge response.”

Chickens, for Tacy, hold an incredibly important role in family and community life. She now works for Sustainable Poultry Network (SPN), an organization aimed at encouraging slow-grown poultry and fostering connections to local growers.

“Backyard chickens make amazing pets,” she says. “They’re very friendly and sociable and promote close relationships between the human and creature, as well as between family members. Because the animals are compatible, beneficial, and low maintenance, in addition to being great resources, raising chickens enhances family life.”

So, what’s happened since Asheville’s chicken ban overturn? With few exceptions, such as uncovering the random rooster on the block, the integration of chicken-keeping into the city has transformed the dynamics of neighborhood interactions to a model of sharing and caring where neighbors exchange goods and people are actually outside of their houses.

Will Dayton rise when the rooster crows? 

Cries to overturn city bans are organizing from a concentrated grass root efforts, and soon we will be seeing those efforts appear as issues on upcoming voter ballots.

In the meantime, public awareness and education will continue from multiple directions and organizations, such as Five Rivers MetroParks, and will inform residents of best practices when it comes to chicken-keeping.

For instance, Duncan says individuals need to conduct thorough research and be well prepared before onboarding a flock of chicks. Studying how to create safe coops for chickens, flock and coop maintenance, and how to select certified sustainable breeds should be priority for individuals and families looking to begin their flocks.

“Having a few hens and raising those birds is a wonderful idea to get people into the practices we used to engage in,” Duncan says. “Those practices are part of our heritage; it’s who we are.”

Residents are ready for chickens. Will city officials continue to play chicken?

For more information on backyard chicken-keeping educational seminars, tools, and resources, please contact Connie Duncan with Five Rivers MetroParks at 937.275.7274. For more information about Sustainable Poultry Network’s mission and work, please visit To follow the latest news on city chicken laws, please visit C.L.U.C.K’s Facebook page at 

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