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A new ordinance allows Oklahoma City residents to raise chickens in backyards

Peggy Johnson's chickens in her DIY backyard chicken coop
Hannah France
Peggy Johnson's DIY chicken coop protects her chickens from predators and the elements.

Since the ordinance took effect in early March, one woman has taken the opportunity to engage in urban agriculture.

Peggy Johnson’s Oklahoma City home is very hospitable to all sorts of animals - from pet chihuahuas in the living room to foster kittens in the office to chickens in the backyard.

Johnson said her four Rhode Island Red chickens - Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, Janice, and Butterbean - provide endless entertainment. She herself is an entertainer.

"I'm a musician and so have a lot of musician friends," said Johnson. "We had a party when everybody brought their guitars and we sat out here playing and listening to the chickens, watching chicken TV while we played."

Johnson and her friends aren’t the only musicians in the backyard anymore.

"I decided I wanted musical chickens. So I bought them a little drum and it's got a mirror on it. And they peck on it. And then I got this little guitar. And I love the songs on there and they step on it all the time," said Johnson.

Within a few months, Johnson bought her chickens, built their coop, and taught herself how to raise them all on her own.

But the ordinance behind it all took years of effort from members of the Oklahoma City Council and local urban agriculture supporters.
Sara Braden is one of the co-founders of Commonwealth Urban Farms, an organization that played a big role in the city’s urban agriculture coalition in 2013.

"The planning department wanted to update the city ordinances, not just with backyard chickens, but with a whole bunch of different things including rainwater harvesting, clarifying that it is legal to grow vegetables in your front yard, and just a bunch of other stuff like that," said Braden.

When it came down to the final vote, everything the urban agriculture coalition suggested passed - except for backyard chickens.

It wasn’t until last year when there was a combination of new City Council members and an increase of interest in backyard chickens that the ordinance was revisited and updated.

One of those new City Council members was JoBeth Hamon, who said her constituents asked her about the possibility of reviving the backyard chickens ordinance before she was even sworn in.

"And then when the pandemic hit, I got another wave of inquiries because people were worried about food supply chains and the tenuousness of not knowing, not having that self reliance," Hamon said.

The ordinance allows for up to six chickens or quail to be raised in backyards. There are several rules in place to ensure the well-being of the birds. They must be kept in a coop from dusk until dawn, and the coop must have at least four square feet of space per bird. Additionally, each bird must have eight square feet of roaming space.

The fair treatment of chickens is part of what drove Johnson to raise her own in her backyard.

"I have been real concerned about the way chickens are treated. I never know which eggs to buy," said Johnson. "And then when it says 'free range farm raised', they still, they don't live like this. So I thought, well, I'll get some chickens now that it's legal to have chickens. I'm just gonna get some chickens."

Johnson’s chickens are almost old enough to lay eggs. She expects to get around a dozen eggs every week - more than she said she can eat by herself. So, she plans to share them with her neighbors and friends.

Hannah France started her work in public radio at KBIA while studying journalism at the University of Missouri. While there, she helped develop and produce a weekly community call-in show, for which she and her colleagues won a Gracie Award. Hannah takes interest in a wide variety of news topics, which serves her well as a reporter and producer for KGOU.
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