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Backyard egg farming is on the rise

"Isn't he handsome," cooed a neighbor, peering through a fence in the Oak Hill Park neighborhood where a controversial rooster resides. The neighbor was speaking to Lendri Purcell, for whom the rooster's daily serenade presents an annoyance modulated by feelings of acceptance.

"It's really irritating to hear him at five in the morning," says Purcell. "But we really like our neighbors and don't want to be a pain." Purcell's is among the more accepting responses to the rooster's presence, perhaps partly because she keeps chickens herself and often wonders what she'll do with her own hens once they stop producing.

Several posters on an Oak Hill neighborhood internet bulletin board have called for the rooster's removal, but few know where it actually resides: Its throaty, reverberating call is both hard to miss and tough to pinpoint.

For a town that once heralded itself as the egg basket of the world, there doesn't seem to be much love for the rooster in Petaluma. In fact, many people believe roosters are banned within city limits. Not true, as a careful examination of Petaluma's municipal code on animal regulations shows that homeowners may keep up to 20 domestic foul.

And many do. Indeed, the number of households enriched by keeping chickens is on the rise. Backyard egg farming is increasing in Petaluma according to Don Benson, owner of Rivertown Feed. "It's definitely grown in popularity over the last five years," explains Benson. "Chicken feed and supplies are probably the fastest growing segment of the feed business. People seem to like them as pets, and it's also a way to produce sustainable food."

For many of these burgeoning back yard egg farmers, roosters are a non-issue, explains Petaluman and self-described "chicken whisperer," Jared Rock. "The chicks you buy retail are already sexed; it's only when you hatch your own that it can be an issue."

Rock, who maintains a flock of 18 hens with his wife, Amy, should know. He opted to slaughter a rooster that he hatched and raised, an experience he didn't take lightly. "We hatched chicks in an incubator — we ordered 36 eggs and half of them hatched." But taking the DIY approach did have an unintended consequence: "We got more than we bargained for, including a rooster — so when it started to crow we turned him into food. It was pretty intense, not in a bad way, but it was strange to watch an animal breath its last breathe." The rooster didn't go to waste, feeding the Rocks and their infant son for several meals.

Natasha Juliana, founder of the sustainable living non-profit Eat Grassroots, views backyard chickens as an integral part of her garden. From a sustainability standpoint, Juliana sees backyard chickens in an overwhelmingly positive light. "It's a win-win. They are a sweet pet that will eat my compost and in return give me eggs and fertilizer."

Juliana has even seen the trend extend unexpectedly to her "vegan friends (who eat no meat or dairy) but were so impressed with the sustainability and humanity of my backyard chickens that they are now the proud caretakers of four very spoiled chicks."

One thing Juliana advises potential chicken owners to consider is the potential mess. "They will eat everything and poop everywhere! Over the winter we let them roam free in our whole yard but… it became clear we had to contain them. So we fenced off the back portion of our yard. Wdsfhat was once a struggling lawn has now been turned to a wasteland."


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