Chicks in the city: a snapshot of sustainable urban living
Boxed in the backyard of a stucco Northside home, 72 toes claw through straw and shredded compost. Nine clucking chickens are cooped up in chicken-wire-wrapped wood beams.
Their owner, Chris Lamkin, lifts the copper food cover of the coop and tosses in leftovers from the day’s lunch at St. Rita’s School for the Deaf
, where he’s taught science for the past six years.
“We got them to save money on eggs,” says Lamkin, 39. “And I’m kind of into self-sustainable living.”
Lamkin's entire side yard has been converted into a tiered garden of peppers, tomatoes, thyme, squash and hazelnut. Then there are the peach and apple trees in front of the house.
Lamkin opens the coop gate and Daddy, Loosie, and the other—nameless—wild and domestic chickens strut into the garden, stopping in loose soil to dust their coats.
Their feathers puff out, and their claws kick dirt onto their skin to keep the bugs at bay.
Daddy is the sole survivor of the original flock of eight. Mommy, Poppy, Gam, Papaw, Nana, ’Mone and Sparkles were all lost to taste buds—both human and raccoon. Loosie, a stray, joined the family via a telephone call from a friend of Lamkin’s wife, Megan, who spotted her wandering the streets of Clifton.
The other birds wander through the garden among the plants, finding bugs to snack on, tilling the soil with their beaks and fertilizing with their “Hershey kiss” shaped droppings.
Lamkin says those droppings make having chickens better than tending dogs and cats. You get the pet without the clean-up. And there are a few other perks.
“When I was younger, I remember kicking dog poo under the table,” he says. “It’d be there until someone found it or it disintegrated.”
This urban farmer’s 6-year-old daughter, Simone, helps tend to the chickens as well, learning age-old lessons of responsibility without having to squeeze up piles of poo with a plastic bag (or stink up a pair of shoes and the Lamkin living room).
Northside allows chickens as long as you follow the city’s Chicken Ordinance
“They have to be 100 feet away from all property lines, otherwise it isn’t legal,” says Bob Martin, the city’s planning commission chairman and zoning administrator. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Lamkin might not be big on ordinances, but he keeps his neighbors from stool pigeoning by offering homemade treats from his garden and fresh eggs.
At eight eggs a day, 56 eggs a week and more than 2,000 eggs a year, he’s breaking more than eggs and more than even.
The birds cost him $3 as chicks, and he spends about $16 a month to feed them—that’s if the cafeteria specials are too good to leave behind any scraps.
Elese Daniel studies journalism at the University of Cincinnati and is a contributor to Verge Magazine.