Photo by Chris Dovi
Richmond City Council's approval of urban chickens gave poultry proponents something to cluck about last month, but the new ordinance seems unlikely to achieve at least one of the original goals of some members of the Chickunz group that championed it.
With a $60 yearly permit fee, the ordinance may cost out low-income families who might benefit from a self-sustaining source of protein. "It still looks like they're looking at this as a hobby thing, not ‘I've got chickens to feed my family,' " says Duron Chavis, an advocate for urban agriculture as a means of alleviating food deserts, worrying that only "a certain class of people" will be allowed access to fresh-laid eggs.
In fact, the cost to own city chickens is significantly more than the return on that investment. "You're at $100 just for the fee and buying the chickens," says Chavis. By his figuring, four chickens might yield a maximum of 1,000 eggs a year, which amounts to about $250 worth of eggs. And that savings will get eaten up by the $15 bag of chicken feed that's needed about every two or three weeks.
Chavis' figuring probably isn't far off, according to John Thompson, an extension agent in Fluvanna County whose territory includes Charlottesville, where chickens require no annual registration fee.
"It's not going to be a moneymaker by any stretch of the imagination," Thompson says, suggesting too that few chickens lay an egg a day (the egg cycle is about every 30 hours), meaning Chavis' estimate of $250 a year in eggs may even be a bit high. "Eggs cost $3 a dozen. At that rate ... it's going to be a very long horizon before you even recoup your startup costs."
By his own math, families will need 20 weeks' worth of eggs just to make up the $60 annual registration fee.
"It takes you from a break-even to in the hole," Thompson says. "But I understand from the city's standpoint what they're trying to accomplish: They want to be sure you're serious."