In Alachua County, Chickens’ Importance Reaches New Heights

By and on December 17th, 2013

Poultry farming ordinances may seem random to most, but Alachua County has adopted its own set of unique ordinances in order to attend to a growing interest in backyard chicken farming.

This has become an unusual but popular way for people to save money and promote organic use of poultry.

A rise in demand for less strict regulations regarding the keeping of chickens in residential backyards resulted in an expansion by the county, allowing six chickens to be kept instead of the previous limit of three.

The city of Gainesville acts as a separate jurisdiction and allows up to two chickens due to the closer proximity of homes in urban areas.

“You can have up to six chickens on any legal residential lot. We do have requirements for how you keep them. They have to be fully enclosed, they can roam during the day, at night they have to be in covered pens, and you cannot have a rooster. Obviously, if you have a rooster it’s going to be a problem with your neighbors if you’re on less than a half acre,” said Missy Daniels of Alachua County Growth Management.

Although doubling the amount of chickens allowed does open many more opportunities for families and backyard farmers, the number of eggs produced is still small and limited.

“We’ve really seen an increase in backyard flocks. People are wanting to raise their own eggs,” said Cindy Sanders, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Alachua County extension director.

Sanders also explained the factors behind the change.

“When I started 13 years ago, we did not do any poultry programs. But in the last 5 years, the need has increased. The calls that we get on ‘I have sick chickens, what do I do?’ and ‘What breed do I buy?’ That kind of thing has really increased significantly. I can tell you probably the participation in backyard flocks and chicken has increased dramatically.”

Local backyard farming has continued to increase in numbers, forcing a little known ordinance to become one of the county’s top priorities. As use of this ordinance continues to grow, the community may push for even less restriction.

With chicken farming increasing in popularity, some Florida residents have taken the notion of raising their own chickens and turned it into a successful business.

Bill and Robin Popp decided to sell their Clearwater home and move to a ten- acre farm in Trenton, Florida five years ago because they wanted to raise chickens.  Within ten months, they were able to turn their hobby of chicken farming into a full-time business.

Bill and Robin started Laughing Chicken Farm to offer pasture-based meats and eggs that were raised humanely and with kindness. Their chickens are raised in a cruelty-free environment where they are grass-fed and roam freely.

“They’re out in the sunlight; they’re out in the fresh air; they’re not in a building; they’re catching bugs,” owner Bill Popp said. “It’s a humane way to do it.”

Doctor Thomas Spreen, University of Florida Professor and Chair of Food and Resources Economics, said that commercially marketed chickens are treated differently.

“Most of the chicken that we get, those chickens are never outside,” Spreen said.   “They hatch, they’re baby chicks and once they get to a certain size they put them in a cage and pour feed into them until they butcher them.  It’s all about speed.”

Laughing Chicken Farm participates at both the Alachua County and the Haile Plantation farmers’ markets every Saturday.  Families are also invited to visit the farm and learn about Robin and Bill’s type of agriculture.

“I think the system we’re using is so different than commercially raised chicken that I want people to see that it’s a kinder, gentler way to raise chickens and is very family-oriented,” Robin said.

The Popp’s have over 1,500 chickens and also raise sheep and turkeys.

“There are enough things in the world that aren’t happy, why not have fun with what you’re doing?” Robin asks.  Laughing Chicken Farm is aptly named.

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  • Rob Brinkman

    Gainesville recently revised its ordinance to allow up to 10 hens.


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