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Backyard Hens, Chicken Coops on the Rise in Gainesville

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Garden shops are seeing an increase in chicken coop and hen sales since a change in Gainesville’s chicken ordinance raised the limit on backyard hens from two to 10 in November 2013.

Based on how many chickens have already been sold this year at the Alachua County Feed & Seed store, manager Wade Rogers expects to sell 4,000 chickens up from the average sale of 3,300 chickens per year. For the first time, the Lowe’s on 13th Street has already sold out of its chicken wire twice this year.

“That’s probably 30 more coops that have been built this year,” said Ben Tucker, a live nursery specialist at Lowe’s.

Tucker also teaches a backyard gardening class. He usually only hosts it once or twice in the spring because there isn’t a high demand for it, but this season he’s taught it 10 times. He said he’s noticed an increased interest from college students. He said the demand correlates with the trend for more organic food from that demographic.

“What gets them is the taste of the eggs,” Tucker said. “Comparing store-bought eggs to these eggs is like comparing water to peppers.”

Rogers said his store has a lot of repeat clients, but the regulars want more chickens now that the law permits it. He also made some speculations about the new interest.

“The reason new people are coming is because now it’s actually worth their while,” he said. “You can’t hardly do anything with two or three chickens but six can make enough eggs to feed a family.”

Gainesville resident Mary Dewey keeps nine hens at her house in the Mile Run neighborhood off NW 53rd Avenue.

“I had ten but I lost one. It died,” she said.

Almost four years ago, she began raising the birds for eggs and now sells a dozen eggs for $1.50.

“I love my girls,” she said.

Before the ordinance passed without controversy, she kept some chickens at another coop in a garden across town. She had difficulty getting the property up to building code standards, so she could never get electricity to that location. Out of frustration, in October 2013 she started keeping all of the chickens in her backyard illegally. However, because the ordinance was already in motion, the city granted her an exemption and allowed her to keep all of the backyard hens.

Diona Mata, who lives with her family in a residential area near 39th Avenue and 13th Street, began raising chickens when her children, ages 7, 9, 12 and 15, won them in a raffle at the Clay County Fair one year ago.

“We live in the city, but it’s like our own little farm in the backyard,” she said. “The kids are always excited about getting eggs in the morning. It’s been an educational experience for all four of them.”

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