Rice alumna fights to change laws against chickens
Published: Friday, September 28, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 28, 2012 01:09
Houston may be known for its diversity, but according to Claire Krebs (Hanszen ’09), it’s missing one thing: chickens.
Backyard chickens provide families with fresh eggs, a sustainable alternative to supermarket eggs, which seldom come from an eco-friendly source, according to Krebs. Chicken waste also makes for great fertilizer, Krebs said.
Currently, a city ordinance requires a chicken coop to be 100 feet from neighboring residences and prohibits the use of chicken waste as fertilizer. Hens for Houston, an organization started by Krebs earlier this year, is petitioning the Houston City Council to change this because the requirement is impossible in a dense city like Houston, Krebs said.
Some Houstonians manage to raise chickens illegally, but Krebs said she wants to see a change.
“I think that if you’re doing something illegal, and you really believe in it, you should, at the same time, be trying to make it legal,” Krebs said.
Rice University statistics faculty fellow Loren Raun, a chicken owner and resident of Bellaire, Texas, where raising chickens is legal, said she thinks the Houston ordinance is restrictive and outdated.
“One of the main complaints people have against chickens [in an urban setting] is they make a lot of noise,” Raun said. “Roosters make noise, but hens don’t. People just don’t get that.”
Many other urban cities allow residents to raise chickens, according to Krebs. The distance requirement in Dallas is 20 feet, and other cities, like New York City, do not have a distance requirement.
Hens for Houston proposes three main changes to the current ordinance: eliminating the distance requirement, equalizing violation punishments for chickens with those of other pets, like cats and dogs; and allowing chicken waste to be composted as fertilizer, according to the Hens for Houston website.
Hens for Houston is working with the Houston Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care to make the appropriate changes to the ordinance. Chris Newport, a public information officer at the City of Houston Administration and Regulatory Offices, said they are about two to three months away from having specific recommendations to submit to the council.
As a newcomer to the political process, Krebs said she started out her campaign simply by talking to as many people as possible. Krebs does not own any chickens, so she said she talked to current illegal chicken owners to see if a change in the ordinance was something they even wanted.
“Illegal chicken owners might not have wanted any attention drawn to them because they might have worried that their chickens would be taken away,” Krebs said. “But I found that a lot of people think it’s a good idea; they just needed someone to step up.”
As a recent Rice graduate, Krebs said she wanted to involve Rice students, so she approached Rice’s Environmental Club. EnviClub President Skye Kelty said she and the other members were eager to help.
“[EnviClub] went to visit one of these illegal coops in the Third Ward, expertly disguised under abandoned plastic political signs and broken-down wood,” Kelty, a McMurtry College junior, said. “The owner opened the door, and inside was a top-of-the-line chicken castle with 20 beautiful laying hens. I was hooked.”
EnviClub volunteers helped with research and raising awareness, and this semester, they will be canvassing and collecting petition signatures at the Rice Farmers Market, according to Kelty.
Krebs said she is confident the changes to the ordinance will ultimately be pushed through.
“I’m an engineer. I didn’t know anything about politics,” said Krebs. “But if you put yourself out there and you have a good core idea, people will give you really good feedback.”
For more information on Hens for Houston, visit hensforhouston.com.