Gardening alone can seem like a challenge to a typical busy family, urban or rural. What happens when you add the responsibility of livestock into the mix? It’s what a youthful generation of aspiring small-scale farmers are doing in the permaculture movement: adding animals who can naturally fertilize the soil while bringing other benefits.
In Nashville, backyard hens are the latest, legal way that families can get involved in farming. “They close the loop in the nutrient cycle,” explained Megan Lightell. She and her husband both grew up in the country and learned about poultry as kids. Now they live on a half-acre lot in the city. “That doesn’t mean that we want to totally detach from some of these experiences,” she said. By keeping four backyard hens, Lightell’s family can add to their home gardening resources, teach their young child about the world and produce a portion of their own food.
Carrington Fox also says families don’t have to feel like backyard chickens are out of reach. “I would recommend just getting started, because it you think it through too hard and try to think about all the details it gets overwhelming. But if you start with a box of chickens and figure out how to house them so they’re safe and well fed and have enough space to run then it turns out to be easier than you expect.” Her family’s coop houses compact hens called bantams that require a bit less space than some chickens. Fox says it’s been fun to chat with so many people considering chicken keeping. “Even in the last week I’ve talked to a lot of people who are excited to start backyard coops, and people emailing back and forth designs for beautiful coops and exchanging the names of carpenters who know the ideal height for a nesting box, people exchanging names of chicken vets.”
Residents must follow standard guidelines for keeping chickens that were passed in January by the Metro Nashville Council. The ordinance’s sponsor, Council Member Karen Bennett promotes the positives for families when she describes backyard hens, “It’s a healthy, renewable resource.” The new law requires a permit from the health department and strictly forbids the slaughter of domestic chickens on the property. You’ll want to check with the municipality where you live, both in the zoning and health departments, to determine whether chickens are allowed. A homeowners’ association may also have some say in the matter. Lightell said, “We just believe it should be a right to grow your family’s food.”