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Nashville Allows Backyard Hens for Some Residents

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Brown Ameraucana Hen in Nashville

Residents of some of Nashville’s ritziest downtown neighborhoods could soon be housing hens in their backyards, while several of the metro area’s other addresses won’t qualify.  In its recent approval of chicken keeping, the Council of Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County allowed several council districts to opt out of the new ordinance.  Additionally, neighborhood associations may prohibit the animals.  The chicken ordinance’s sponsor, Karen Bennett, said she was disappointed with the opt out decisions of several council members.

Bennett and citizen groups like the Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville helped win enough support to legalize laying hens in January, after an earlier attempt failed in 2009. In recent years, the law had seemed vague about whether the animals were allowed, depending mainly on neighbors’ opinions of whether backyard hens were a nuisance. Otherwise law-abiding citizens lived in fear of having their chickens confiscated.  Bennett acknowledged that it was time for some guidelines, “If you’re gonna do it, I think you need to be responsible, follow the rules, and make it a positive experience for your neighbors.” A sunset provision gives the council a chance to decide in two years whether the new law is working.

women with backyard chickens
Jennifer Lightsey with Backyard Laying Hens

A neighbor’s dog barked loudly while Nashville resident Jennifer Lightsey showed me around her backyard coop. She pointed out that noise and smell were two of the biggest concerns from opponents, while her hens are quiet and relatively clean. The ordinance does not allow roosters and it sets an upper limit on six hens, depending on lot size. “People associate chickens with being really smelly,” said Lightsey, “but I think it’s because they’re used to having these huge chicken houses that are inhumane and disease prone and they’re smelly and the quality of the eggs, not only is it tastes, but it’s health benefits from the eggs, it’s astounding the difference, really.”

It was clear that Lightsey cares about her family’s access to good food as well as the well-being of her tiny flock.  She’d been nursing one hen that recently got attacked by a hawk on the lawn.  Her other hens quietly ate grain inside their coop made by retrofitting the playhouse her son and daughter had outgrown.

house for backyard hens
Children’s Playhouse
Converted to Chicken Coop

Lightsey’s family grew accustomed to the idea of urban chickens because relatives in Denver had been keeping poultry for several years.  With major cities like Denver, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta allowing some type of backyard chickens, the movement keeps growing.  In Nashville, the health department is now in charge of issuing permits.  Residents must follow specific guidelines for things like proper fencing and coop enclosure; and they should check to see if their district is one of the eight that opted out.

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One Response to Nashville Allows Backyard Hens for Some Residents

  1. Rhonda February 7, 2012 at 2:26 am #

    My friend sent me the link to your blog. Just read today’s post and can’t wait to have the time to go back through the rest.
    Have a great day.


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