The (Backyard) Chickens Among Us


Since it became legal in Sacramento to raise and maintain backyard chickens, urbanites longing for a dose of rural living have leapt enthusiastically into poultry ownership. The ordinance passed in August 2011 (which, incidentally, forbids ducks, turkeys and geese) allows home owners to keep a maximum of three chicken hens – no roosters – in a backyard coop that must be at least 20 feet away from another residential dwelling. The birds must not be allowed to “create a noise disturbance audible on any adjoining lot,” and they cannot be slaughtered on the property.

What they are allowed to do is lay eggs – and chicken owners swear by the home-laid eggs’ superior flavor. “Store-bought eggs taste a little like chemicals,” says 11-year old Kate O’Reilly, wrinkling her nose. “Our eggs taste like chicken,” she adds, “and the yolks are a much deeper color.” Kate, with her parents, own (and adore) their three beautiful backyard chickens, who they consider to be members of the family. The clucking pets – Delight Yolkum, Della and Yolkie Polkie – dutifully provide the family with multi-hued eggs each day, which are then gathered up and poached, fried, and turned into frittatas and an array of baked goods.

The family constructed their own hen house with wood they reclaimed from neighborhood building projects, and it sits rustically under a large rose bush and orange tree. Their cat sleeps on a blanket on top of the coop, and the family dog, Daisy, “loves the chickens,” says Patricia O’Reilly. The endeavor “has been hugely rewarding,” adds Terry O’Reilly, who grew up on a farm in Lincoln and finds the presence of the chickens to be both calming and “highly entertaining.”

City dwellers wishing to own chickens must first apply for a permit, available at the city animal shelter on Front Street. A great local resource for raising backyard chickens is Western Feed & Pet Supply in East Sacramento, which sells chicks, poultry food, and chicken coops. Ask to see the store’s comprehensive Chicken Reference Book. Another wonderful (and fun to explore) resource is