Hens in the City: One Year Later

Last May, Ashley Sprinkle, homemaker and mother of two, started the paperwork to get her own backyard hens—legal in the city since November 2010. The path to owning legal chickens involves a fairly grueling application process. A step-by-step guide can be found on the Urban Hen Coalition website.

"Because it was a new process, it was a bit confusing to both city officials and aspiring hen keepers," says Chad Hellwinckel, founder of the Urban Hen Coalition.

To get an idea of how involved the paperwork is, the step for obtaining the building permit for the coop begins like this: "Create an over-head site map of your property, with the dimensions of your yard. Include the size and location of where you want to put your coop on the map."

Sprinkle did obtain a building permit and built her coop herself. "Because I live in a historic district, I had to get special permission to build a coop," Sprinkle says. "It could be no higher than six feet, no more than 20 square feet. Those were the rules for the historic areas."

But she had read that healthy chicken require at least 24 feet of run.

"A little tricky to get in between the numbers," Sprinkle says.

Because she lives in an empowerment zone, she did not have to pay the $50 fee for the building permit for the coop. She did have to pay the $35 yearly fee to animal control.

In August, Sprinkle finally got her hens—three Rhode Island Reds, and one Plymouth Barred Rock. Fern, Bocky, Molly, and Doris. The hens are pets, but useful pets. She gets at least four eggs a day.

"I cook a lot, and we're vegetarian, so we go through a lot of eggs. Right now we have more eggs than we use, but we're freezing the whites and yolks for use in the winter, when the chickens won't lay, or at least not as often. We share some, too."

Sprinkle is a law-abiding citizen and not intimidated by a pile of paperwork. But a lot of people never make it though the whole process. Sprinkle was only the third person in Knoxville to get a legal permit, and the first in Parkridge.

"‘Legal'" she says with a smile, "being the operative word."

Roosters, still prohibited in the city, are a dead giveaway of an illegal flock. Some mornings I hear the crowing of illicit roosters while sipping coffee on my porch—homey yet exotic in their anachronistic existence in Fourth and Gill. Animal control will only crack down if they get a complaint, and I'm not complaining. During hearings, Knoxville realtors worried backyard hens would bring down property values. It is my opinion that chickens are an asset to the neighborhood.

"It's been surprising how much the kids in our neighborhood like them," Sprinkle says, "We have middle-schoolers who regularly come over to visit the chickens. They are a source of visitors and conversations."

Sprinkle enjoys her chickens and it was worth it to her to get them legally. If you want your own legal chicks this spring, you should probably start the paperwork now.