Chickens: The ultimate spring accessory

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Classes, orders for chickens fill up

PORTLAND — Paris Farmers Union will receive 800 live chickens next month, and some of them may end up in a backyard near you.

“We’ve seen a great increase in orders for chickens,” said Clint Farnham, manager of the farm and garden company’s Auburn Street store. “A lot of that has to do with Portland passing its ordinance.”

The city on Feb. 18 approved allowing residents to raise up to six hens, as long as the residence meets property setback requirements and  the hens are provided with proper shelter. No roosters are allowed and the hens can only be raised as pets and for eggs – not for slaughter.

Portland is the latest in a string of southern Maine communities to allow a small number of chickens as backyard pets. South Portland passed a similar ordinance in 2007, and Falmouth last fall expanded the area where chickens can be raised to the entire town.

The increase in backyard chicken interest led Farnham, with support from Blue Seal feeds, to offer a seminar on raising urban chickens on March 30. The event drew 62 people.

“It’s the first time we’ve done a seminar in several years,” he said. “We thought it was good for business. “We also wanted to get people off to the right start and to a safe start.”

The participants were not just from Portland. Farnham said he had people from several towns including Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough and even Wells. About 70 percent of the crowd was new to raising chickens and many were young couples with children.

Portland Adult Education is also offering a “Chickens 101” class. Stacey Collins, the woman who championed the South Portland chicken movement two years ago, will teach two sessions. The first filled up in four days, and there are four slots left in the second, scheduled for May 6, according to Adam Perron, the community life coordinator for the city’s adult education program.

Perron said adult ed has been keeping up with recent trends toward vegetable gardening and self sustainability, so the chicken class is a good fit.

“Financially, people are looking for things that are affordable, but worth the money,” Perron said. He said Portland Adult Education has seen an increase in class registration in fitness, gardening and language classes as people look for ways to save.

Collins, who now lives in Cumberland, said the class will focus on raising hens strictly as pets and for eggs in an urban or suburban environment. She will review the different breeds, the proper way to build a coop and running space, and the realities of day-to-day chicken care.

“I don’t want people to romanticize it and then be disappointed,” she said.

Farnham is expecting his spring chicks to arrive at Paris Farmers Union’s 64 Auburn St. store May 7, followed by another group June 18. He said he is not sure how many of the chickens are heading to homes in Portland. Hens are still available for sale in the June 18 group.

The farmers union requires people to order a minimum of six hens. According to Maine State Veterinarian Don Hoenig, state law requires the six-item minimum for sales of fowl, turtles and rabbits under the age of 8 weeks.

The city of Portland also requires residents obtain permits to raise chickens. The fee is $25 and residents have to submit photos or other documentation proving they have constructed acceptable coops and run areas. And although both the adult ed class and the seminar and chicken orders at Paris Farmers Union would indicate Portland residents are gearing up for a spring of raising urban chickens, the city has so far not issued any permits.

Four residents have taken out applications for permits, according to the city clerk’s office.

For more information about the city’s adult ed chicken class, go to or call 775-0432.  

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or

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p-chickens1.jpgAmanda Richardson of Falmouth plays with a crate of chicks at the Paris Farmers Union on Auburn Street in Portland. The store has 800 more baby chickens arriving next month as demand for backyard hens is expected to rise.