Resplendently regal in black and golden plumage, Norm the turkey scoots, glides and struts around his hay-strewn kingdom like the emperor of Normandy Park. He announces his supremacy with a noisy warble that rises above the sound of passing traffic and neighborhood leaf blowers.

Norm and his companion, a hen turkey named Emma Jean, are unwitting participants in a community food drive that puts their lives in the balance. Each food donation is a vote to decide whether the turkeys will be “pardoned,” or if a different sort of fate is on the table. The last day to vote is Thanksgiving.

Candace Krull, whose family raised Norm (named for Normandy Park) and Emma Jean, has been an urban poultry farmer since 2013. In those years, chickens have charmed their way into the family’s heart and become Candace’s favorite domesticated animal.

“They’re the easiest pet of any of my animals I’ve ever had,” she said.

Turkeys named Norm and Emma Jean are unwitting participants in a food drive in Normandy Park. (Al Kemp for Explore)
Turkeys named Norm and Emma Jean are unwitting participants in a food drive in Normandy Park. (Al Kemp for Explore)

The turkey food drive, now in its second year at the Krull home at 200th Street and Third Avenue in Normandy Park, is officially a thing.

Urban poultry farming is a thing, too. Even in the concrete jungles of urban America, people are building chicken coops and raising their own poultry. Some do it for eggs, others for meat, and many raise chickens as pets.

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Enthusiasts share their questions, advice, suggestions and their love for the hobby on Facebook and at websites like BackYard Chickens and the Urban Chicken podcast.

In polling conducted at BackYard Chickens, more than 2,200 poultry enthusiasts gave their reasons for keeping chickens:

Eggs: 93.0%

Pets: 71.5%

Bug control: 42.0%

Fertilizer: 38.0%

More interesting and/or easy than other animals: 26.5%

Meat: 26.4%

Other: 10.7%

Showing and exhibition: 9.1%

A pullet surprise

Candace Krull and her husband Tay got involved in spring 2013 when they bought four hatchlings as an Easter surprise for their sons Ray and Daniel, and in short order they were building a coop and nesting boxes, learning about breeds and raising hatchlings in their kitchen.

The Krulls came to understand the birds’ “pecking order” and learned about how to trick a “broody hen” into adopting surrogate chicks. They discovered that chickens are intelligent, even affectionate, with big personalities and a flock of behavioral quirks.

There was the white hen that the family dubbed “Delaware” (after the breed), but which son Daniel decided to call “Underwear” after he and the bird became pals.

“He would carry her around in his jacket everywhere, even to the playground and down the slide!” Candace said.

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Then last summer, the family started to hear crowing coming from the backyard chicken run.

“After some watching and researching, we discovered one of our oldest hens decided she wanted to be the boss and took on the role of the rooster,” Candace said.

Local ordinances apply

You don’t need a permit to keep chickens, but local ordinances set limits on the number of birds allowed, and there are laws regulating the distance separating chicken coops from public roads and dwelling units. Most towns prohibit keeping roosters because they’re noisy.

According to the Seattle Municipal Code, up to eight domestic fowl can be kept per residential dwelling, but no roosters.

“We historically responded to numerous noise complaints involving roosters,” said Don Baxter, field services manager for the Seattle Animal Shelter, which is tasked with handling animal noise and behavior complaints. “Since roosters have been banned [more than 10 years ago] we have seen a decrease in the number of noise complaints we receive regarding domestic fowl. We do still receive calls to check on the welfare of the birds to ensure they are receiving proper food, water and shelter but that is a relatively small number of calls in any given year.”

Most municipalities around Puget Sound permit residents to keep between three and eight chickens, sometimes more depending of the size of their lots. And some places — Shoreline and Marysville, for example — permit roosters.

Getting started

Tips for beginners, from Candace Krull:

  • Find a Facebook group to ask questions.
  • Prepare your own chicken first-aid kit, because very few veterinarians in urban areas will accept poultry patients. “Chickens are farm animals, and if you don’t have the stomach to treat and possibly slaughter your own animal, you should have the financial resources to take care of it or not have the animal at all,” she said.
  • Make a rooster contingency plan. “If you raise chickens for a while you are bound to get a male once in a while,” Krull said. “Find out ahead of time if where you live allows roosters. If they don’t, you should have a game plan for rehoming it or send it to “freezer camp.”
  • Start with chicks from a feed store or hatchery.

“If you’re feeling more adventurous you can buy fertilized eggs online and incubate them,” she said. “You’ll have to buy an incubator, and be paying attention to the egg development by learning to ‘candle’ the eggs, but it’s extremely exciting and rewarding the day they finally hatch, which takes about 21 days.”