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Raising Livestock in the City

Detroit Is Designing a City With Space for Everyone, Including Goats

A comprehensive approach to urban agriculture is rolling out in Motor City.

Next City, June 6, 2016

Laura Mikulski loves her chickens. She keeps three — Dumptruck, Bossy and Crow — in the large yard behind her house in Ferndale, Michigan; they sleep in a coop she built for them and strut and peck in an outdoor run. An organic gardener, Mikulski collects the hens’ eggs and uses their waste as fertilizer, and even jimmied a contraption called a “chicken tractor” that lets her move them around the yard to forage patch by patch.

Mikulski didn’t know anything about chickens when she bought her house in 2005, and researched how to care for them on her own. “When I first was interested in chickens, anybody I mentioned it to thought I was out of my mind,” she remembers. But interest in urban chicken keeping has surged in recent years. Now, she says, “the vast majority of people I talk to, if I mention it off-handedly — or let someone into my backyard to work on the A/C — it starts a conversation: ‘Why chickens? That’s really cool; I’d like to know more.’”

The urban-rural idyll that Mikulski enjoys in Ferndale is elusive, just a few miles away on the edge of Detroit, where keeping chickens is prohibited under city code. Not that Detroiters don’t do it: There are small flocks of chickens, ducks and goats in yards and vacant lots around the city. Detroit’s community of animal keepers is close-knit — many of its members are also active in the urban farm and community garden scene — but they tend to keep a low profile. That’s not surprising, given a much-publicized crackdown by animal control two years ago.

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Photography by Michelle and Chris Gerard