SOUTH JORDAN — Six-year-old William Richmond doesn't care which came first — the chicken or the egg — as long as the shelled one is cooked just right so he can dip his toast in its yolk after eating its "white stuff."
William and his South Jordan family are part of a growing population of Utahns buying small flocks of backyard fowl this year as a supplementary food staple. Most of them cite the troubled economy as their No. 1 motivation.
And more chickens could be flocking to the suburbs if Salt Lake County loosens its zoning regulations. Currently, the county only allows chickens on properties that are at least a half-acre and zoned agricultural. The proposed change would permit up to 15 fowls in more common-sized yards, according to Bev Uipi, community relations specialist in Mayor Peter Corroon's office. The deadline for public and community councils to comment is April 1.
Before the National Bureau of Economic Research formally announced the beginning of a recession, Bud Wood, co-owner of the giant Iowa chicken farm McMurray Hatchery was working his gentle 99.5-degree incubators overtime to keep up with a sudden booming demand in spring 2008.
Besides disease concerns, new owners may want to check with county and city regulations about where they're legal, which varies enormously.
"We only get involved if there's a complaint regarding sanitation issues," said Pamela Davenport, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.
But paying off neighbors with fresh eggs is a great way to keep them mum, according to first-time chicken owner Karey Richmond, 31, who laughingly admitted to walking a few rounds "to say thank you for not complaining."
If folks like Richmond go without complaints, Davenport said the South Jordan woman will just be regulated by the city's zoning. Davenport also said the department has noticed a lot more calls lately from curious people wanting a backyard flock.
Mayor Corroon thinks it's a positive step in a trend toward more sustainable living, said spokesman Jim Braden, but it's not without its downside. Families and communities have to consider a number of things.
Avoiding illness is paramount, according to Larry Lewis, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Agriculture.
Lewis recommends that people don't mingle them with other birds. Birds often get exposed to other bird's illnesses in swap-meet like gatherings, Lewis said.
"We encourage people to get close to agriculture," he said. "We're not against backyard flocks. We certainly encourage people to grow their own gardens and raise their own foods, but there are responsibilities that go with it."
That's something Carl and Heidi Wasden of South Jordan know a little bit about. The couple raised chickens for a decade 15 years ago and just recently returned to the chore-laden lifestyle this month by purchasing a brood of eight chicks — and plowing for a large garden.
"We'd be crazy not to with the economy the way it is," Heidi Wasden said, "especially since we have the room for it here."
The Utah Department of Agriculture has information on raising chickens and safe handling of poultry on its Web site, ag.utah.gov.