Ten years on, UF/IFAS poultry program keeps clucking

For years, the presence of chickens in some Jacksonville backyards remained an open secret; observant neighbors knew they existed, and many didn’t mind. But some did.

Stephen Jennewein
Stephen Jennewein

“Between neighbors complaining and code enforcement not really knowing what to do, a group of backyard chicken keepers approached the city and said, ‘We’d like you to codify this,’” said Stephen Jennewein, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) agricultural agent.

Following some debate, city officials decided to allow female chickens in certain residential zoning districts on the condition their owners complete a UF/IFAS Extension course on chicken care and apply for a permit. The city planning department began issuing permits in January 2014. It has issued more than 1,190 permits to date.

Jennewein teaches the UF/IFAS Extension Duval County Backyard Hen seminar, an hour-and-a-half rundown of poultry care offered for $10. Lecture topics include breed selection, health and nutrition, proper egg handling and coop design. Following a Q&A session, he leads students to the Extension’s urban garden to view a demonstration coop and meet its residents, Henrietta and Gabby.

“I show students the coop design, how the coop works, the different parts of the coop, and I let them see a live chicken up close and personal, which I think is kind of important before they go out and buy one,” Jennewein said, chuckling.

Although Henreitta and Gabby are a well-matched pair, conventional wisdom indicates chicken keepers should maintain a flock of at least three hens because chickens are social creatures requiring stimulation and interaction, Jennewein said. They also require regular maintenance and feeding as well as a spacious coop capable of protecting them from predators like raccoons, foxes and even hawks, which have been known to fly off with smaller breeds.

The cumulative time, labor and financial commitment associated with owning and maintaining backyard chickens isn’t for everyone, Jennewein said.

Backyard hen seminar
A student of Jennewein’s class meets the Extension’s hens. (Courtesy of Stephen Jennewein)

He experienced mixed feelings when one of his students addressed him after a class. The man thanked Jennewein and praised the presentation but said the information he learned convinced him he couldn’t shoulder the responsibility.

Backyard chicken keeping can prove rewarding for those willing to invest in it, however.

In addition to the fresh, nutrient-rich eggs the hens produce, they generate manure for gardens and consume pests, Jennewein said. And caring for the animals is often an engaging learning experience for children.

“Urban agriculture is becoming more of an important issue in Florida,” he said. “Hopefully, more municipalities are going to start reducing restrictions for people producing food in urban areas.”

Although the UF/IFAS Extension Duval County course is only available in English, Florida residents may take an online Spanish course offered through UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County.

Curso en linea: Manejo de Aves de Corral en Florida – UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County 

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu | @UF_IFAS


Megan Winslow
Posted: May 16, 2024

Category: Farm Management, Livestock, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Agriculture, Backyard, Backyard Chickens, Chicken, Class, Coop, Duval County, Egg, Extension, Hardee County, Hen, Hobby, IFAS, Institute For Food And Agricultural Sciences, Jacksonville, Poultry, Program, Seminar, Sourse, Spanish, Stephen Jennewein, UF, UF/IFAS, University Of Florida

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