You don't have to raise chickens to enjoy their reedy cackling and fussy clucks. You can live right across the fence from someone who does. And now, both you and your chicken-keeping neighbor are protected by law.
Earlier this year, Pittsburgh City Council enacted legal guidelines for chicken and bee keepers. Simply -- with restrictions on rendering and conditions about food storage and cage size, location and security -- the law allows three chickens and two beehives for every 2,000 square feet of property. One more of each is allowed for each additional 1,000 square feet.
Now that that's all settled, the group that got together to advocate for a progressive city ordinance has stayed together to advocate for the lifestyle and to give people a taste of it.
On Sunday, the first Pittsburgh Urban Chicken Coop Tour, aka "Chicks in the Hood," will focus on East End and North Side neighborhoods, where the bulk of keepers are known to be, from 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
Seven keepers of what the city ordinance calls "poultry birds" -- allowing hens but no roosters -- will tell their stories and answer questions as people stop by on the self-guided tour.
"We still have no sense of how many people raise chickens in Pittsburgh," said Ms. Noble, who organized the tour. "I know of about 20."
A Facebook page on the topic of backyard chicken and bee keeping "brought people out of anonymity" at about the time city planners were initiating legislation to address the growing interest in urban agriculture.
Chicken and bee-keeping advocates came together to present a collective face of advocacy and information at zoning hearings.
"Last year I tried to do the tour," said Ms. Noble, "but everybody was uncomfortable because we were not sure what was going on with the ordinance. Now everybody has an understanding of what they need to do."
In Spring Hill, Nancy Chubb has raised chickens for a year and currently has six on her property. She said it "feels like country in the city," with a view of the skyline.
"There's just something about raising chickens for your own eggs that makes sense," she said. "We let them out when we're around and watch them scratch for bugs and eat grass; they are happy. They have personalities. And once they stop laying, they become pets."
Coop tourists will see "very sharing and responsible chicken owners who will showcase that you can raise chickens in the city without doing harm or annoying the neighbors," said Ms. Noble, who, like Ms. Chubb, has lost some hens to predators.
Their properties are roomier than Jana Thompson's on the Central Northside, where most properties are right up against each other. In building a secure coop of galvanized wire for her original three hens, she considered small rodents and raccoons but also her neighbors.
"I was determined that this would not add a problem," she said.
A layer of hardware cloth is buried and the hens' floor is wire. They have three areas and a chute corridor that gives them two levels. She feeds them in the morning and never leaves food out overnight.
"If a raccoon was determined to get them it probably could," she said. But she has had no incidents in three years.
Josh Knauer's family keeps three hens in Squirrel Hill, where they live next to Frick Park.
"We got the chickens in part to teach our children [ages 6 and 9] more about the care of animals and the responsibilities that come along with that care," he said. "A great side benefit of keeping them is the three eggs per day that we get.
"We've had the chickens for a year without any major problems," he said. "We consume the eggs ourselves and sometimes give them as gifts to friends. Everyone who tastes the eggs swears they are the best they've ever tasted."
All chicken keepers say that chickens are a huge hit with children. Ms. Thompson regularly has neighborhood kids pop over to look at "the girls."
"Chickens are such a magnet," said Ms. Noble, "and they are a good way for families to teach their children about where food comes from."
Tour tickets are $5 for adults. Children may take the tour at no cost. Tickets come with a map and may be purchased Sunday morning at The Quiet Storm, 5430 Penn Ave., Friendship (qspgh.com); Tazza D'Oro 1125 N. Highland Ave., Highland Park (tazzadoro.com); the Central Northside's Crazy Mocha, 2 East North Ave. (crazymocha.com), and at 7665 Lock Way West (at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Allegheny River Boulevard), Highland Park.
For questions or advance tickets, contact Jody Noble at email@example.com or 412-441-4975.
All proceeds will be donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's Urban Agriculture Programs, including the Farm Stand Project and the Plant-A-Row Project.