As backyard poultry takes off, UF/IFAS Extension teaches residents how to care for their flocks
Jacksonville, FL – University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension has become the go-to educational resource for Duval County residents who want to raise chickens in their own backyards.
When Jacksonville passed an ordinance in 2015 allowing hens on residential properties, city officials wanted to make sure that people understood the basics of backyard poultry before they were issued a permit, said UF/IFAS Extension Duval County agent Andy Toelle.
The city approached UF/IFAS Extension Duval County to create an educational program that would prepare prospective chicken owners. Residents must take the UF/IFAS Extension Duval County Backyard Poultry Seminar to get the certificate needed for the permit.
Toelle, UF/IFAS Extension Duval County agent Terra Freeman and UF/IFAS Extension Baker County director and poultry expert Mike Davis lead the seminar. They take pride in being the principal source of poultry education in the area. “We get calls every day about this program,” Freeman said.
The city allotted 300 permits for the pilot program, and these quickly ran out, Toelle said. Now in its second year, the seminar continues to be in high demand. Freeman estimated that more than 1,000 people have attended the seminar and that the city has issued more than 400 permits.
Toelle and Davis cover embryology (raising chickens from eggs) and small-scale poultry production, respectively. Freeman focuses on how chickens can be used for pest control and how their manure can be turned into fertilizer.
In general, people want to raise chickens because they “are interested in where their food comes from and having a connection with it,” Toelle said. Davis noted that this connection drives the seminar’s popularity.
“I don’t come from an agricultural background, but I love plants and animals, and keeping chickens seemed like a natural fit,” said Genora Crain-Orth, a Duval County resident who attended the pilot program.
Crain-Orth helped get the Jacksonville backyard poultry ordinance passed, and she currently runs River City Chicks, a non-profit that educates people in the Jacksonville area about backyard chickens.
She advocated for an educational component to the city ordinance and believes that the Extension seminar “is a really great way to mitigate concerns that people will get into chicken-keeping without knowing what they are doing.”
She noted that when she started keeping chickens, her son became more aware of what goes into producing food. “Once we got the chickens and they started laying eggs, there were a lot of dots connected for him. He is eager to show them off and tell people what their names and breeds are.”
In addition to helping people get in touch with their agricultural side, the seminar has a broad economic reach.
Permit fees go to the city, and the local feed stores that sell the chickens and supplies now have more customers. Families who keep hens save money because they no longer have to buy eggs at the supermarket. According to Toelle and Freeman, all this amounts to a $200,000 positive impact on the local economy.