Jun 13, 2012

The Chicken Vet addresses Legalizing Chicken-Keeping

Do you have a general chicken-keeping question you'd like to ask a CHICKEN VETERINARIAN whose ONLY patients are chickens?  I’m happy to be able to offer you the exclusive opportunity to ask your general backyard chicken-keeping questions to The Chicken Vet and know that you’re getting reliable, credible, educated answers from a highly trained, experienced professional.
This feature is not an emergency or diagnostic tool for individual chickens or flocks. Questions should be of a general nature, the answers to which are intended to be useful to most in the chicken-keeping community.  To submit a question, email it to me at: Kathy@The-Chicken-Chick.com with “CHICKEN VET” in the subject line. Select answers will be featured here on my blog. Subscribe to my blog by email, Google Friend Connect, Networked Blogs or RSS feed, all are in the right-hand sidebar.
The following is The Chicken Vet's response to a question regarding legalizing chicken-keeping and some of the arguments that are commonly made.
I was recently asked to talk about the pros and cons of legalizing chicken keeping in municipalities. It is an issue I have a fair bit of experience with, from both sides, so I thought I'd share some of my experiences. The first rule of communications is to know your audience. I realize that most of you readers are avid chicken-keepers and can recite a litany of reasons why they keep hens in their backyards. The ones that come to mind are:
  1. They produce nutritious eggs for me, my family and neighbours,
  2. They make great pets...they have unique personalities, and their quirks make them interesting.
  3. They reduce my yard waste...nature's recyclers.
  4. They fertilize my garden....see #3.
  5. They give me a sense of food security....I can always find fresh eggs, and I know what goes into them.
  6. They teach my kids about where food comes from, the circle of life and responsibility to animals.
  7. They are just plain fun.
Why, why, WHY, then do so many cities and municipalities refuse to see the light? Who could possibly be against these lovable, environmentally friendly, educational wonders in feathers? How can politicians not see the light? I have talked with quite a few "backyard activists" who have worked long and hard to try to get henning legalized in their area, and understand the frustration they feel when their petitions are dismissed out of hand, or their motions are called "clucking ridiculous". It is annoying, and demeaning, and frankly, nobody likes to fail at an endeavour they think is worthy and they have invested heavily in.
Chicken Outlaw tee shirt available here.

Let me describe the other side of the table to you, however. I want you to know, I don't necessarily agree with all the points that follow, but have had them explained to me by local politicians and legislators. I want to share them with you, so you understand their points of view, and don't feel so frustrated when you come up against them. I also am telling you these things, so you can find ways around the objections if you are involved in promoting backyard chickens in your area.


Another important point is that YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM!!! People who love chickens, who dedicate their weekends and skip vacations away for them.....people who build elaborate coops, and research on the Internet the latest and greatest gizmos, gadgets, treats and toys are the people who SHOULD have chickens in their backyards. You are not the people who the laws are written for. What aficionados often forget, however, is that the time and effort you dedicate to your birds is a lot of work. The laws are written to make sure that people who have chickens look after them properly and safely. The biggest danger is the "Christmas Puppy" syndrome....."Martha....I was walking home from the office, and saw in the paper that we can have chickens in our backyard, and I thought " we like eggs, and they'd be free", so I stopped by the feed store and picked up 6 of  'em.....lets throw em in the backyard and it will be a blast!"
Here is a list of concerns that municipalities need to consider before allowing backyard hens:
  1. A single hen produces about a 2 pounds of manure each week. Depending on the size of your yard, and amount of yard waste, this amount of nitrogen will kill a backyard composter....the manure needs to be dealt with. If it isn't dealt with properly, smell and flies are a real issue.
  2. Chickens are not like other pets...you eat their products (and sometimes the birds themselves). The risk of human disease is real....not huge, but impossible to ignore.
  3. Most people do not inherently know what a chicken needs (unlike a dog or cat, which almost everyone knows the basics about).
  4. Chickens need an adequate shelter....does the potential chicken-keeper have one? What does an adequate shelter consist of? (hint: it depends on where you live....in Alaska, a coop MUST be very different from one in Georgia)
  5. Chickens need very specialized rations to remain healthy while laying eggs. Most pet stores do not carry an appropriate feed source for laying hens.....where will chicken-keepers get food?
  6. Chickens are fed outside. The food is very high in energy and protein (ie, it is DELICIOUS to other animals....ask your dog). Unfortunately it is delicious to skunks, raccoons, possums and rodents too....how will chicken-keepers manage feed so that it doesn't attract unwanted pests?
  7. Chickens are delicious. (again....ask your dog). Weasels, owls, raccoons, cats, dogs, bears, cheetahs, and sharks could be attracted to your backyard, terrorizing the neighbourhood. (the real issue is the welfare of the hens...if they are not in a robust shelter, some of these animals are REALLY good at getting at the flock).
  8. Most vets are uncomfortable dealing with chickens.....what happens when Clucky jumps off the deck and crashes into the fence and breaks her wing....where will she be taken?
This list is not exhaustive, but hits many of the high points. City councils hate 2 things....cost and liability. They don't want to have to respond to complaints and they don't want to be held accountable if things go wrong. Realistically, the complaints won't be " my neighbours chickens are too loud", but more likely "my neighbour went away on a 2 week cruise, and nobody has fed his chickens for 5 days". Either way, the city has to deal with a problem....and what do they do? They have facilities and expertise in handling stray dogs and cats....chickens are difficult. And what happens if some people get sick and a young reporter starts asking what the city did to make sure that people who kept chickens do so safely?
This is why municipalities are hesitant to allow backyard chickens. Again....NOT BECAUSE OF YOU.....I  am confident that most chicken keepers have dealt with these problems. These issues are simply and easily surmountable, as long as you are knowledgeable, interested and motivated. The problem is, it is all but impossible to allow knowledgeable, interested and motivated people to be identified in a statute....the rules apply to the lazy, ignorant and apathetic just the same. I hope this helps explain the difficulties you might have in convincing council to adopt a "chicken-friendly" bylaw, and even more importantly, give you ammunition to get around the hang-ups that council might have.


The Chicken Vet

47 comments :

  1. Barbara A. - Wing Shadow Farm6/14/12, 1:33 PM

    Very good article! I enjoyed reading the other side of the story.

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  2. People often think that chickens are loud, but hens are certainly no louder than a barking dog! While a rooster can get annoying, hens clucking and carrying on their important henny-business are actually quite soothing (at least to me) and no more distracting or annoying than neighbors carrying on a conversation on their deck or anything. They do squawk a bit when laying an egg, but really, if you think through the physics of it all, who can blame them?!

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  3. I am really for back yard chickens. I think that it is important. If everyone had their own chickens, the poultry industry would not have the market for their eggs. It would cut back on the amount of chickens who are forced to live in deplorable conditions. When people buy those eggs/meat, they are telling them that it is okay. We can not as a society turn a blind eye and allow it to happen. It is animal cruelty. Just because it is cheap, it doesn't make it right.

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  4. Sabina Smith6/15/12, 12:59 PM

    Chickens are fabulous bug catchers!

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  5. I was at a town board meeting earlier this week and someone's argument on the zoning was that the way it's currently set up we could have a barn full of 100 roosters and no one could say anything. WHAT?! Obviously this person had NO CLUE what they were talking about! hahaha! Why would I WANT 100 roosters anyway??

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  6. I love to use my chickens as a teaching tool to show my son where eggs (food) come from. I love defending the fact that I have chickens to my friends, family and or anyone who wants to listen and tell them all about the great things that chickens do for you. My dogs and cats dont do that. lol. They are my only pet that gives back

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  7. Backyard chickens are NOT a nuisance but actualy enhance the environment by providing a pleasing and entertaining activity for the whole family and neighborhood! Most backyard chicken keepers enchance their yard with pleasantly designed coops and runs. Chickens certainingly don't smell any worse than a yard with three large dogs!

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  8. I am very much for people keeping back yard chickens but I come from Northwest Arkansas where there is a town here called Springdale. Its home to Tyson chickens so that mean TONS of large chicken houses everywhere and a large processing plant. Basically part of the town smells like chicken poop. I think there needs to be regulations on how you keep your chickens and how many because most of the residents in that town would have 100 chickens running around the apartment complexes. We currently do have laws in town for people to have 5 or 10 chickens in the city I live in but I am outside city limits so that mean they cant stop me in my chicken addiction :)

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  9. I've had my hens just over a year now and most of my neighbors have only recently found out I have them. It's not because they've heard them but because I've asked if they'd like eggs. Our neighbor directly next door says he rarely if ever hears them and he works various hours.

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  10. Makenna Vanegas6/15/12, 1:13 PM

    Hens are wonderful pets; no noise, very beneficial to your garden, and are a natural calmer to people.

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  11. One reason why I love my backyard hens.... because I can't even count the number of times I've wanted to bake a cake/waffles/cookies/quiche/etc. and was out of eggs in the fridge. Now, instead of having to take a trip to the store, wasting my time and increasing pollution, I just have to walk outside and grab an egg. Awesome!

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  12. My girls enrich my life. - That should really be enough. But this all started for me because I was tired of paying high prices for free range eggs and still not being guaranteed the hens were taken care of humanely. My girls are spoiled rotten and you can taste it in their eggs. - the positive reasons are endless.

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  13. Chickens eat lots of bad insects!

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  14. My Cochin Bantam Hens and CAPT. Roo are "LESS" noisy than children yelling and shouting at all hours of the summer nights... .... My Flock does not go on a drunken spree and fire off guns into the night... .... My Flock does "NOT" receive nor apply for welfare... .... They are a functional part of society... .... My flock helps to keep the bug population under control... ... My flock helps me with fertilizer for my gardens... ... My flock sits with me on my swing in the evenings and talk... they keep me company.. :) :)
    Lastly, everyone in my region knows, I am a retired injured military war veteran; whom is ARMED!! !! So, I do not think ANYONE will try to take my flock from me :) :) :) ~Michael Wayne (Facebook)

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  15. Amanda Shough6/15/12, 1:26 PM

    What kicks me in the keister is when did Americans accept laws against raising your own food? It is just insane! I would take a chicken cackle in the city any day as opposed to a gun shot or siren. Good grief!

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  16. Absolutely love my backyard girls! They eat the bugs, give great fertilizer for our garden, so friendly, easy to maintain and best of all??? Free farm fresh eggs!!! Why would you not want to have some of your own???

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  17. Leslie Johns6/15/12, 1:42 PM

    Chickens are so much fun to have around! They produce food for our tables and also promote socializing! I have met more awesome people since I have had chickens - some from buying/selling chickies and others that just want to stop by and visit with the "Flockers". I have met people that have been my neighbors for such a long time and now we have chickens in common! Love my feathered friends!

    ljohns@embarqmail.com

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  18. Rebecca Garrett6/15/12, 1:47 PM

    I love that my kids get to see where their food really comes from!

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  19. Renee Bruns Drossel6/15/12, 1:47 PM

    An issue we have had living in a city (where hens are legal) is, what happens when you accidentally end up with a rooster ? I completely understand the noise factor, and we did not set out to be "law breakers" but we became attached to our Roo and did not try to re-home him until we were turned in to animal control by a neighbor. I can see this possibly being a reason cities do not want chickens legal. I wish there was some kind of re-homing program set up between feed stores and rural folks who want/can have roos. I also find it ironic that (in our case) the neighbors who complain about a rooster's crow are the same ones who let their dogs run loose to terrorize the neighborhood, don't clean up after them, let their cats use our yard as a litterbox/stalk our bird feeders and generally are the reason we can't let our hens (in a fenced yard) out unsupervised ! Chickens, if taken care of responsibly (as stated in the article), are an absolute joy and an amazing learning experience for kids. We LOVE our backyard chickens !

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  21. Esther Widgren6/15/12, 2:00 PM

    The benefits far outweigh the negatives. Having said that I'm sure that there are irresponsible people who will behave badly and give chicken-keeping a bad rap, which goes far to explain peoples' concern. But then that is unfortunately true of most things :-/

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  22. Traca Sawyer6/15/12, 2:07 PM

    Chickens just make you feel good to watch and interact with them! They are educational and make great 4-H projects! We've had yard chickens since my daughter was about 4, but now that she's 13 and active in 4-H and poultry showing (we travel great distances to attend shows) she has learned SO MUCH and has gone from being a shy quiet girl to bringing home Grand Champion winnings in showmanship her confidence levels have soared because of her chickens! (hopefulbeginnings@yahoo.com)

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  23. I'm in favor of backyard chickens as pest control. The fewer toxins that flow into our waterways, the better!

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  24. I think many people would change there mind about banning backyard chickens if they were to visit a commercial farm and see the treatment and deplorable conditions factory hens are kept.

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  25. Our chickens serve so many useful purposes, fresh eggs, organic weed & pest control, not to mention lots of smiles for hubby & me; our chickens help us maintain happy hearts!!

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  26. I don't have my chickens yet but I think they will make great pets. Plus I think they will be a great expierence for my kids. I also like the benefit of fresh hormone free eggs. I think they are great weed and bug control and a source of great organic fertilizer.

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  27. robin mcdowell6/15/12, 2:43 PM

    chickens give fresh hormone and antibiotic free eggs, eat lots of bugs and fertilize the yard. cremesoda34@yahoo.com

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  28. Chicken keeping is fun, but it is not for everyone.Chickens are not wild they will depend on you completely.And yes they are dirty if not cared for properly, you continualy have to clean up after them.

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  29. My family has chickens and a garden. I like it because it reduces my dependence on the supermarket. Instead of eating the processed garbage that gets thrown at us all the time, I'm eating healthier because I take pride in where my food is coming from.

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  30. Chickens bring me joy
    papaherold@sbcglobal.net

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  31. It is only a recent phenomenon that folks don't keep a couple of backyard chickens. And, as a result, more people are eating poorer quality food and don't have a clue where food comes from. Hens are very quiet, no noisier than song sparrows and certainly more quiet than a neighborhood dog barking.

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  32. mybaseballboys6/15/12, 4:04 PM

    Manure and odor is easily managed using the deep litter method. No smell coming from our chicken coop or run!

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  33. They are the sweetest and funniest pets, plus you get eggs, what could be better?!

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  34. i can understand the concerns of people that are not familiar with having chickens... I have only had chickens for a little over a year and i am still learning(allot of my info comes from your blogs or my Chicken encyclopedia). All the cons are so minor compared to the benefits to have a flock of chickens. I have a separate area for my chicken byproduct and i circulate it into my garden in the fall and spring. The Smell can be addressed with lyme or a more constant cleaning! I have very little flies and if one dares goes into my run, oh boy it is game on!! lol I love my girls more than i thought was possible.. they are just a chicken... right?? noooo way! They all have such lil personalities and they are so peaceful! I welcome any non-chicken folks to come sit on the log in my chicken yard for just 20 mins and i dare u to not fall in love and not want your own!! Chickens are work but i see them as a labor of love!! You get what you give! My girls are giving me and my family wonderful healthy eggs because my girls are healthy and happy. Thank you again Kathy for a fantastic blog with all sorts of info and I myself am happy i don't live in a area where i would have to keep my chickens illegally.lol

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  35. My Chickens are not load at all. wouldn't know they are in back yard till they are settling in for the night to roost. They "chat" with each other when they are finding their spots. lol

    They are excellent pest control for the garden and add fertilizer!
    They are entertaining to watch and have unique personalities

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  36. they are not loud not load. but they are always loaded, lol

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  37. Chickens control insects, keep my weeds under control, and give me tremendous pleasure every evening when I go out to let them free range.. They are as fun to have as any dog or cat!!

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  38. All my chickens are special in there own way! We love them!

    Baarb@hotmail.com

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  39. Martha Waugh6/15/12, 5:52 PM

    Chickens are the best...they give me great tasting eggs, are feathered composters, control the mosquitos and gnats in the yard and are great to watch instead of TV. They feed me, entertain me...Now if they could only clean the house, I'd be in chicken heaven.

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  40. As I live on a lake in a subdivision, many neighbors thought "there goes the neighborhood" when I got the hens. As I upscaled the coop and pen and keep it clean...the one thing that stands out most is that my hens are children magnets in the neighborhood. They get to learn the care of chickens and now the neighbors love them....along with the eggs I send with the kids back home. As I never had any kids ...the hens have ironically bridged a gap with the kids in the neighborhood and myself. :)

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  41. If backyard chickens are properly housed and cared for, they are wonderful pets, food, and fertilizer supplier. My chickens are like any of my pets, loved daily, and fed and watered several times a day. Properly cared for chickens are not a bother or nuisance to anyone.

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  42. Hens are definitely not loud. My dogs are louder than my 5 hens. They are the best things we have ever done for ourselves and our family!!

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  43. I think legalizing chickens where they are not legal is the logical thing because according to a federal law passed in 1899 every family in the united states is allowed to have chickens. It is the local governments that are trying to tell people that it is illegal or limit the amount you can have. And the permits are a money thing totally.

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  44. TheChickenChick10/17/12, 9:11 PM

    No argument here, Theresa!

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  45. I agree with you, but my husband would not allow a rooster as my husband can hear other roosters in the area and has decided they are too loud :-( Our girls will never have a boy to protect them, but we do put the occasional fertilised egg under our broody girls (supplied by one of our neighbours with the rooster)

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  46. hi could i ask you a question about a problem i have please. I had 3 chickens but recently one of my chickens Jasmine has died sadly. But one of my other chickens is not eating or drinking now and keeps being sick since Jasmine has died. We think this is because she is sad because Jasmine has been taken by the fox. It has been 5 days now, how do we get her to eat? thank you

    Anaiya

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  47. TheChickenChick7/8/13, 5:19 PM

    I'm sorry for your loss. She may be mourning the loss of her friend. Chickens can become depressed when a flock member dies. You'll want to determine whether she is mourning/depressed or ill. Look for any abnormal symptoms. Offer her some tempting treats to see if you can get her to eat. She MUST be encouraged to drink so that she does not die of dehydration. Try offering her some Gatorade (really).

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