The battle for the right of families to keep backyard chickens in Suffield, Connecticut, the small farm town I live in, rages on. As the date for yet another public hearing to legalize backyard chickens nears, I continue forging ahead with grass roots mobilization efforts to rally supporters and encourage a realistic regulation in the face of a surprising amount of ignorance among policy makers and town officials.
After my failed petition to persuade the town’s zoning commission to legitimize backyard chicken keeping a few years ago, the zoning enforcement official sent my husband and I a cease and desist letter ordering us to remove our flock from our yard. When we refused, the town sued us. Three months ago, the town apologized to us for misinterpreting the zoning regulations and withdrew the lawsuit.
The town’s first selectman has been sharply criticized for wasting obscene amounts of taxpayer dollars suing us and has since been trying to save his November re-election bid by trying to move a backyard chicken regulation forward. He hand-selected a “backyard chicken keeping advisory committee” to write a new zoning proposal, giving us a mere three hours to accomplish the job. With the support of three others on the committee, I spent the majority of the three hours teaching and presenting research to the four other committee members, notably all town officials, about backyard chicken realities and why their notions of what a sensible regulation looked like was flawed. We came to a compromise about the regulation’s contents, however, what the first selectman presented to the zoning commission and what is set to be argued at the public hearing was not what the committee discussed.
the right to keep chickens in town. Regardless of lot size, generations of
families have raised chickens and farmed gardens to feed themselves, all absent
zoning oversight. Then and now, chickens help support a safe, local, sustainable
food system, yet by some stroke of municipal insanity, Suffield residents have
the right to keep two horses on two acres of land, but not one chicken.
a backyard chicken-keeping regulation proposal. The committee was cherry-picked
and front-loaded with town officials by the first selectman who allowed a
whopping three hours to accomplish the task. He ignored repeated, written requests
for a follow-up meeting, imperiously dictating the final version’s contents. Lamentably, his proposal includes random
controls over subjects that have never
been a problem in Suffield and were not agreed upon by the committee.
They have personalities, names and ultimately, AARP cards that preclude being
invited to Sunday dinner. Most hens do
not lay an egg daily; production rates depend upon breed, age, stress, lighting,
molting and beyond.
source of pride, landscaping, decorating and tending to their cleanliness
benefits other pets cannot: they provide chemical-free pest control, eliminate disease-transmitting
insects, control weeds and produce valuable, nitrogen-rich fertilizer. They are
a living lesson to children that food does not originate in the supermarket freezer
section in nugget form.
is: a general permit, manure disposal particulars, feed storage specifications
and neighborhood permission for keeping males. Permits are not required of
horses and should not be required of chickens. On average, a hen produces ¼ pound of valuable garden fertilizer daily;
the average dog, ½ pound of pathogenic, non-compostable feces; a 1,000 pound horse,
51 pounds of manure daily, of which the zoning code allows 2,000 pounds to accumulate
in a 2 acre yard. Dog, horse, outdoor-cat and songbird food handling are not
regulated and chicken feed should not be micromanaged either.
chicken-related noise complaints are made annually versus hundreds of barking
dog complaints. Neighbor permission is not required to keep barking dogs and it
should not be required to keep any chicken. Either regulate animal noise generally
or address noise as complaints arise, don’t discriminate based on species or
administrative burdens and the need for enforcement by municipal officials
unfamiliar with poultry management norms. What’s glaringly absent are
enforcement teeth capable of fairly addressing situations that digress from
reasonable agricultural standards.
to no effect on the size of the chicken population in town- untold thousands of
chickens already live lives of luxury in our backyards without the Suffield Seal
of Approval. Stop paying lip service to being “farm friendly” and either pass a
sensible regulation that encourages families to grow their own food regardless
of lot size or leave chickens alone and focus on pervasive complaints about barking
dogs, abandoned properties and deplorable road conditions.