Two concerned citizens of Bangor, Mike Brennan and an anonymous resident of Wiley St., recently contacted the City of Bangor to voice their opposition to a proposed domesticated chickens ordinance. At the heart of their opposition to backyard chickens were several concerns: that chickens would produce unwanted noise, attract predators and rodents, create additional waste, threaten the quality of our rivers (through water pollution and increased rodent populations), and diminish property values.
We will address each of these concerns in turn. First, the proposed ordinance, as currently written, would permit no homeowner within Bangor City Limits to possess a rooster. Bangor residents would only be permitted to keep domesticated hens. Since hens do not crow, they are considerably quieter than their male counterparts and produce a volume of noise that is barely discernible at distance of greater than 50’. In contrast, the vocalizations of many domesticated dogs that are currently permitted within the City of Bangor can be heard at distances in excess of 500’. Indeed, the ordinance requires that “perceptible noise from chickens shall not be loud enough at the property boundaries to disturb persons or reasonable sensitivity.” This clause fairly provides neighbors on abutting properties with justifiable grounds to complain and appeal for a revocation of a chicken permit if they find the noise to be unreasonably disturbing.
Second, domesticated chickens do not attract predators to a greater degree than many other domesticated animals currently permitted by Bangor law. With the exception of diurnal birds of prey (e.g., hawks), most predators are nocturnal, whereas chickens are strictly diurnal. Any domesticated animal, whether a small dog, cat, rabbit, or chicken, will invariably attract predators if it is kept in an unprotected location overnight. The current draft ordinance for domesticated chickens requires explicitly that chickens must be shut at night into a shelter that is impermeable to predators, virtually eliminating the possibility that nocturnal predators will be able to access the chickens or will be repeatedly attracted to the henhouse.
Similarly, domesticated chickens, if properly cared for, do not attract rodents any more so than other domesticated animals. The main attractants for rodents, which are highly opportunistic omnivores, would be leftover food scraps, chicken feed, and bedding. However, Bangor residents would be required by the ordinance to provide a henhouse that is impermeable to rodents, making it impossible for rodents to access the chickens’ bedding and feed. Rodents are primarily nocturnal and the ordinance requires that “chickens shall be secured within the henhouse during non-daylight hours”, assuring that rodents will be unable to access the henhouse. Additionally, the ordinance requires that the henhouse and the chicken pen surrounding the henhouse are cleaned on a regular basis to avoid attracting rodents. Because of these provisions, backyard chickens are not expected to attract rodents or predators to a greater degree than a well-maintained backyard rabbit hutch. We are aware of the problem with rats that occurred on 18th Street due to refuse accumulation on one property. However, we do not believe this concern can fairly be applied to backyard chickens. In our two decades of experience raising chickens, we have never once seen a rat near a chicken pen or a henhouse.
Concerns about waste and water pollution from backyard chickens are misdirected and overlook the fact that small, domesticated chicken operations are in fact a part of the solution to this serious problem. Industrial agriculture operations and factory farms are one of the leading causes of water pollution in lakes, rivers, and coastal zones across the United States (U.S. EPA, http://www.epa.gov/nps/facts/point6.htm). This problem is a consequence of the geographic separation between concentrated animal feeding operations, such as chicken and egg factories, hog farms, or cattle feedlots, and vegetable or grain farms (Michael Pollan, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/12/magazine/12policy-t.html). Because of this spatial separation, vegetable farms must resort to synthetic fertilizers to feed their soil, which, in contrast to organic compost and manure, are prone to leaching into adjacent watersheds. The animal feedlots, in turn, accumulate vast quantities of manure and waste that cannot be properly composted and also leach into watersheds nationwide. Whenever we buy our eggs or poultry products from the supermarket, we are promoting this system of agriculture that has resulted in the pollution of our lakes, rivers, groundwater, and coastlines.
In contrast, backyard chickens would provide environmentally conscientious citizens an alternative to the current model for producing poultry products, in a manner that reduces waste and recycles nutrients within local soils and vegetation without threatening the health of our vital watersheds. Most individuals who want to keep backyard chickens for eggs or meat also keep home gardens. The compost provided by backyard chickens would provide a more sustainable and less expensive alternative to using synthetic fertilizers, and would also reduce the quantity of excess nutrients leaching into our rivers and streams. This is because organic compost remineralizes into soils at a slower and more gradual rate than synthetic fertilizers, and increases the organic matter (humus) within the soil, which retains additional nutrients and binds soil particles, ultimately preventing leaching and erosion into watersheds. Backyard chickens would permit people to recycle their kitchen scraps and yard trimmings by feeding them to their chickens and then subsequently composting the remaining waste to use as garden fertilizer. “Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream” (U.S. EPA, http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/rrr/composting/index.htm). Backyard chickens, in combination with organic composting for garden soils together can substantially reduce the total amount of waste that ends up in our landfills or waterways. According to www.SoPoChickens.org, “the amount of chicken manure produced by six hens is roughly equivalent to the dog droppings produced by a medium to large dog. And, unlike dog or cat poop, chicken manure can be easily composted into organic garden fertilizer,” thereby recycling the chickens’ waste into the soil and vegetation, and reducing the total amount of waste produced relative to most other domesticated animals.
If odors from backyard chickens are a concern for Bangor residents, they should note that the ordinance requires that “odors from chickens, chicken manure, or other chicken-related substances shall not be perceptible at the property boundaries.” This clause in the ordinance provides fair recourse for neighbors who feel that chicken waste is not being properly disposed or composted and is creating odor problems. If chicken scraps, manure, and bedding are properly composted, the odors from the compost bin should not be noticeable to neighbors.
Regarding the concern that backyard chickens may diminish Bangor property values, we are personally unfamiliar with this subject and will refer the Bangor City Council to the argument posed by the South Portland community (www.SoPoChickens.org) when addressed with the same concern:
“Some people worry that pet hens would lower property values. Again, the restrictions very clearly state how the henhouse must be constructed, that it must be sided like the main house, with proper roofing materials, painted, and well-maintained. Think of a garden shed, not a rusty coop made of scrap metal. The City Council will require aesthetically pleasing, sound, predator-proof structures. Also take into consideration that the people who are fueling the “pet hen movement” are in largely upscale neighborhoods. Here are three recent news stories to back this up: MSNBC: “Man’s new best friend lays eggs, More urban, suburban residents turning to chickens as pets”, USA Today: “Move Over Fido! Chickens are becoming Hip Suburban Pets”, ABC News: “More People Turn to Chickens as Pets”. Cape Elizabeth, which allows chickens with no restrictions, even in their tightest residential neighborhoods, certainly has no trouble with property values. In fact, many people, especially young families, view chickens as a highly positive aspect of a neighborhood, indicating a commitment to healthy living, environmental awareness, and a reminder of a slower, more natural way of life in our busy, rushing-around, plastic-wrapped society.”