Archive for the ‘Backyard Chickens’ Category



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Yesterday, Thurs. Feb. 4, WERU (89.9 FM, Blue Hill, Maine) broadcasted a radio interview between Meredith DeFrancesco and me discussing the Bangor domesticated chickens ordinance.  The interview is currently archived on the WERU website at the following URL:

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At the last Bangor City Council meeting in which we discussed the proposed Domesticated Chickens Ordinance, one Bangor City Councilor expressed a concern that backyard chickens might detract from the overall quality of life in low-density neighborhoods.   “Quality of life” is a sufficiently vague and ambiguous complaint to warrant an explanation from the councilor regarding his concerns.  What aspects of “quality of life” is he referring to?  Is it merely a subjective aesthetic principle that he values, or something more objective and measurable?  Regardless, my own personal experiences with domesticated chickens may help to inform this debate and elevate it from nebulous fears and speculative concerns to the level of reasoned discourse over the concrete benefits and potential drawbacks of backyard chickens.

I grew up in a low-density neighborhood in the middle of a suburban community near Portland, Oregon.  My parents have approximately one acre of land, with a garden, a small fruit orchard and vineyard, and a berry patch.  They also have a creek flowing through the backyard, surrounded by protected wetland habitat.  My family raised backyard chickens throughout my entire childhood.  Growing up, we were responsible for collecting eggs daily, feeding and watering the chickens, and assisting my parents in cleaning out the coop on a regular basis.  My father supplied wood chips from his carpentry shop as bedding for the chickens.  We composted the chicken manure and old bedding and applied it to our garden and fruit trees as organic fertilizer.  Since the hen house and chicken pen were concealed behind my father’s carpentry shop, few of our neighbors were even aware that we had chickens, and there were never any complaints.  The neighbors who did know about our chickens often purchased or borrowed eggs from us.

The experience of raising chickens helped to teach my brothers and me the basic responsibilities involved with raising and caring for animals, taught us where our food comes from and how we are connected to our natural resources, produced a healthy source of protein, served as a source of entertainment and amusement, and provided organic pest control and soil amendments for our garden and fruit trees.  As a consequence, we grew up spending much time outdoors, were very physically active and watched very little television, developed a strong sense of responsibility for our family and environment, and ate a healthy and balanced diet consisting largely of whole, unprocessed food products that we grew on our property.

In our current location on outer Ohio St., our chicken run abuts several properties in an adjacent low-density housing development (Pine Ledge).  Despite having a rooster (we are agriculturally zoned), we have received no complaints from neighbors, and our chickens have escaped their fencing very rarely (we use portable electric fencing).  In contrast, we have neighbors whose dog regularly escaped his invisible fence, posing a hazard to himself, to traffic on Ohio St., and to our own farm animals, and also burdening Animal Control who had to be called out on multiple occasions to recover the animal.  Our own neighbors have complained about one of our dogs, which has an especially loud bark, but never about the noises our chickens make.

Any concerns regarding “quality of life” that hens might present are also a potential problem for nearly any household pet that is kept in an outdoor environment.  Ultimately, the animal’s owner is responsible for controlling the animal and maintaining safe, clean, healthy, and humane living conditions that do not compromise the community environment.  To presume that people with backyard chickens will be less responsible than dog, cat, or rabbit owners in this regard runs contrary to the body of evidence and testimonies — all positive — presented from other municipalities that permit backyard chickens and have reviewed the impacts of this policy.

My sister-in-law runs an animal shelter, and my wife has volunteered for the Bangor Humane Society.  Both have witnessed regularly the deplorable conditions in which many dogs and cats are kept within our own community and the manner in which irresponsible dog and cat owners compromise the quality of life of their neighbors.  However, they have seen few examples of similar treatment of chickens.  Let us not apply a double standard for different animals.  The domesticated chickens ordinance for Bangor is written using language that specifically holds people accountable for maintaining the aesthetics and safety of their property and neighborhood.  To that effect, they will be held to similar or higher standards than the requirements for other outdoor pets.

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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.”

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We submitted the following letter (below) to the Bangor City Council in consideration of a domesticated chickens ordinance that would permit Bangor residents within city limits to keep a limited number of hens.  The letter was written in response to an attack on backyard chickens by the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center, an abridged version of which can be viewed at the following website:


Before reading our reply to the attack on backyard birds, here is the response to Eastern Shore Sanctuary from Brent Hall, who is spearheading the backyard chicken campaign:

“Most of your philosophy about animals is well received by myself, my vegan friends, and dozens of community members that I’m working with.  We’ll be with you on the front lines to shut down all factory farms and industrial agro-business.

But you’ve over-stepped your boundaries by e-mailing an opposition statement to Bangor, Maine’s City Council before contacting any of the proponents in the community who are working hard to make sure our ordinance passes.

Backyard chicken keepers are not the enemy.  We are not exploiting the birds for meat, or forcing them to produce eggs.  We care about the birds as pets. We want to give them a safe and happy place to live, while providing educational opportunities for our children and community members.  We want to know where our food comes from, and the way it was produced.   There are a plethora of reasons why chickens (and other farm animals) are important to leading a healthy, sustainable, and more closed-loop agricultural lifestyle.   I am a home gardener, and also work at an organic farm where the animals are treated with respect, and cared for as any home pet would be.

Please stop undermining initiatives in local communities and imposing your own ideologies, and set your sights on the real factory-farm criminals that we can all agree on.  If you’d like to talk, feel free to contact me at the e-mail address below.

Brent Hall”

And here is Orizaba Farm’s reply to Eastern Shore Sanctuary’s arguments, submitted to the Bangor City Council:

Having seen a copy of the arguments against backyard chickens written by the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center, we would like to offer some information to counter their position.

The Eastern Shore Sanctuary’s criticism of backyard chicken ordinances appears to revolve around legitimate but misplaced concerns regarding the inhumane treatment of chickens in egg hatcheries, and the abandonment or slaughter of unwanted roosters.  Although we sympathize with these concerns, backyard chickens are hardly the source of these problems.  If conducted properly and accompanied by comprehensive education, an ordinance to permit a limited number of backyard chickens will not contribute to undue animal suffering, and in fact will alleviate many of the problems that result from the inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms.

Although we respect and generally agree with the Eastern Shore Sanctuary’s concerns for animal welfare, we do not believe that their agenda or motives are in alignment with the interests of the City of Bangor and its citizens.  A close examination of Eastern Shore Sanctuary’s website indicates that the organization supports a strictly vegan diet and the elimination of animal products entirely from one’s lifestyle. However, the vast majority of Bangor citizens consume eggs, meat, and/or dairy and utilize numerous animal products in their daily lives.  We do not deny the fact that a vegan lifestyle is more humane, consumes fewer natural resources, and is more ecologically sustainable, ceteris paribus, compared to an animal product intensive lifestyle.  However, in a seasonal climate with rocky soils such as in Maine, humans have always depended upon animals to make use of pasture, browse, and soils that are not arable, and to produce a local source of sustenance through the long winter months when the ground is frozen and plant crops cannot be produced.  If conducted wisely and in careful moderation, limited animal-based agriculture can also be sustainable, and can provide an important source of organic nutrients in the form of manure and compost to replenish garden soils.

The growing popularity of local farmers’ markets and organizations such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association indicate the burgeoning interest among Mainers in local food security and supporting small farms that produce food close to its point of consumption.  For many Mainers, the ability to keep a small number of backyard chickens is not only considered part of our state’s rural, agricultural heritage, but also a trend in the movement towards supporting local farmers and Maine grown food.  For most people, the protection of our right to keep backyard chickens, gardens, orchards, and livestock is largely about our independence as a people who value self-reliance, want to produce and consume safe and healthy food, and want to ensure the humane treatment of the farm animals we depend upon.  For many Mainers, permitting backyard chickens would be a positive move away from a dependence on the factory farms and mega-hatcheries that currently are responsible for the vast majority of egg and poultry production and are the real source of inhumane treatment of chickens.

The Eastern Shore Sanctuary claims that backyard chickens will likely contribute to animal abuse and mistreatment, primarily through supporting trade of chicks from large factory-scale hatcheries.  However, anybody who wants to keep backyard chickens for egg or meat consumption is not a vegan, probably never will be a vegan, and would in all likelihood purchase and consume eggs and chicken meat even if they could not produce them in their own backyard, obfuscating the stated rationale that backyard poultry supports animal abuse.  If the Eastern Shore Sanctuary were truly concerned with alleviating animal suffering in agriculture, their efforts would be better served trying to eliminate the massive factory farms that crowd animals into tiny spaces, provide intolerable living conditions, and often commit overt acts of abuse.  Indeed, to the same end, the voters of California recently passed an amendment prohibiting battery cages in egg factories.  We wholeheartedly support efforts by the Eastern Shore Sanctuary and other organizations to end the inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms, where their living conditions are often intolerable and incidences of abuse are commonplace.  However, backyard chickens are one of the solutions to this problem, not an addition to it.  Facilities for backyard chickens are almost always antithetical to these factory farm systems, providing substantially more space per bird, typically permitting access to the outdoors, supplementing their diet with natural browse, and ensuring close monitoring of and personal attention to the animals’ health.

In either case, the chicks, if purchased from a hatchery, will be subjected to the same treatment at the hatchery regardless of whether people raise the animals in their backyards or buy the meat and eggs from the grocery store or farmers’ market.  Denying people the opportunity to raise their own animals does not eliminate this problem.  It only outsources the responsibility for any inhumane treatment from the hatchery to another farm.  In fact, by creating a local community of backyard poultry growers, we may be able to circumvent the problems associated with factory-scale hatcheries altogether by promoting local, small-scale, chicken hatcheries.  A backyard chicken ordinance may produce an opportunity for people to invest in and support local farms that breed, incubate, and hatch their own chickens, enabling people to ensure that their chicks are raised humanely and purchased from sustainable, ethical farmers rather than factory farms.  At Orizaba Farm, we purchased a few of our own chicks from a small, local, family-run hatchery that treated their animals very well and exhibited complete transparency in their operations.  Therefore, if Eastern Shore Sanctuary is truly concerned about the conditions of chicks in factory hatcheries, they should support a backyard chicken ordinance if it is accompanied by education that encourages backyard chicken growers to purchase their chicks from small, local hatchery farms with humane practices and to avoid large factory farm hatcheries.

Eastern Shore Sanctuary’s concerns about rooster welfare are also unfounded and misplaced and hinge upon a mistaken assumption that roosters in backyard chicken flocks will fare worse than roosters in other agricultural operations.  Whether a person consumes an egg from a grocery store (i.e., a factory farm), a small local farm, or a backyard chicken, implicit within that egg is the death of a rooster.  Every human being who eats eggs must come to terms with this fact.  Since only female chickens lay eggs, roosters are unnecessary for egg farming except for the few privileged enough to be selected for breeding and hen/flock protection.  The rest are killed, either as hatchlings/chicks, or as young birds for meat.  Whether the eggs are produced by backyard hens or by hens in a factory farm does not change this simple fact.  The same holds true for dairy; since only female dairy animals produce milk, most males are slaughtered for meat at a young age, with the exception of the few kept as breeding animals.  If this issue is truly a concern for the Eastern Shore Sanctuary, then they must address the high consumption rates of animal products in the United States, which is the root cause of the problem.  Attacking a small group of citizens who are sufficiently concerned about sustainable, local food production and animal welfare to raise their own animals will not address or solve this issue but only detracts from the larger problem.

We do not believe that roosters will suddenly flood animal shelters as a consequence of a backyard chicken ordinance. In Orono and Portland, backyard chicken ordinances that prohibit roosters are currently in effect.  We contacted Orono Animal Control and an animal shelter that rescues chickens near Portland and, according to these sources, abandoned and unwanted roosters have not yet posed a problem and are rarely surrendered or picked up.  The reality is that unwanted roosters are almost always humanely slaughtered and consumed by the family or farm concerned, as we have done ourselves on our own farm.  Undoubtedly, some backyard chickens will mistakenly develop into roosters, but most people will simply slaughter and consume these birds if they pose a problem for their neighbors or are in violation of the ordinance’s regulations.  The Eastern Shore Sanctuary claims that slaughtering roosters for consumption will be traumatic for neighbors, but this assertion only highlights the growing disconnect between people and their food that a backyard chicken ordinance would ultimately help to remedy.  Any child who grows up on a farm, being intimately involved in the production of his or her own food, recognizes humane animal slaughter as a necessary part of a balanced farm diet and a rural lifestyle.  Regardless, the current draft of the ordinance would require people to slaughter chickens off the residential property, creating an opportunity for local farms to assist backyard chicken growers in slaughtering and butchering their animals.  In this manner, farmers who are experienced with humane chicken slaughter techniques can instruct and supervise backyard chicken growers or conduct the slaughter themselves in order to ensure that the animals do not suffer.

Although we wholeheartedly agree with Eastern Shore Sanctuary’s objectives of reducing animal suffering, we believe their efforts are misplaced and an ordinance permitting backyard chickens would not threaten animal welfare.  Animals grown for meat or eggs in one’s own backyard in almost all cases are subjected to more humane treatment, have more space, and live a more natural life than animals in factory farms.  Indeed, many people want to raise backyard chickens specifically so that they can ensure the humane treatment of the animals that they depend upon for food throughout their lives.

Despite criticizing and attacking backyard chicken ordinances, the Eastern Shore Sanctuary offers a number of constructive suggestions for ensuring that backyard chickens are raised humanely, including avoiding factory farm hatcheries and adopting chickens from an animal shelter, providing adequate housing to protect chickens from weather and predators, and providing chickens with access to a balanced diet and veterinary care when necessary.  It may be possible to incorporate all or a combination of these suggestions into the requirements of a backyard chicken ordinance for Bangor.  Indeed, many of the provisions in the current draft of the ordinance address some of these specific concerns.  In the very least, we would be more than happy to work in close alliance with the Eastern Shore Sanctuary to compose educational material that can be distributed to backyard chicken keepers in order to ensure the humane treatment of their animals.

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We would like to voice our support for an amendment to permit backyard chickens in Bangor.  Although we would not personally benefit from such an amendment since our farm is located outside of city limits and is agriculturally zoned (thereby permitting farm animals), we strongly support any measures that would increase the food security and agricultural autonomy of the Bangor community.

Permitting Bangor residents to raise a limited number of backyard chickens, if managed properly, would create few if any foreseeable problems and would provide a number of important benefits to the community, including financial savings for participating households, reduced municipal food and yard wastes, a local source of compost for home gardens, educational opportunities for children, and increased availability and access to healthy, local foods.

Having raised chickens for the majority of my life, on commercial farms and in my own family’s backyard, in both rural and urban environments, I (Thom) can testify that the experience has always been an enriching and rewarding one, full of opportunities for learning and community involvement for individuals of all ages.  In light of the growing interest in local and homegrown foods and serious concerns about food safety and security, I hope that you consider this proposal as a natural and positive step in the progression of our city.

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