Friday, July 13, 2007

feathers flying in the DC burbs

Given we used to live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, I still have as the default home page on our desktop PC (seldom used as I do 95% of all my work on a MacBook Pro).

Imagine my surprise when I see an article about urban chickens, Feathers Are Flying, just below the fold on the Post web site tonight.

Turns out, chickens in the Prince William County burbs (in Virginia, south and east of DC proper) are being seen as a symptom of the neighborhood's deteriorating thanks to "hispanic immigrants coming in":
Many newcomers are from rural areas in Mexico and Central America, where chickens roam without fear of zoning inspectors. County officials and residents say they are sensitive to this fact and do not want to disparage others' cultures and customs. "I'm Hispanic; I understand," said [Virginia] Paris, a native of Uruguay. "We're open-minded. But this is an urban environment."

That's exactly what urban chickens are about... bringing what used to be a common practice (keeping your own backyard flock) back to the future. A lot of folks have their preconceptions about chickens (dirty, messy, smelly, ick) thanks to passing by the agri-business chicken plants where thousands of birds are raised in less-than-ideal conditions.

Even I blanched at the thought of getting chickens of our own when I went inside the brooder at a local feed store and the stench of hundreds of week-old chicks' feces hit me unexpectedly. But our girls don't smell or raise a ruckus or do anything to upset those around us (neighbors: please tell me if I'm wrong).

What really got to me was this paragraph about two-thirds through the article:
Officials say health concerns about the birds outweigh possible disruptions to a community's peace and quiet. "You could conceivably keep a pet chicken in sanitary conditions, but more often than not, people aren't scrupulous," said county environmental health manager John Meehan. "A lot of what they eat is not digested, so it can become food for other animals. If you're feeding chickens corn, that would be a very ready source for rats."
Why single out chickens like this? When I lived in Virginia, I don't recall as much concern being expressed about how folks were tending their cats or dogs or rabbits. We had a hard enough time keeping the mice out of the dog food in a brand new housing development (no chickens to be found). Perhaps Mr. Meehan has recently seen Ratatouille and is still suffering the images of all those messy rats making a fine meal in the kitchen.

Glad I live in a city that has a sensible approach to urban chickens: limit of four, only hens. Feeling sorry for the folks in Prince William who're trying to keep a pet chicken in sanitary conditions. Evidently there's a lot of skepticism it could ever be done (I invite them to pay us a visit any time).

Are there a lot of illegal chicken owners out there in blogland? How do you keep from getting caught?


brad said...

I came across your blog over the weekend and read all of it this evening. Over the weekend my wife and I talked with a permaculture designer, so now we are thinking about expanding our gardening and adding two chickens. She talked with our cat's vet today and found out that SM is similar to RC, so hens are allowed. Since we're relatively down the street from you, we had already thought that HMB would be the place to get chicks when the time came. I went to Borders this evening to get "Keep Chickens". Thanks for posting all the info.

brad said...

I looked in the SM city code earlier this morning. Fowl and rodents are allowed by permit only, subject to inspection, and must be at least 20 ft from any dwelling.


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