Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Defanging four arguments against urban chickens

On this Earth Day, it's great to see efforts to overturn ham-fisted ordinances banning urban chickens cropping up all over the country (just take a look at the Google News search for "urban chicken laws").

The benefits to backyard chickens are many (pest control, fertilizer, eggs, entertainment), so it makes perfect sense that rational people would seek to legalize the keeping of small flocks of hens (not roosters!) on their own property.

Time and again, however, the rational pursuit of changing the law runs into an emotional barrier thrown up by NIMBYs and others who see urban chickens as a retreat to less sophisticated times. The lack of sophistication, however, is typically found in the arguments against urban chickens that, no matter how specious, still grab the imagination and make perfectly rational members of city government act in irrational ways.

After watching two years' worth of battles to legalize urban chickens, I've identified the four most common myths introduced as fact in the argument against chickens in the backyard:
  1. Chickens produce too much poop - the fact of the matter is that dogs and cats produce way more excrement in a week than a flock of four hens. And while the chicken manure can be converted easily into fertilizer to help your garden grow, for health reasons, you cannot do the same with dog and cat poop.
  2. It'll cost too much to enforce an urban chicken law - the kind of people who want to raise chickens in their backyards for eggs are doing so (mostly) out of a sense responsibility for taking control of their food sourcing and reducing their carbon footprint. These are not the kinds of folks who'll be requiring animal control to come out and bust chicken owners for too many animals making too much noise (see: dogs).
  3. Owning chickens means hosting salmonella in your backyard - the food safety folks have done a great job sensitizing the public to take care in handling chicken so as to avoid salmonella. The simpletons spreading salmonella fears as an argument against urban chickens don't seem to understand that salmonella is a problem of safe food handling, not of responsible pet ownership.
  4. Backyard chickens will spread the bird flu - the fact is, it's through backyard flocks that we might insulate ourselves from the spread of the H5N1 virus and the like that tear through the million-bird in-bred flocks of large-scale agribusiness. But, of all the arguments against urban chickens, this is the point most often deployed as an end-of-discussion "so there."
So, if you find yourself up against any of the above arguments in your own efforts to get urban chickens legalized in your city, read the posts and use the research to help steer the argument away from the sensational and back to the rational.

If you've got other arguments you're hearing against urban chickens, please let me know so I can help you counter them with fact.

Oh, and keep an eye on the "law" tag here on this blog. Whenever I post about a struggle to legalize urban chickens in one city or another, I always apply the law tag to it.


Liz said...

An alderman proposed urban chickens in our suburban town and got absolutely nowhere. I don't think anyone here had ever heard of the concept, let alone knew it has traction and a following. Needless to say, the proposed legislation died. On this Earth Day, since I cannot contemplate raising chickens, I'm recommending a great book on saving the environment and our planet cheaply and easily. It's The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget by Josh Dorfman. It's got plenty of tips and ways for us to EASILY make a difference to planet earth. Unlike almost every other green living book, this one doesn't ask readers to change their behavior to go green. Instead, the book shows how the latest green products and services make it easy to integrate green services directly into our lives the way we actually currently live them.

Anna said...

Poop seems to be a pretty poor argument against having chickens in town. We have three chicken tractors on our farm, and since we move them every day I never smell a thing! The little bit of poop works down into the grass and fertilizes the ground.

The only place poop was really a problem was in the waterers. But I begged and pleaded and my husband invented an automatic chicken waterer which keeps our chickens' water poop-free.

Keep up the great work!

jeffomatic said...

I'm proud of my city! Orem, Utah made little fuss about passing a chicken ordinance. The council voted for it 4-1 and it's reasonable, too. No license, no fees. Can't keep roosters, of course. They have a schedule of lot size vs number of hens allowed. You must keep them safe and clean. The only part I can't really grok is the part that says you can't slaughter chickens inside the city.

Karen C. said...

My township is working thier way through a backyard chicken ordinance and it has been brutal. The arguments against it has been "the feces that will be piling up, if we allow chickens, the next thing you know we will be allowing hogs, sheep, cows, horses and goats; also if we allow somebody to slaughter a chicken inside their barn/shed, there will be somebody who slaughters outside and the township will have to deal with a be-headed chicken running down the road". honestly, this is what the "nay-sayers" think. Help, anybody that can give us some good advise, this ordinance has been bouncing back and forth in our system and it is perplexing. thanx! Karen C.

Unknown said...

One of the arguments against urban chickens in my city was that they would draw in predators (coons, snakes, foxes, etc.). I've seen all of these things roaming down despite the ordinance banning poultry. When we attempted to counter this argument, we had little by way of facts and figures to support that our trash brings in more pests than chickens and their eggs ever could. Any ideas??


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