It’s time for the Chicken Revolution in Frederick

chickenrevolutionfrederick280wIt’s time to legalize small flock chickens in the City of Frederick!

Since the mid 1960’s there has been an ordinance in place that prevents residents of the City of Frederick from keeping livestock on residential property. As an overall rule, it makes sense. The average homeowner with a small backyard should not keep cows or a horse in such a confined space, nor should they attempt to raise pigs for food or noisy goats and sheep for wool or meat.

One animal falls in what ought to be a different category than those examples: chickens!

We will use the term “chicken” or “hen” for the remainder of this column, as defined as an egg producing female.

Of the top 100 cities across the country, more than 80 of them have made clear cut changes to their local ordinances that allow a family to raise a small flock of chickens. This includes the United States largest and most densely populated city, New York. In our area, we can look at cities such as Baltimore and Washington D.C., as well as Myersville, Annapolis and, most recently, Rockville (which has about the same population as Frederick).

Brunswick, a town with no grocery store, is getting very close to having official discussions with its town government to propose a change. These cities have changed their local laws to allow families to provide for themselves by raising a few chickens as pets with benefits.

We will discuss those benefits a bit later in this column.

chickenpetitiontable500w

So why has the city of Frederick been so reluctant to change its ordinance?

This has been an increasingly hot topic in Frederick for the past few years. I’ve heard stories from five years ago when residents attempted to change the ordinance. My own experiences began in April of 2014. Since then, local radio and the Frederick News Post have been eager to talk about the issue and publish stories. I was the subject of three separate articles, and was recently interviewed on WFMD.

As we make it clear what the benefits would be, we are always on the defensive against the arguments regarding raising hens in a small yard setting. Let’s dispel the three common negatives before focusing on some of the benefits.

The Big Three Arguments Against Hens

The first argument that we can dispel is the issue of noise.

Our city is not so big that everything is drowned out by street noise, and we are lucky enough to still be rural and can enjoy the sounds of nature. We have many families of wild songbirds in and around our yard. It is my personal experience that these birds make far more noise than a group of four or five hens. I can hear the wild birds with the windows closed. Add in small children and the occasional barking dog, or someone cutting their lawn, chickens will not be heard above the ambient noise.

hens280wChickens spend most of their day foraging for food, or resting in the shade. Both activities are done with barely a quiet cluck. If and when they do make any noise, it registers at just about the level of quiet human conversation. If you hear a chicken, it may be a different sound, or unexpected, but hardly disturbing. Again, these would only be hens not roosters. Roosters are the ones that make the noise on a farm, not the hens. Hens are social animals that also seem to enjoy human company. My dog may on occasion chase a hen for a few feet. In her excitement she will cluck a little louder, but again a few children playing with each other or dogs will create as much or more noise.

If you stand in the middle of a chicken farm with thousands of birds, you will hear the noise. On the other hand, five hens will be nearly imperceptible. I’ve heard many stories of people who lived next door to a small backyard flock for a long time without even knowing it.

The second common argument against hens is the combined topic of smell, mess and dealing with poop.

Again I will share some of my own experiences to dispel these issues. In the small quantities we are asking for, none of those things will ever be an issue, as long as owners clean up after their pets. In one week, five hens will create about as much poop as one medium sized dog. When confined to a suitable run and coop, these droppings can be easily shoveled and removed from the area. If you are someone who also enjoys gardening, chicken poop is a nutrient rich, highly composted manure, that can be added to your crops.

This cannot be done with your dog’s poop. It usually ends up in little plastic bags that go right into the landfill. A small flock of chickens that are properly housed and managed do not create an odor. I spend about 30 minutes, two or three times a month, maintaining my hens habitat. I have never been made aware of a smell from neighbors or visitors. My mother would be the first to speak up, but nothing yet.

coopyellow500w

Also, many heard heard that the chickens waste is damaging the Chesapeake Bay, and are the root cause of many of the pollution issues on the Eastern Shore. These people ask why we would want to introduce such issues into the city. But these environmental and public health concerns are due to the so-called “factory farms,” where thousands, or tens of thousands, of chickens are housed in large buildings, generating huge quantities of waste that is a serious challenge to use or dispose of properly.

There is no real comparison to make between that sort of industrial agricultural operations and a relatively small number of scattered residents keeping just a few hens.

The third topic that comes up during heated chicken debates is one regarding illnesses and diseases that can spread from chickens to humans.

An abundance of information is available on the internet, from many credible sources. In our search for accurate information regarding diseases that can be transmitted from chickens to humans our best and most accurate source is the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This respected government agency is required to track various reports of disease and illness across the entire country. Medical facilities report illness outbreaks of various types, as well as track total numbers and death causing illnesses.

When we discuss chickens, we hear of two main illnesses, Salmonella and Histoplasmosis. The CDC has been keeping track of Salmonella infections and outbreaks. From 1990-2014 they had 2611 reported cases of salmonella, 387 of those requiring hospitalization, and five total deaths were reported. It is true that the common source of infection is from handling chickens or ducks. However, nearly all common pet animals can carry the Salmonella bacteria, including dogs, cats, other pet birds, small rodents, small mammals, and reptiles.

In 2014 Petsmart began a policy of including a Zoonosis pamphlet with all animal purchases. It discusses the basics of preventing the spread of illness by following a few basic rules. The primary rule would be to always wash your hands before and after handling any animal. This very basic step can and will protect you from salmonella. But you are more likely to be exposed to salmonella on the eggs you buy at the store than from your isolated flock of four or five hens.

eggs_chickens_crowded500w

The second common illness is Histoplasmosis. It’s an infection caused by the Histoplasma fungus with symptoms very similar to the flu. It can spread to other parts of the body. In a few cases if the infection reaches the eye it can cause vision loss and potential blindness. When you look up facts about this illness on the CDC’s web site, you’ll see it is so rare that it is only reported in a handful of Midwestern states, specifically in the Ohio river valley. Maryland is not required to report cases as there have been so few. Based on their data there have been reports on the rate of 3.4 cases per 100,000 people aged 65 and older. It tends to only have serious effects on patients with HIV and compromised immune systems. Typically healthy people will never know they were in contact.

According to the CDC, it can be found in all bird roosting areas, and found in collections of bat droppings. Exposure tends to be in cases of renovation where cleaning and digging stirs up the ground to release the fungus into the air. The cases that people surmise come from chicken related exposure are those who were in contact with large numbers of chickens in poorly ventilated barns. But people who keep backyard hens, have very few, and house them in appropriate sized, commercially available enclosures that offer maximum ventilation. With regular maintenance the possibility of such a rare illness is decreased even more.

To offer a comparison with commonly known illnesses, 56,979 people died from influenza and pneumonia in 2013. The reported cases of Salmonella and Histoplasmosis do not warrant the fear and worry that is being projected by the objectors to backyard chickens. By following a few common sense practices one can easily prevent these illnesses. It will be a simple matter of humane well ventilated housing, routine handwashing and routine cleaning to keep these issues from arising. All things that a knowledgeable pet owner should be prepared to do.

As of the writing of this article the United States has not had a case of avian flu spreading to humans. And the Center for Disease Control recommends small flock farming as a means to ease the pressure of “factory farming”, and delaying the possible mutation of a strain that can be transmitted to humans. As of now now there is no issue with this illness.

I know there are other minor arguments we hear, such as attracting vermin or predators. These things should be as much a concern for all pet owners who keep an animal outside. The current law allows for as many as eight dogs with no size limit, and no limits on yard size. I’d much rather live next to someone with four hens then someone with eight dogs.

baby-chicks280wOne other minor issue (minor because it really isn’t a problem) involves the selection of chicks to ensure you obtain hens. Baby chicks can be reliably sexed at the hatchling stage. Chicken owners will always recommend purchasing from highly reputable breeders that will sex your chicks and ship you only what you ask for.

There are also some great local farms that provide chicks and sex them.

Some of the Benefits of Backyard Chickens

Listing the benefits of raising a small flock of hens could generate a list too long for this column. But here are “20 Convincing Reasons To Keep Backyard Chickens.”

eggs280wSmall flock farming has become a popular hobby across the country, and there are so many great stories and people involved. As with any such activity, it does create a great sense of community.

With backyard chickens, you’re always guaranteed to know where your eggs came from and what the hen ate to produce it. And the eggs are more nutrient rich and contain less fat and cholesterol.

We can help ease the pressure on factory farming and the ill effects that it can have on the environment and public health. Modern “factory farming” is inhumane (and, in recent weeks, it’s caused the destruction of more than 25 million hens to avoid further spreading an illness to other farms. This is much less likely to happen in our own yards. Now those states have a real problem finding a way to dispose of these hens. Some are even ending up in landfills.

The 4H and Future Farmers of America are very active in our area. Allowing for a few chickens will create opportunity for city kids to participate in learning about animal husbandry without having to leave home. They can gain valuable experience and education by being able to raise their own hens. It is not practical or legal for them to raise a goat, cow or lamb in a residential setting. Chickens will make perfect sense and could open up doors for future farmers.

With growing concern regarding Genetically Modified Organisms or “GMOs” we can control what goes into our bodies. People who have their own few chickens choose their feed and the diet. Chickens are omnivores, and will eat much more than a prepared chicken feed. They eat vegetation as well as insects. They will eat ticks, mosquitos as well as stink bugs. They will also do a great job on kitchen waste. No need to throw away old vegetables and fruit, or stale bread. Feed it to your hens. They will enjoy the treat and convert all of the benefits directly to their eggs.

Fresh chicken eggs will have an almost orange yolk. This is all of those extra nutrients from the varied diet they are now getting. Many of us enjoy gardening to provide for ourselves, hens and eggs are a next logical step. Cage free, free range hens are going to be treated far more humanely than those raised in deplorable conditions on “factory farms”. Once you see these facts in action, you will never want a grocery store egg again.

coopwhite500w

It’s been many years in the making, but the keeping of backyard chickens continues to spread, and we believe it’s time for the City of Frederick to give serious and thoughtful consideration to changing to the ordinance.

It isn’t as if hundreds of people are going to run out and purchase chickens to be tossed into their backyard. As with anything, there is a right way and a wrong way. People who decide to have a few backyard chickens take the commitment seriously. They make an investment, of time, energy and money. They learn before they start, and from their experience.

coopblue280wAnd our group is willing to help, with residents and/or with the city to assist in a variety of ways, volunteering our services. For instance, working with neighbors who have applied for a permit, educating people about how to do this correctly, and so on.

Any change in the ordinance will certainly come with basic regulations, and perhaps lot size restrictions. We will be our own best enforcement.

Recent Issues

The final item to address is the very current news regarding strict regulations that the Maryland Department of Agriculture has imposed to address concerns over the recent spread of the avian flu. As discussed earlier this illness only affects birds, and has not yet been passed to humans. However, it has caused the death of tens of millions of various farm fowl. The MDA has imposed a policy to aid in the prevention of the spread of this disease to Maryland’s chicken farms. The following was taken directly from their website:

To do everything possible to mitigate the risk of HPAI from infecting Maryland poultry flocks, The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) will prohibit poultry exhibitions at all fairs and show after Aug. 25, 2015. MDA has also issued an order requiring all hatching eggs and poultry entering from out of state to be tested within 10 days or come from certified clean sources. This quarantine order will remain in effect until at least June 30, 2016.

Any questions, please call the MDA Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810.

There is no cause for panic regarding the change. What it will do is require everyone to look locally for their chicks and only use sources that are NPIP certified.

From the National Poultry Improvement Plan website.

The National Poultry Improvement Plan was established in the early 1930’s to provide a cooperative industry, state, and federal program through which new diagnostic technology can be effectively applied to the improvement of poultry and poultry products throughout the country. The development of the NPIP was initiated to eliminate Pullorum Disease caused by Salmonella pullorum which was rampant in poultry and could cause upwards of 80% mortality in baby poultry. The program was later extended and refined to include testing and monitoring for Salmonella typhoid, Salmonella enteritidis, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mycoplasma synoviae, Mycoplasma meleagridis, and Avian Influenza. In addition, the NPIP currently includes commercial poultry, turkeys, waterfowl, exhibition poultry, backyard poultry, and game birds. The technical and management provisions of the NPIP have been developed jointly by Industry members and State and Federal officials. These criteria have established standards for the evaluation of poultry with respect to freedom from NPIP diseases.

This group has been working to prevent and study the spread of avian disease. It will be easy to find NPIP certified hatcheries. The information will be made widely available, but can also be easily searched on the internet. We are currently seeking out all local NPIP farms in Maryland that sell chicks.

We will still be able to provide for our family while taking the continued pressure off of an already strained industry. The cost of eggs is rising, and the threat of disease between chickens is real. We can do something now to help put an end to this while providing quality eggs for our families and neighbors.

Please consider adding your name — especially if you live in the City of Frederick — to the hundreds of others who have already signed our petition to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.


Legalize backyard chickens in the city of Frederick, MD
Petition by John Dayton

signthepetition500w

To be delivered to Alderman of Frederick, MD and Mayor Randy McClement

“I support changing the city ordinance to allow residents of Frederick, MD to own up to 5 hens with no roosters, in an appropriately sized yard, while observing humane animal husbandry practices.”

To sign and/or share: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/legalize-backyard-chickens

Backyard Chickens for Frederick, MD on the web

Chicken Revolution Frederick, MD on Facebook

Chicken Revolution Brunswick, MD on Facebook

A selection of links to related resources and and local news items…

Frederick News-Post
Editorial
Backyard chickens debate returns (with puns)
Monday, July 20, 2015

Frederick News Post
Chicken revolution returns to Frederick
Friday, July 24, 2015

EXCERPT: We think the arguments against well-tended coops in large enough yards by responsible chicken owners are scrambled. Raising hens, like any pet, requires commitment and dedication, probably more so even than a cat or dog, given the specialized housing and other necessities chickens require. Even small flocks can be costly. Those tough-shelled few up to the challenge should be given the opportunity to prove what they claim — that backyard coops can be adapted to urban environments with little or no impact.

Last year, Frederick’s sustainability manager, Jenny Willoughby, proposed a pilot backyard flock program. It was a worthwhile idea then, and still is. Allow a handful of residents who have the appropriately sized space and coops to apply as test cases. Revisit after six months. Cancel if the pilot isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Local officials don’t have to go far to ask other jurisdictions their opinions.

The town of Emmitsburg decided in July 2013 to allow backyard chickens. The city of Annapolis made the change in 2012. Howard County started allowing residents with larger backyards to have chickens last year. In Frederick County, New Market, Thurmont and Walkersville allow backyard flocks.

More and more towns and cities across the nation are recognizing the value of fresh, locally grown food and adopting regulations that allow backyard flocks, so it’s only a matter of time for Frederick County.

Then this whole debate could be over, easy.

Frederick News Post
Five questions with Brunswick chicken owner Amy Tuthill
Monday, April 27, 2015

Frederick News Post
Editorial
Backyard chickens ruffle feathers at Frederick hearing
Friday, June 27, 2014

Frederick News Post
As petition grows, some fly in face of chicken rules
Saturday, June 21, 2014

WHAG (Your4State.com)
Brunswick Couple Works to Change City Ordinance Against Backyard Chickens
April 24, 2015

BACKYARD CHICKENS
On the site: Over 2,500 Chicken Coops!
View thousands of great chicken coops from small tractors to huge chicken estates… and everything in between.

Backyard chickens in Montgomery County
On that site: Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

Mother Earth News VIDEO
Backyard Chickens 101
QUOTE: Whether you’re raising chickens in your backyard or running a larger scale operation, GRIT Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Hank Will, explains the basics of what you should know to succesfully raise backyard chickens from brooder to coop. Backyard chickens not only provide your family with fresh meat and eggs, but they can help reduce the number of common pests around the farm.

Inhabitat
10 free coop designs for keeping backyard chickens in style
by Catherine Winter-Hebert
April 12, 2015

The Backyard Chickens

keep_hens_raise_chickens