City Councils Squawk About Traditional Practice
Picture having fresh, tasty eggs every morning and a friendly, funny chicken to deliver them. These days, you’d be the envy of your neighbors.
At least, some of them. Not everyone is happy about the latest national movement: backyard chickens.
THE POLITICS OF BACKYARD CHICKENS
For most of human history, people have kept backyard chickens as pets, for food and as a source of income. Many city councils, such as Chesapeake, Virginia are legalizing urban chickens again. Unfortunately, Virginia Beach, Virginia, is not yet among them.
Lisa Dearden, a Richmond, Virginia backyard chicken activist said, “Backyard chickens are an election issue.” She also said that city councils are being voted out across the nation for their continued refusal to allow urban chickens.
Tracy Okroy, a hairstylist in Virginia Beach started raising backyard chickens in 2011. She loved chickens and their eggs, and got some from a client. At that point, quite a number of Virginia Beach residents had joined the nationwide trend of having backyard chickens.
Nevertheless, someone filed an anonymous complaint against Okroy in early 2012. Code Enforcement for the City of Virginia Beach said she must stop keeping chickens in a residentially zoned area. Okroy soon became known across Hampton Roads, Virginia as the “Virginia Beach Chicken Outlaw.”
NO REASON FOR COMPLAINT
When this writer visited Ms. Okroy’s home, there was very little smell from her well-kept chicken coop. Tracy explained that the chicken waste does not smell as long as you keep the coop clean. In addition, the chickens are quiet. Like most backyard chicken enthusiasts, Okroy does not keep roosters.
Andy Schneider of Georgia is the author of The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Raising Chickens. He speaks across the nation and on his radio show “The Chicken Whisperer” in support of backyard chickens.
Sometimes people object to backyard chickens because they are said to be “noisy and messy.” When asked about this, Schneider said, “First, I ask them how they know that chickens are noisy and messy? Many who claim that chickens are noisy and messy have never even kept chickens!”
AN AMERICAN TRADITION
Up until the 1950s and 1960s, many Americans kept backyard chickens. As mass production of poultry increased, backyard chicken ownership fell into decline.
In recent years, even celebrities like Martha Stewart and Tori Spelling have made owning chickens fashionable again. With increasing awareness of genetically modified food, arsenic in chicken feed, and cruelty to poultry, many Americans are returning to the tradition of backyard chickens.
Not only that, chicken waste makes great fertilizer. Some people raise backyard chickens for that reason alone.
Although it can be expensive to own backyard chickens, the superior nutritional value of home-raised chicken eggs makes it worthwhile. You can taste the difference between factoryraised eggs and those from your own chickens.
People want to know what’s in their food. And they want to make sure that it contains no antibiotics, growth hormones, or pesticides. The best way to do that is to grow it yourself.
Besides, chickens are fun and hilarious pets. They are a great way to teach children about where food comes from and about responsibility in caring for animals.
WHAT TO CONSIDER
If you want to keep backyard chickens, check with your local city and county ordinances. The City of Virginia Beach prosecuted Tracy Okroy under zoning and criminal violations in 2012 and 2013. If someone reports you to the authorities, that could happen to you.
There are other factors to consider when keeping backyard chickens. You will need to clean the chicken coop often. It will take many months of feeding baby chicks before they can produce eggs.
Hens can only produce eggs for two to three years. In the past, people simply slaughtered the chickens that no longer laid eggs. Nowadays, people are reluctant to slaughter a pet and eat it.
What about roosters? Most urban homesteaders don’t keep them to avoid annoying the neighbors.
That in itself creates problems because nature provides us with equal numbers of male and female chicks. Determining the sex of the chick can be a challenge until they are four months old.
Chickens are social creatures and must live with other chickens for companionship. Therefore, do not buy only one chick.
In addition, chickens are vulnerable to predators. Keeping them in coops will protect them.
Chickens are also vulnerable to infections that can wipe out entire flocks. For that reason, new chicks must be quarantined from the rest of the flock until they are shown to be disease-free. Fortunately, we do not have avian flu in the USA and therefore there is no fear of getting it.
In addition to providing companionship, eggs, meat, and fertilizer, chickens are a natural form of tick control. Billy Joel and Christy Brinkley commissioned a study on chickens to see whether they could control the ticks that spread Lyme disease. Indeed they could, the study found.
When caught early, Lyme disease is easily treated. Sadly, once it becomes chronic, Lyme disease can cause death, insanity, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, and paralysis. Chronic Lyme disease is very difficult to treat and does not always respond even to intravenous antibiotic treatment.
The Virginia Department of Health has pointed out on its website that prevention is the best method of treating disease. The VDH sent a letter to all Virginia physicians telling them that Lyme Disease is now “endemic” in Virginia. The other advantage of having backyard chickens is the reduced chance of spreading salmonella through small flocks. Since the pens are easier to keep clean than the huge henhouses in commercial operations, there is less chance of spreading disease or having it turn up in your eggs.
Lisa Dearden also said, “The economy has contributed to the backyard chicken movement. I think there have been other things influencing the movement, too. The movies Food, Inc., and FRESH have exposed the industrial food system to the masses, and people were horrified to find out that commercial poultry is so inhumanely raised. So, many have started with raising chickens for a cleaner, healthier source of eggs, and in some cases meat.”
IN THE COURTS
This past spring, the Rutherford Institute filed a zoning appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court on behalf of Tracy Okroy. The Supreme Court refused to hear it.
On May 16, 2013, the City of Virginia Beach prosecuted Tracy Okroy in criminal court. Fortunately, her attorney, Gary Byler, got the case dismissed. When interviewed on local TV, Byler said “The City of Virginia Beach has a history of overreacting in these matters.”
John Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute said: “Burdensome rules, regulations and inspection requirement―many of which are indecipherable except to lawyers and bureaucrats―now impede the ability of health-conscious individuals and small farmers to raise and produce their own food free of corporate contaminants. This case speaks to a growing problem in America today, namely, the over-criminalization and over-regulation of a process that once was at the heart of America’s self-sufficiency―the ability to cultivate one’s own food, locally and sustainably.”
Virginia Beach City Councilman Bill DeSteph said that the City of Virginia Beach is inviting public comment on backyard chickens in an online poll at www.vbgov.com. After the study period and discussion, legislation will be proposed. But it could take years to legalize backyard chickens, Lisa Dearden said.
When asked whether city councils are changing their minds about keeping chickens, Schneider said, “Yes, without a doubt. Cities all across the country are changing their laws to allow backyard poultry. When approached with the idea, more cities seem to approve them than ban them.”
For more information:
http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+coh+3.2-6024+700176 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backyard_chickens http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/10/15/arsenic-rice-lawsuit?cmpidfoodinc-fb?=tp-ptnr-deliciouslyorganic http://www.marthastewart.com/264882/marthas-chickens http://hencam.com/henblog/2011/04/house-chickens/
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2013.