Ever since I finished my last college degree and bought my first house where I could finally raise a substantial garden I have been very interested in learning how to live closer to the land and live a more sustainable lifestyle. While I was growing up we always lived in town. However, I have known a few folks over the years that raised chickens and have now come to the point where I realize I would really like to experience doing so myself even though I presently live in a town again. There are many reasons why I am wholeheartedly in favor of allowing residents to maintain a small flock of hens if they choose to do so. The primary reason, however, is that I am an ardent believer in local foods. I participate in the local farmer’s markets, am a member of Let’s Move Committee here in Pierre, and do all the food preparation for the Harvest of Month program at Washington Elementary. I am deeply concerned about the plethora of huge factory farms and industrialized processing plants that pervade our food supply system. I am even more concerned about food safety now that there are reports about the USDA getting ready to approve the processing of American chickens in China for shipment back to America, just as is currently done in parts of the US seafood market. As an avid gardener I absolutely love being able to fill my pantry with my own fruits, vegetables, and nuts. I would very much like the opportunity to add homegrown eggs and chickens to that list.
If we are really advocates for reducing childhood obesity, being a healthier community, and wanting our kids and families to eat more nutritious foods (whether that be in the school lunch programs or at home), it seems that the logical place to start is to engage and educate citizens about the food supply that they depend on three times a day. Recently one of my son’s friends was at our house for a sleepover. I cooked up some chicken breasts for supper, but when I served it I got a strange look from my son’s friend. He asked what it was, and when I said chicken he replied that he had “never had chicken like this before” and literally didn’t know how to eat it. Upon some further questioning it was clear that the only “chicken” he seemed to know was chicken nuggets and chicken strips from fast-food places and school lunches. I am not criticizing him by any means, as he’s a fantastic kid. I merely think it poignant to note that this simply was his life’s experience up to that point. While helping with the Harvest of the Month program it is clear that there are obviously a number of kids that come from a farming or ranching household or from a household that is quite health conscious. However, it is also clear that there is a growing segment of society that is very disconnected from their food supply. I think it is time to change the mentality that food just comes from McDonald’s, Burger King, or frozen bags and shrink-wrapped boxes that you get at Walmart.
So are there concerns with allowing urban chickens? Certainly. The most common concerns (which I happen to also share) are typically:
(1) Chickens can be noisy.
(2) Chickens can be smelly.
(3) Chickens can carry disease.
All of these concerns however are addressed in proposed ordinance for urban hens:
(1) Yes, roosters can be noisy. That’s why only hens would be allowed in town.
(2) Properly kept coops do not get smelly. For owners that do not properly maintain their coops, the proposed ordinance allows their coops and birds to be declared a nuisance as already defined by existing city ordinance, and the mechanism for abatement of the nuisance is clearly spelled out.
(3) Properly kept coops and hens are not a disease threat. Again, for any owners that are not maintaining the health of their animals, the proposed ordinance allows those animals to be declared a nuisance, and the aforementioned abatement mechanisms can be applied.
Every year the city of Pierre welcomes the arrival of thousands of wild geese and ducks into town. People put out corn cobs for them and take their families down to Capitol Lake to feed the birds. Let’s face it, those birds make far more ruckus then a couple of backyard hens would. But do we ban their presence because they are noisy? Yards and sidewalks get covered in bird droppings yet the townsfolk aren’t calling for a prohibition of these birds. Year after year they fill the city but I can’t ever recall a disease outbreak or quarantine or the government coming in and culling all the birds because they posed a health hazard. Indeed, in a city that gets inundated with thousands of unkempt waterfowl that roam freely (and for which there seems to be no concern) I have to believe that our community has the capacity to manage the presence of a few hens with this common sense ordinance.