Chicken FAQs

Some common frequently asked questions about the chicken ordinance.

Why do people want chickens in town?

Chicken keepers want to keep chickens for any combination of the following reasons:

  • Be more self sufficient by providing more of their own food, similar to having a large garden.

  • Know where their food comes from and how it was produced, important to many in an industrialized and globalized food production system.

  • Benefit their children, i.e. help them understand food is made outside a grocery store, provide a 4H project, or task them with contributing to the household through egg collection.

  • Lower their carbon footprint.

  • Enjoy a heritage hobby.

Aren’t chickens smelly and dirty?

Actually, no. Chickens that are properly cared for do not present a smell or sanitation problem according to James Hermes, Associate Professor and Extension Poultry Specialist from Oregon State University (1).

Yes, we know that large numbers of chickens (many more than six) or chickens that are not cared for can be smelly. Dogs and cats can be smelly and dirty too if they are not properly cared for. Let’s face it, so can people.

To be blunt owning chickens means you have to clean up the chicken poop. Regularly. And thoroughly.

As a group, we support current nuisance and sanitation ordinances and insist that chicken owners be responsible about maintaining the cleanliness of their coops. Yeah, we seem a little judgmental about slacker chicken keepers but there’s a reason. Nobody benefits when chickens aren’t cared for; not the neighbors, not the chickens and not even the owners since eventually the chickens will get sick and a sick chicken is not a good egg-layer.

Chickens are loud! Have you ever heard a rooster crow at 4 AM?

Yes! And that’s why we don’t want roosters in town either. Nor do we want turkeys, guinea hens, peacocks, ducks, or other exotic fowl. This ordinance would permit only the females of Gallus gallus domesticus, the common domestic hen. Hens are very quiet, comparable to pigeons.

If people want chickens, fine; let them move out into the country. Why should we allow chickens in Pierre?

Leaving aside the questions of access to land and housing outside of Pierre and why would our city want to discourage people from buying in town, the main reason is to make Pierre an attractive place to live, especially for young people.

A recent report by the USDA showed that chicken keeping is strongly supported by young people, a desirable workforce and community demographic (2). A chicken ordinance is a low cost way to signal that Pierre is a forward thinking community with a sustainability ethic.

Cities such as Sioux Falls, Hot Springs, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Omaha, Grand Island, Denver, Colorado Springs, Cheyenne, Rawlins WY, Missoula, Bozeman, Fargo, Madison,  New York City and Los Angeles plus many, many more all have chicken ordinances.  Urban chicken ordinances are pretty mainstream.

People who want chickens in town want an urban chicken experience. They aren’t looking for the flock of 40 chickens that your grandmother had.

Allowing people to undertake reasonable hobbies on their own property is an essential right. A properly crafted ordinance allows people to exercise their private property rights while respecting the comfort and well being of their neighbors. We can figure this out.

How much to enforce this ordinance? It sounds time consuming and expensive.  

We don’t have a crystal ball but the data indicate chicken ordinance enforcement won’t be a burden.  Using our best numbers, we anticipate somewhere between zero and thirty one enforcement calls a year.

Allow us a few moments of math to explain ourselves.

There were about 1000 calls to animal control in 2013 related to household pets. With an estimated 3,860 pet owning households, that works out to about 26% or a little more than one call for every four pet owning households.

Using numbers from the USDA study of urban chicken ownership (2), we anticipate 2% of households in Pierre will have chickens. Using the same ratio of enforcement calls to pet owning households, that pencils out to thirty one calls per year.

We expect thirty one to be at the higher end of the range since surveys of cities with existing chicken ordinances have many fewer calls despite higher populations (1, 3).

What makes you think an urban chicken ordinance will be enforced? We have problems with our neighbors dogs.

Chickens are not dogs and dogs are not chickens. We are very specifically stating that chicken coops must not create a public nuisance. If you look into the public nuisance and animal ordinances, there is no such specific language about dogs, making it much harder to enforce.

I’ve seen urban coops and don’t want one in my neighborhood.

This is an issue of private property rights. Your neighbor has a right within reason to do what he wants on his property. We are putting a lot of conditions in place to help ensure that people who get chickens are ready and able to care for them responsibly so you get to protect your rights as well.

Are there any iron clad guarantees? No, of course not. Honestly, the only way to eliminate any risk that your neighbors won’t do something that will bother you is to move out into the country where you won’t have any.

Don’t chickens cause disease in humans?

When we first undertook this effort, we emailed SD state epidemiologist in 2013, Dr Lon Kightlinger, with this question. And he very graciously answered us.  I am quoting his response here:

Yes, Salmonella in chicken feces is the main heath concern associated with chickens.

Although avian influenza is a concern, I don’t believe backyard flocks of 6 hens are comparable to the avian flu problems in the much larger flocks in China.

A few years Newcastles disease was a huge problem in backyard flocks in California and other states, but Newcastles causes only rare disease in humans, unfortunately among people who are immunosuppressed.

Besides handwashing, you must insist on scrupulous disposal of chicken feces. The CDC has a  webpage on farm animal ailments that can be transmitted to humans http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/animals/farm_animals.htm

We reached out to him again in May 2015 asking him if the recent bout of avian flu presented any additional concerns. He affirmed his original advice.

With this in mind, we strongly, like REALLY strongly, support hand washing, good hygiene practices and manure management. Quite frankly, we believe if you have very young children or an immunosuppressed person in your house, you need to think two and three times about whether this is the right time for you to have chickens since you must be vigilant about hygiene.

How about avian flu? Isn’t there a risk there?

Avian flu worries us too, so we contacted state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven. He confirmed that no avian flu was found in backyard flocks within the control zone around infected flocks in South Dakota. He advised us that we should follow state animal health regulations which we are happy to do. He had no additional input or direction for a backyard chicken ordinance.

The flocks most at risk are commercial scale flocks.

How many people do you think will actually get chickens?

As mentioned above, the USDA study (2) shows that less than 2% of the households in their study had chickens. We anticipate similar rates for Pierre which would mean less than 120 households.

That’s not many households so if you are lucky enough to know someone who will keep chickens, make sure you get on their “why yes, I’ll take any extra eggs” list.

Sounds like a trend to me. In six months people will be tired of their chickens and then what?  

If people wish to surrender the chickens to GOAL, we have identified two out of town farms that will take the chickens. Re-homing a chicken is a lot easier than re-homing a dog or cat.  We have also made arrangements, if rehoming is not possible, to have the chickens butchered and the meat donated to the food pantry.

In order to forestall spur of the moment purchases, we have made the permitting process intentionally deliberate. This will act as a reality “speedbump” and hopefully will discourage some of the “oh-they-are-so-cute!” acquisitions.

What if my dog gets out and gets into my neighbors’ chickens? Am I responsible for my dog acting on instinct?

We think it’s foolish not to keep chickens protected in a coop or run. Despite everyone’s best intentions, animals will be animals. We will do our best to educate aspiring chicken owners about the importance of properly penning their chickens, especially as the chicken owner will have to prove the specific dog responsible if there is an incident.

That said, existing animal control ordinances require that pets remain on the owner’s property or be under leash or voice control when off. So yes, a dog owner will be responsible for any damages his dog causes off property once it’s proven his dog is responsible.

Incidentally, chickens have to stay on their own property too. And the chickens will have to be controlled if they are off property though we think a carrier will work better (and be safer than) a leash.

What’s next? Backyard cows? Urban goats?

Heavens, no. When you look at chickens from an animal unit perspective (1 animal unit =1000 lbs of animal), it takes about 250 four pound chickens to equal a smaller cow and more than 30 chickens to equal one goat (4).

A backyard can comfortably support six chickens which would equal about two hundredths of a cow.  What is that… a hock, maybe?

Won’t chickens attract predators into town?

First, let’s clarify that there are already wild predators within the city limits of Pierre. Raccoon and mink live near the riparian areas along Capital Creek and the River. Coyotes can sometimes be heard on La Framboise or way back up behind Hilger’s Gulch. Hawks, owls and even eagles are common. Yet, we do not see these predators become more active in town despite the rabbits which are just as tasty as chickens. Nor do the thousands of geese in town every year call out predators.

There is no data or even anecdotal evidence to show that these animals become more numerous, aggressive or visible once a chicken ordinance is in place.

An informal survey of people out of town who keep backyard chickens is that the most common predator are neighborhood dogs.

Speaking of penning, the ordinance does require chicken owners to keep a predator proof cage on the premises. Such a requirement protects the chickens not just from wild predators but dogs and cats as well.

References

1. A Case for Backyard Chickens in Salem.  2010.  http://www.chicken-revolution.com/Research_Packet_Sept_2010.pdf.  Last accessed June 21, 2013

2. Urban Chicken Ownership in Four U.S. Cities. April 2013. USDA. #661.0413 http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/poultry/downloads/poultry10/Poultry10_dr_Urban_Chicken_Four.pdf Last accessed June 21, 2013

3. Bartling, Hugh. A Chicken Ordinance Survey. 2010. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1NwyGgJs2GxpQMBxtYy-WE-_nH-efoE_ZuhuoRKo7lwlQDZyzRL73J0s8fcLC/edit?usp=sharing Last accessed Dec 4, 2013

4. How to Manage Manure. University of Rhode Island Extension.
http://www.uri.edu/ce/healthylandscapes/livestock/how_manure_overall.htm. Last accessed June 21, 2013