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In the defense of the back yard flock…

In our little RURAL town of Wingate, Indiana, population 267, surrounded by farms and farm land on all sides for 10 miles in any direction, of all things chickens are not allowed. We can have goats, pigs, horses, cows, llamas, alpaca, sheep, alligators, opossums, camels, and any number of other animals without limit, but not “poultry, weasels, chinchillas, ermine, mink, raccoons, muskrats or foxes”. Seems a bit odd grouping, but upon getting notice we were not allowed to have them, we went to the next town council to investigate why, and offered to help change the ordinances, as we had been part of the Marion Co ordinance revisions. The ordinances have been in place as long as anyone can remember. It took over 60 days, involvement of outside legal bodies just to get a copy of the section, of the ordinances, and still do not have a full copy with approvals and effective dates of the ordinances (originally requested in March).

So, due to our “discussions” with our local town council and the town ordinance stating we cannot have chickens, we have found it necessary to address the issues of keeping back yard chickens. Some of the points have been brought up, and we have already addressed them. As of now, the only argument that hasn’t been addressed is “We just don’t like to look at them”, to which we aren’t quite sure how to address. We are NOT a CAFO (confined animal feed operation) and have around 16 birds on 0.3 acres which is fenced in to keep birds in and larger predators out.  The birds have a coop which they stay in at night and are closed up until released in the morning. The birds free range most of the day. The birds are here to  help our organic orchard and vegetable garden stay pest free, reduce our kitchen waste, produce eggs, and are family pets.  If you are facing similar push back from friends, neighbors, relative, or government bodies, hopefully some of this information may help.

Noise

Typically the first complaint about chickens is the noise, and usually the rooster. You do not need to have a rooster to have a back yard flock. We do not have a rooster and haven’t had one for many years. I actually like the sound of a rooster, as it seems to belong on a farm, and a farm without a rooster is somewhat missing. Chickens (hens) will lay eggs without a rooster, but do gain a level of protection if a rooster is present. Roosters crow between 70 and 90 decibel. This is the range of a dog barking, baby crying, a diesel truck, driving in a car at 65mph, alarm clock, or the level what most people listen to music. The level is also dependant on humidity, proximity, and materials between the rooster and the listener. Example a privacy fence would significantly reduce the sound level compared to open area across pavement. As a comparison, human conversation is 60-70 decibel.

Laying hens do “talk” or cluck, and typically are loudest just after they lay an egg. The typical hen is only 65 decibel which is right in the middle of human conversation.  Most back yard flock owners have the nesting boxes, where the hens lay eggs, inside the coop. This is an additional level of sound barrier. Again, the sound will decrease with barriers, humidity, type of terrain (grass vs. concrete) and distance. The laying announcement lasts less than one minute and is only once per day, per chicken.

In our area, dogs  trucks, diesel semi trucks, farm machinery, J brakes on trucks, sirens from emergency vehicles, lawn mowers, grain elevators and dryers, alarms and notifications from grain elevators, motorcycles, school band instruments, and tractors are ALL noisier than our hens just to name a few for comparison.

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Disease

When opponents of back yard flock state the reasons, often it is disease. The two most often cited are bird flu or avian flu, and salmonella. Bird flu has recently been brought back up in the news as a series of cases that have been found. Typically around 90% of all avian flu cases have been documented in CAFO operations and not the back yard flocks. The CAFO operations typically have lower immunities to the disease, are stressed, have poor diets, and are extremely densely stocked. Back yard flocks, especially free range operations have the benefit of wide and varied diets. The birds get fresh air, are allowed to develop natural immunities, are less densely stocked and have the benefit of less stress. Stress in both humans and animals have been linked to an increase in illnesses and diseases. The cases that have come up in back yard flocks, is a result of someone recently traveled from a CAFO or farm and bringing the illness with them on shoes or clothing.

Salmonella is more a food handling issue vs. a bird issue. Humans cannot contract salmonella from chickens by contact, it is a food borne illness.  The birds may have and carry salmonella but it is only by improper food handling or hand washing that humans contract the illness. The birds are not affected by it. So if someone is getting salmonella from being around chickens, eating the eggs, it is typically the humans fault. More and more cases of drug resistant strains are being found in CAFO operations due to the overuse of antibiotics when they are not necessary. In the 6 years we have been keeping hens, no-one in our family, or anyone receiving eggs from us, has gotten ill from salmonella. This is including children who as early as two years old are handling birds, eggs, and are in the area where the chickens live regularly.

To put things in perspective here are just a few of the diseases that are spread by human to human contact; influenza, common cold, HIV, AIDS, Meningitis, chickenpox (NOT CAUSED BY CHICKENS), mumps, measles, strep, tuberculosis, rubella, whooping cough, SARS, Cholera, Hepatitis, Polio, Rotavirus, Salmonella, Parasites, Chlamydia, Genital  warts, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, trichomoniasis, cytomegalovirus, mononucleosis, athletes foot, impetigo, warts, conjunctivitis, and MRSA. So to call a chicken a dirty animal spreading diseases well, it is the humans who are spreading diseases.

Pests

Recently we were told that chickens carry lice. This is not the case. Chickens can contract mites which are parasitic bugs that can live on the birds. Birds will typically rid the mites by giving themselves dust baths. We go an additional step and give them wood ash containers for their baths, and add diatomaceous earth. The wood ash is caustic and in the even the birds pick up mites, the caustic nature of the ash helps eliminate and keep the mites from returning. We add additional diatomaceous earth as an added plus. Typically birds that have an infestation of mites will lose feathers and can eventually cause death in the birds. The mites themselves do not cause the death but stress the birds to the point they become more susceptible to other diseases such as pneumonia. Humans typically carry TWO different types of mites typically living on eyelashes. Domesticated dogs also carry mites. Humans are the species that typically have lice, both body and head lice are common.

Chickens bring flies. Well chickens to not, bring the flies, the flies are a natural part of the waste cycle breaking down manure. Any animal that defecates in open area without burying it will attract flies. Dogs, horses, cats, rodents, even humans that have open fecal piles will attract flies. Good housekeeping or coop keeping will reduce the amount of flies present. Having deep litter in the coops, having the birds free range, and composting the deep litter regularly will not only keep the smell down but reduce the fly issues. There are also fly traps that can lower or eliminate any fly issues.

Chickens will attract predators, pests, and rodents. This again goes to good animal husbandry. We have a family dog who doesn’t bother the chickens and deters many predators from the property. Locking the chickens up at night in a predator proof coop also helps. In urban areas there are not as many predators as there are in the country just because of the amount of activity and people around. Most predators hunt at dusk or at night, and having a secure coop eliminates many of the issues.  As far as rodents chickens will kill and eat mice, snakes, and generally anything they can catch and take down. In addition they will eat ticks, fleas, grubs, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, sting bugs, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and ants. Proper animal husbandry will further reduce any pest issues such as keeping feed secured in sealed containers, not having excess feed on the ground, and regular cleaning and maintenance of the coop.

Smell, Dirty

This goes back to animal husbandry. If you are keeping a clean coop then there should be no smell from birds. A 40 lb dog generates more manure (about ¾ pound) than ten chickens (two-thirds pounds of manure). Both are smelly, but the key is to keep the chicken manure from accumulating by composting. Composted chicken manure is valuable as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Dog manure cannot be composted, and must be collected and sent to the landfill. So, 10 chickens produce manure that can be composted, returned to the soil for better plant health, while one 40 lb dog, the manure collected, and sent to a landfill. Which is the better situation?

Chickens are excellent garbage disposals. They will eat 95% of wastes generated from the family kitchen. Typically you are not to put meat, dairy, or fats into compost piles because they are slow to break down, smell as they decompose, and attract scavengers from bugs to animals. Chickens on the other hand will devour these materials like candy and in return give you eggs, meat, and fertilizer. We can reduce almost a whole bag of trash each month by allowing the chickens to have kitchen scraps and waste. This is a benefit to the landfill, and our trash doesn’t typically smell. To date, we have found 2 things our chickens won’t eat, olives and pickles, and this is over a 6 year period and a family of 6.

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Property values will decrease

Three is no assessor or realtor evidence to support this statement. In fact 7 out of 10 most desirable cities to live in allow back yard chickens. More and more communities are allowing chickens and as such is an attractant to new home buyers vs. a deterrent. Restrictive communities will lower property values more so than accepting ones. More and more people either want more control over the food they eat, are unhappy with the food in stores, want to reduce the grocery bill, or just want to be more self sufficient. The trend is on the rise and the communities who limit the freedoms of the people are turning more and more potential buyers away.

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Hopefully this answered some questions and alleviated some issues. Perhaps it will help you on your crusade to get back yard chickens into your area. The data in this article has been gathered from various sources from online, written publications, and personal experience.