Following are some concerns we have heard expressed about the concept of urban chickens, in any town.
Q – Chickens and chicken feed attract mice, which could lead to health problems such as Hanta Virus, right?
A – We recommend chicken feed being kept in hanging feeders in the pen, and in rodent-proof containers before being given to the chickens. The exact same care that should be given to dog and cat food as well as wild bird seed. If the handful of chicken scratch tossed to the floor of a chicken coop attracts mice, it should be reassuring to know that chickens don’t tolerate mice and will even eat them if they get a chance (with relish - check out YouTube-”Chickens eating mice”). Chicken scratch is roughly similar to the less expensive brands of wild bird feed that many people feed in their backyards, so if they aren’t having a problem with mice from birds flinging seed all over their grass in their efforts to find the tastiest bite, they should have no problems with the much smaller volume of chicken scratch being happily pecked by their hens.
Q – Will chickens draw flies?
A – Chickens EAT flies, wasps, bees, beetles, slugs, worms, grubs, bugs, moths, ticks, grasshoppers, crickets, and mosquitos… on the wing or however they can get them. As we are advocating RESPONSIBLE chicken keeping, which involves the regular (once weekly) cleaning of your backyard chicken coop – which is frankly less work than using the pooper-scooper to clean up after a single dog in a week – this should not be a problem. And you can put your chicken materials into a compost container or give them to a gardening friend to be composted, although the same cannot be said for that of a cat or dog.
Q – Will chickens draw other predators, like skunks and raccoons?
A – Do your cats and small dogs draw other predators? To some degree they may. This is, after all, Montana. Human household garbage, pet food left out in a bowl, bird feeders, gardens, fish ponds can all attract predators. However, a predator-proof coop is also a requirement of the code being requested. And remember, chickens will eat mice, baby rats, and snakes… some of the other things that draw predators.
Q - How noisy are chickens?
A – The proper question is, “How noisy are hens?” as roosters are the noisy chicken, and roosters are prohibited under requested code. Hens make a quiet clucking noise for up to one minute after laying an egg, or sometimes might cluck in glee when they catch a grasshopper or big worm. The decibel level is at most approximately 50-60 decibels, approximately the same as a quiet human conversation. Comparatively, a barking dog is about 90 decibels, and dogs will bark at just about anything, all day or night… not just when they laid an egg.
Q – How stinky can chickens become?
A – A medium-sized 40 pound dog (think beagle) produces approximately as much waste as 15 hens in any one day (about 3/4 of one pound of feces). We are requesting a maximum of 6 hens. We are specifying that coops must be kept clean and healthy for the resident layers. The waste that hens do produce is entirely compostable, and is in fact one of the best fertilizers for lawn and garden post-compost that there is… check out the Garden Centers and Nurseries in town for poultry fertilizer for sale. It isn’t cheap!
Q – What about when the hen becomes too old to lay eggs? Don’t they only last about two years, and can’t they live 8 or 10?
A – There is a big difference between commercial battery hens and those raised in a backyard as a pet, with fresh air, exercise, grass, and good food without added hormones or medicines. They lay for more years. Their eggs taste better. Their eggs are MUCH healthier to eat. They live longer. They don’t get sick. They aren’t kept under constant lights in tiny cages and thus forced to lay eggs as close as possible to every single day of the year. The same arguments that can be applied to workers in third-world countries living and working unbelievable hours in squalor, can be applied to battery hens. Backyard hens are not that. Beyond the issue of how long they will lay, there is the fact that a hen raised in a backyard is often as much of a family pet as the dog. Owners often choose to keep their hens until nature claims them at a ripe old age… others “farm them out” to, well, farms… and the farmer does what farmers do with non-productive poultry. Aging hens are no more likely to be slaughtered by their owners than would be an aging dog… it’s not a farm mentality.
Q – Keeping chickens contained – can’t chickens fly? What’s to keep them in my yard?
A – A pair of scissors will clip the 10 leading wing feathers (feathers – no pain) of a hen, preventing her from leaving the ground as a young pullet. Once she is older, she will likely be too fat to fly anyway. Chickens are not something you see flying about in the wild; they weren’t designed that way. Trim her wings once a year or so and she should stay sufficiently grounded… but beyond that, again, we are requesting a COVERED chicken coop. Nothing in, nothing out… except the owner and the eggs.
Q – What about a neighbor turning their backyard into a mini-poultry-stockyard?
A – Limit of 6 hens. In a coop about the size of a child’s playhouse or a doghouse.
Q – What about property values?
A – Sustainable living and local foods are so important and even fashionable nowadays that some realtors and home sellers are offering free chicken coops with a lot purchase! See more about this at www.Greenwaynews.com - Done the way we are suggesting to the city (as other cities have implemented), urban hens actually increase property values in a town, rather than decrease it.
Q – Chicken eggs aren’t that expensive in the store. What’s the big deal about growing your own?
A – It’s more than just the cost of the eggs, although comparable eggs (organic, “free ranging” which involves a coop although it doesn’t sound like it, Omega 3, etc) are upwards of $5 a dozen and forecast to increase with the price of crude oil/transportation costs this year. Chickens actually save municipalities money, in that they are, as mentioned, omnivorous. Leftovers that will be tossed out? Veggie peels and remnants? Grass clippings, fallen leaves, garden waste? Hens will eat alot of it, and the rest can be composted with their manure – which keeps it out of city landfills! The town of Deist in Flanders, Belgium actually buys laying hens to give to willing residents. The hens’ involvement reduces – significantly – the tons of biomass going into town landfills.
Beyond that, raising backyard hens is about sustainability. You aren’t dependent on rivers not flooding and shutting down highways that bring your eggs to the supermarket. You aren’t hoping that the USDA didn’t somehow miss a half a billion eggs (as happened around a year ago) and thus put salmonella-infected eggs in stores. You aren’t driving your car to the grocery to get eggs when you run out… you’re stepping into your own backyard. You are feeding your own family one of the things that most families eat regularly. It is as simple, and as amazing, as that.
Q – Chickens can carry diseases and pests, can’t they? What about H5N1 avian flu?
A – Yes, just like a dog or a cat. Please see our post concerning these issues from “A Billings Veterinarian’s Perspective”, a local small-animal veterinarian. And please also keep in mind, many of the diseases and pests that chickens carry are actually DUE TO their being kept in crowded battery conditions, NOT in a healthy, sunny backyard. And to date, there have been no reported cases of H5N1 avian flu in the North American continent!
Q – Salmonella?
A – See our post from “A Billings Veterinarian’s Perspective”, as above. Salmonella-caused sickness is preventable, and the same reasonable practices that keep salmonella and other bacteria from invading your potato salad at a family picnic, or cross-contaminating a countertop after cutting up meat, will prevent your backyard eggs from infecting you or someone you feed. For that matter, things like changing or removing your shoes after coming inside also apply to furrier-pet (dogs/cats) owners, as those animals can harbor worm eggs which can contaminate your grass. The point is that reasonable steps are taken and the problems are contained.
Q – Aren’t chickens aggressive?
A – Roosters are aggressive (no roosters). Hens, on the other hand, in this environment are productive pets. They are not a predator like a dog or even a cat, they are a simple prey animal with three thoughts on their minds… finding something tiny and tasty… eating it… then laying an egg. They don’t bite, they don’t peck at people, they don’t scratch you, they don’t bark at visitors. They don’t bully your kids at school, sell drugs on street corners, cause you to slip on the ice, or result in flat tires. They’re a small, non-aggressive, quiet little bird who gives hours of pleasant enjoyment listening to little peeps and watching their antics, and about two days out of three most months of the year, lays an egg for you.