Chicken opposition often cites the following concerns:
Should suburban Montgomery County be exclusively the domain of manicured lawns, dogs and cats? Is the rustic atmosphere of urban farming appropriate? Should the clucking of happy hens be heard amindst the barking of dogs and meowing of cats?
The suburban ideal is a dynamic concept. Once dogs and cats were seen as strictly working farm animals. This perception has changed. Dogs and cats are now viewed as companion household pets. Likewise, unfashionable food‐producing animals were widely banned from suburban areas in the mid 20th century. But today, those decades-old rules now seem counterproductive to a balanced, sustainable life.
Moreover, as Americans, we have basic property rights, and we should be allowed to enjoy our own property with backyard hens — which objectively are less bothersome to neighbors than other common pets.
There is no nuisance problem. Many Montgomery County residents currently raise chickens. Montgomery County Deputy Director of Animal Services, Paul Hibler, says “Our Division responds to thousands of complaints per year with only about a dozen of so concerning chickens.” We are not talking about major livestock: no half‐ton bulls, no 400 pound hogs.
All pets poop. Chickens make less poop, and like other birds (e.g., parrots), it barely smells because they have a vegetarian diet.
By way of comparison, an average dog will produce around a pound of poop in a day, whereas a flock of four hens will only produce less than half that, about 1.5 ounces of waste per hen. Four chickens produce less waste than a medium house cat, too.
Like any pet, a coop needs to be cleaned, but much less often than a litter box or dog kennel — e.g., a wood shavings on the floor of a coop can be cleaned out every few weeks. Chickens produce very little solid waste, and what is produced can be composted to make great fertilizer.
Some people know the stench of a chicken plant in the summer. But there is a huge difference between a small backyard flock in well maintained coop vs. tens of thousands of birds stacked in cages with less than space than a piece of paper per animal.
Chickens, just like any other bird, spend up many hours a day grooming and taking dirt baths if they are not stuffed in a tiny cage getting pooped on by all the birds in the cages stacked above them. Chickens themselves have a pleasant smell. Any odor would come from their droppings, but 3 to 5 hens generate less manure than one medium sized dog.
Predators & vermin
Coops are designed to be predator-proof. Hens are safe from night predators (e.g., racoons, fox) and birds of prey (e.g., eagles, owls) in a secure coop and covered chicken run. Chicken feed should be secured (e.g., in metal bins, or in your house) just like any bird seed, pet food or garbage pails. Chicken food is no different from any other pet food in that respect. Chickens enthusiastically eat all kinds of insects, small mice and moles, small snakes, and the like.
The predators of chickens are the same as those of the wild rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, small birds, and other local wild prey animals already present in our community. Chickens do not themselves attract predators to our community.
Hens are quiet birds. They are quieter (~ 70 decibels) than barking dogs (90-100 decibels). It is only roosters that are known for loud morning crowing, and roosters are not necessary for the production of eggs. Hens often make this sound when they lay an egg:
You can’t tell from the video, but a hen’s song is much quieter than a barking dog or a crowing rooster, and it lasts only a minute (the rest of the day, they just cluck). Roosters crow loudly — that’s why they’re rightfully banned in most residential areas.
Lot size doesn’t matter. Chickens require very little space. Shelter for four or five hens does not require anymore space than that represented by many kitchen tables, and an modest outdoor run is sufficient to keep them happy and healthy. Households all over the country are keeping chickens on city and suburban lots.
Question: We have a small flock of chickens. Is it safe to keep them?
Answer: Yes. In the United States there is no need at present to remove a flock of chickens because of concerns regarding avian influenza. The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors potential infection of poultry and poultry products by avian influenza viruses and other infectious disease agents.
Source: CDC Q&A About the Bird Flu
Will they breed disease? No. There’s no problem with avian flu in Maryland. It’s not a threat, and Avian Influenza Testing is NOT required for Maryland Poultry for exhibition in Maryland.
Factory farms are the problem, not backyard flocks
Salmonella is an ongoing problem in the U.S, with approx 42,000 cases reported each year. Most people recover without treatment. That vast majority of cases are caused by food poisoning. Also, since the 1990’s, 45 outbreaks have been linked to live poultry. NONE of those are backyard flocks. Salmonella is far more of a danger with factory farmed birds. The data shows that “when it comes to bird flu, diverse small-scale poultry farming is the solution, not the problem”, and that “the key to protecting backyard poultry and people from bird flu is to protect them from industrial poultry and poultry products.”
Maryland has clear guidelines for backyard poultry, for backyard poultry owners to select healthy birds, register flocks with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, clean hands, booths and clothes to prevent disease, quarantine any new or sick birds, test poetry, and report sick birds to MDA Animal Health. We have clean, effective systems in Maryland, and chicken diseases in Maryland are rare.
Humans do not catch salmonella from chicks or chickens the way you would catch a cold from your neighbor. Salmonella is food poisoning; you get it from eating infected meat or eggs. All bird owners should take reasonable steps to wash hands, as recommended by the CDC, just as after handling any pet waste — or raw meat or fish!
Although there are thousands of chicken flocks in Maryland, and many in Montgomery County, there is not a problem with chicken illnesses. Check out the archives of the Maryland One Health Bulletins. In 2012, one nonfatal case of Salmonella infection was associated with exposure to live chicks or ducklings in a Maryland resident. That Maryland patient was part of a nationwide outbreak involving 123 human salmonellosis cases in 25 states caused by sick birds from an Ohio hatchery. Read more about the case at the CDC.
What happens if owners are ignorant, or they decide they don’t want the chickens any more? We don’t live in a nanny state. Citizens are free to buy all kinds of pets, and laws against animal cruelty, animal neglect, animal abuse, and so on that apply to all pets. Responsible people give their pets proper care and provide them with a clean environment.
What do you think?
Do you think reasonable backyard chickens should be legal in Montgomery County? Get in touch with our county council to let them know! It just takes a few minutes, and you can make a difference in the feel of our community for decades to come.