So, I’m not sure what the laws are in your neck of the woods, but here in the Friendly City of Harrisonburg, Virginia, there is a rather unfriendly law prohibiting anyone within the city limits in owning chickens unless they have two acres of land (ahem, like almost nobody!) and then they can have up to four chickens (hardly any). Councilman Shearer was nice enough to share some news articles about the decision, check them out here.
Here are my thoughts on the matter.
First of all, I have to wonder a bit why we have a law like this. If you don’t already know, this area is chock full of poultry plants. There’s Perdue, George’s Chicken, Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson (maybe moved), Virginia Poultry, and Cargill (one of the biggest meat suppliers in the world). Did one of these empires pay off a government official into creating this law in order to ensure the continued need to rely on their business for meat? Now that I write that it seems pretty absurd (possibly influenced by the fact that I have been watching “The X-Files” on Netflix…teehee).
Though on the one hand it goes into one of the arguments against having chickens within city limits. The smell. Now, anyone who has lived in Harrisonburg knows that it already smells. On my way into work in the morning, I am always curious what kind of smells will be assaulting my senses that day. Will it be the smell of animal dung from a nearby farm or livestock auction? Will it be the smell from a recently mulched landscape? Or will it be the undescribable stench from a local plant (poultry or otherwise…we have a lot of plants)? Anyone who has ever walked or biked or driven by a poultry plant on a hot day (or really any day) knows that stench. So, let’s get back to the argument at hand. Reminder: if you had chickens in your own backyard, there wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands of them. You’d probably have half a dozen, maybe a dozen, maybe more depending on your yard space. Also, you’d probably take a bit better care of them since you would be directly eating the eggs and perhaps later the chicken itself. And people still use mulch. I’m pretty sure that’s up there in the land of stank. So, argument busted.
Second argument against chickens is noise. Those roosters be crowin’! Apparently when you stick roosters together in close proximity they battle it out for top rooster by cockadoodling more than just the morning hours. Noise? Really? If the worst thing we have to worry about is a few roosters crowing in our neighborhood, we’ve got it pretty good. This reminds me of what my friend Kelly said today, “First world problems…” Dogs are barking in our neighborhood all the time, geese are honking over our heads, crickets are chirping. It’s nature, get used to it. Argument busted.
I’m not sure if this is another argument against having chickens but I’ll tackle it anyway. Disease. Chickens have salmonella. Ecoli. Avian flu! One of the top reasons chickens get diseases is too many chickens in a limited amount of space. What happens is chickens are like other birds, they like to eat worms and forage and, like every other living creature, they enjoy walking around. Unfortunately in the farms where they hold industrial poultry, they don’t have any space to roam around, they don’t have the luxury of foraging, and many never even see a blade of grass except from the truck on the way to the plant. What happens is they are trapped in nasty quarters with thousands of birds. They are covered in each others feces, which gets mixed in with their feed, which they eat and diseases begin to spread. (Sidenote: This is why I buy from the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market!) Execs from a national or international meat organization kill a few people, maybe even a few hundred or thousand, and keep on sleeping through the night. Maybe the stock drops a bit but people keep buying chicken from them because what other options are out there? Same argument as above. If you are raising your own chickens, you are more likely to take better care of them than an industrial farm because you don’t want your family to get sick. Maybe your chickens will get diseases. If you buy the chicks from a reputable source, give them plenty of fresh air and some space to roam around, this is less likely to happen. If they get sick, take them to the vet, I suppose. Argument TKO.
Okay, I have crushed the arguments against having chickens. So, what are the reasons we should be able to have chickens within the city limits?
1. Self-sufficiency – give a man a chicken, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to raise chickens he’ll eat for a lifetime. Okay, paraphrasing there, but you get the point. Chickens pop out about one egg a day (give or take an egg), so if a family of four had half a dozen chickens, but for the sake of argument, let’s say about 36 a week (you know, maybe they take a day of rest, too). That’s three dozen eggs. They could eat two dozen and sell one dozen. If they have a rooster (which seems like a good idea), they could save some of the eggs and hatch out some chicks every few months and plausibly never run out of the chickens. Granted, I’m no expert on chickens but I think that’s how it works. 🙂 Who knows? It could even reduce dependency on government programs.
2. Saves money – if we go with the three dozen eggs a week scenario, that’d save you $5 per week on eggs and earn you an extra $3 a week (if you sell a dozen). Which is $32 per month. Or almost $400 per year. If you decide to eat your chickens when they stop laying eggs, that’ll save you $5-$15 dollars per chicken (depending on the quality and weight of the chicken). Sure, you might have a start up cost for fence and a coop, but it is pretty minimal if you make them yourself. And, if you only have a few chickens, a bag of feed will last a while. In the end, the savings would outweigh the costs.
3. Healthier (tastes better, too!) – the eggs and chicken from the farmers market taste so much fresher and better than the store and you can’t get much more local than your backyard! You would pump your chickens full of steroids to grow faster and you wouldn’t need antibiotics for them if you give them enough space to roam. Also, if I were a chicken, I’d be much happier living in someone’s backyard than an industrial farm. When you’re happier, you’re healthier.
4. Culture – Harrisonburg is quickly becoming a melting pot. There are somewhere between 30 and 100 languages spoken in Harrisonburg High School. We have the refugee resettlement office, so there are new people moving here all the time. We have residents from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti, Korea, Russia, China, Iraq, Kurdistan, Eritrea, Sudan, and a myriad of other nations. In many countries, it is normal to have a few chickens around for eggs and meat. Why buy stuff if you can grow it or raise it? Some of them may have been farmers who had to leave that behind in order to keep their family safe. Raising their own chickens could one familiar thing in a sea of unknown entities. Or maybe you’ve lived all or most of your life as a refugee owning nothing but the clothes on your back and an item or two you saved from your village (see this article from Huffington Post with moving pictures about refugees, but only if you have tissues handy). Imagine the pride you would feel owning and raising your own chickens. It would be overwhelming.
5. Sense of Accomplishment – the first year I planted something and it actually grew vegetables, I was so excited. God made it happen, but I helped! Last year, when I brought in a booming crop of tomatoes, I felt pretty spectacular. Also, they tasted amazing. I feel like it’d be the same thing for chickens. Going out and hunting for eggs every morning and evening would take a bit of getting used to, but would be very rewarding. I can imagine myself picking up a warm egg and thinking, “Shirley laid this.” The eggs would be extra yummy and if you could get past eating Shirley (you may not want to name your chickens if you’re going to eat them later), she’d probably taste delicious.
6. You know where your food came from and what it took to get onto your plate. How many people take the time to think about where their food comes from? Things are so processed nowadays, that we don’t really want to think about it. If you watched “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” or read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver (amazing book!), you would realize that we, as a society, are very ignorant on the subject of food. Let’s take the average value meal, which includes a chicken sandwich, fries, and a soda. Okay, disregarding all the chemicals added to it, what goes into that meal? Well, an egg is hatched somewhere and somebody raises the chicken (since it’s so cheap, probably not very responsibly), it’s plucked, and deboned and mixed together with other stuff. Then breaded and fried. Where’s the breading come from? Somebody sowed a seed, which turned into wheat which they later separated the wheat and chaff and crushed into flour and added egg and milk (and this is a best case scenario…many of these ingredients are replaced by chemicals). Corn oil is used to fry. How do you get the corn oil? Somebody sowed a seed, it grew into corn, was harvested and processed through a machine. Okay, what about the mayo? Eggs again – emulsified. Who knows what that means? Tomatoes – where are those growing in the winter? Lettuce – same question. Do you know how tomatoes and lettuce grow? What about french fries? Until I planted potatoes, I didn’t know they had a plant. I thought they just grew in the ground and good luck finding them. 🙂 What about the salt? Or the ketchup? Where’s that come from? And, I don’t know if we even want to get started on the soda…but think about all those things that go into making a meal. Then you wonder, if it’s so much work, why’s it so cheap?
If you think I’m making this up, ask yourself, your child, or some kids in your neighborhood the following questions: How is bread made? Where do eggs come from? How do potatoes grow? What’s ketchup made out of? What animal does regular milk come from and how do you get the milk from the animal?
If you find yourself or your child struggling with some of the answers, this is the main reason I can think of to raise chickens. If we have become so dependent on others to grow, raise, and process our food for us that we don’t even know how it gets on our plate, something has to change. Because a society that doesn’t know how to grow or raise its own food is on a dangerous path.
Below I am posting myself as a child holding a baby chick:
Note the look on my face. I think I’m remembering it being from the fluffliness and the chicken tickling my hand with his little webbed feet but it could just as easily have been from me not being able to see the chick because I didn’t have glasses yet. haha! What’s that yellow thing, aaah! It’s moving! 🙂
In my memory, this is one of the only times I can remember holding a chicken. I’d like to change this one day. I would like the right to one day raise my own chickens in my backyard and feel the pride of holding up a fresh, brown egg and someday watching our children (God willing) wrinkle their nose as a baby chick tickles their hand.