“A Fowl” of the Law

By Tyler Danke, in his recent newsletter from Purely Poultry.

For people who want to own chickens, but cannot due to local ordinances, it may be difficult to believe that the Department of Agriculture once issued posters encouraging people to keep chickens (see below). But, it’s true. During WWI, the Great Depression, and throughout WWII, American citizens were told to plant gardens, keep chickens, preserve produce, car pool, and take other frugality measures.

Comparing those times today creates a stark contrast. Today, there are reports of families being fined for having gardens in the front yard, when gardens were once a sign of patriotism. Prospective flock keepers all over the country are fighting for the right to have a few hens, whereas in the past, having a few hens was seen as the right thing to do. People were more likely to think you were odd for not having some fowl!

Obviously, much has changed in the last 80-90 years, and in many ways we are better for those changes. But declaring chickens illegal does not represent positive change, and in many cases, chickens remain off-limits due to ignorance. Despite the fact that people who keep chickens know that they aren’t “nasty” there is a widespread public perception that they are, indeed, nasty. And loud. And smelly. And possibly disease-ridden.

It takes work to educate people and to show them the benefits of having a few birds. We know that lots of our readers are working hard to help change laws related to keeping chickens, and we would like to help. Here are a few links to resources that may be beneficial to you. Also, we would love to hear about your situation, so please feel free to share your story on our Facebook Page. You never know, someone in our community may have some good advice (they usually do!).

Vote From the Appleton Health Board!

An update on last Thursday morning’s Health Board mtg:

  • Two amendments were made to the ordinance/rules & reg’s: to remove the neighbor approval requirement (3 to 2 vote), and to set a minimum of 3 sq feet/bird for the coop (5 to 0 vote). Both of these amendments are supported by City Peeps leadership team.
  • The amended Ordinance and Rules & Regulations passed by a 4 to 1 vote, which means that this goes to Common Council next.

The vast majority of speakers last Thursday were chicken supporters. The concerns expressed today were much more reality-based, and much less fear-based, which is a good thing. The major concerns shared by Health Board were:

  • Impact on city staff workload
  • How to deal with the “bad apples”
  • Equity based on lot size/set-back requirements

These are all concerns that City Peeps share with City Staff, and with people on both sides of the chicken issue. Reality-based concerns can actually be dealt with and solved.

These concerns in more detail…

Impact on city staff workload: city staff is already stretched, whether it be Health Department, Building Inspections, Police. It was estimated that each license holder will add 3 hours of workload to Health Dept and 1 hour to Building Inspections. Police workload additions would most-likely be case-by-case and related to a few bad apples who are irresponsible in chicken raising. Health Board was estimating there would be 100 licenses sought in Appleton, which would equate to 300 extra work hours for Health, and 100 extra hours for Inspections. We believe that number is far larger than reality. Last year Madison had approx 100 licenses, and Green Bay had 12-15. In the coming week, we’ll be doing more research so that we can offer a best-guess estimate as to the number of license holders Appleton will likely see.

Dealing with “bad apples”: after the mtg this morning, 4 Peeps Leadership folks met briefly with Cathy Spears (the lone “no vote”), and we may have stumbled upon another idea that would accomplish what the neighbor approval requirement was trying to do (eliminate the people who will not responsibility raise chickens), while protecting the responsible chicken owners from unjust veto power by neighbors. Dealing proactively with the “bad apples” is in City Peeps best interest, and it also helps limit city staff workload issues & headaches. We’ll be researching this idea prior to the City Council meeting next Wednesday.

More details as they become available!

Quick Update on Appleton Chickens

Quick update as to City Peeps and Appleton ordinance development:

· Last week’s Health Board mtg was just a discussion meeting. A number of city council joined the meeting and observed. A very vocal group of about 5 chicken opponents dominated the community discussion piece, but we did have some good conversation led by Becky, Anne and Christoph in support of chickens, and also a past Council member (Bob Bellin) had some very good things to say, though he came mostly to learn. The Health Board also had good things to say, and posed good questions.

· Health Board laid out what the next steps look like: next month’s Health Board mtg (rescheduled to Thursday, July 12, 7am b/c of the holiday) very likely will be a vote on the Rules & Regulations & Ordinance. If the vote is “no”, then we go back to the drawing board. If the vote is “yes”, then this goes to the next City Council mtg for discussion & possible vote. But, before anything is finalized, this will also need to go through the Planning Commission. I am unsure of the timing & the process of all that, but will update y’all as I know more.

· For those who were at the very 1st City Peeps community mtg, you’ll remember that we said this will be a minimum of a 1-2 year process for us to get educated, get networked, and then to work through the political process of shifting how our community views urban chickens. We’re about a year and a half in, and I’d say we are right on schedule. I appreciate everyone’s patience and persistence. I have no doubt in my mind that there will be chickens allowed in Appleton at some point of my life here. When that will be is hard to say, but it will happen someday and hopefully soon, and all of our work brings that day closer.

· To read the proposed Chickens Rules & Regulations, see pages 8-11 here: http://appleton.org/i/pdf/Board%20of%20Health/Agenda/06-06-2012.pdf

· FYI – I just sent a letter this morning to our entire Council related to the proposed Rules & Regulations. The letter is below:

_____________________________________

Dear City Council representatives & Appleton City Staff,

Thank you for all the work that has been done so far in researching & considering urban chickens. These deliberations and conversations are important in helping develop good policy that protects individual rights as well as community welfare.

As one of the Leadership Team for City Peeps, I’d like to offer some feedback on the proposed “Chicken Keeping Rules & Regulations”. Overall, I feel this is a very well-written and prescriptive document, and I only have feedback/suggestions on 3 sections.

First, regarding Item 5 (Coop Design): I’d like to suggest a minimum 2-3 square feet per bird standard be added, to help ensure animal welfare. There are many benefits and reasons why people support urban chickens – one being that urban chickens are typically treated in a much more humane way than factory farm chickens. A minimum coop size can help ensure urban birds have healthy living space.

Second, regarding Item 6H (Culling of Chickens): as many of you know, City Peeps does not have a strong feeling one way or the other on chicken slaughter. The vast majority of urban chicken owners raise chickens for healthy organic fresh eggs, and as pets. Slaughtering our chickens after they stop laying eggs makes as much sense to most of us as slaughtering your cat after it stopped doing the cute things kittens do. That said, when chickens are legalized in Appleton there may be a few people who choose to slaughter. This was the main concern of the most vocal chicken detractors at the last Board of Health meeting when I stayed and talked with them for an hour after the meeting (by the way, by the end of the hour we were laughing together and shaking hands). They and we are realistic enough to know a minority of people will slaughter chickens, and one slight re-wording of Item 6H would greatly lessen everyone’s concern: add language that culling of chickens be done discreetly, so that neighbors don’t unwillingly see or hear it.

The third, and most significant concern is with Item 1 related to neighbor consent. Though we feel the intent of this item is well-intended, City Peeps strongly opposes this for a number of reasons, and would like to offer an alternative approach that may satisfy the intent of this stipulation, while avoiding its downfalls. We are certainly aware that the idea of urban chickens is new and different for a lot of people (despite the fact that over 90 of the nation’s largest 100 cities allow chickens). Change scares people, whether it is roundabouts, domestic partner benefits or urban chickens. But, I certainly wouldn’t recommend a neighbor approval requirement for all people living adjacent to roundabouts, or a co-worker approval requirement for the 5 workers who work most closely with someone seeking domestic partner benefits. I think this would be a bad precedent to set regardless of how one stands on those issues.

Instead I propose a booklet be developed for chicken owners AND their neighbors with basic education about urban chickens, resources and links, City rules & regulations and ordinance language, and information on how best to address concerns should problems arise. I think it would be reasonable for prospective chicken owners to be mandated to distribute this information booklet to all adjacent neighbors, which would help with conversation, education, neighborly relations, as well as let the chicken owners know that their neighbors know exactly what the rules are and how to seek redress if rules are broken. It would eliminate the problems of neighbors holding mutiny power for sometimes poor reasons, as well as the problems of neighbors signing permission but under duress. And it would eliminate other problems such as in our neighborhood where in one house both partners recently died about a month apart – how would their neighbor now get permission? And in our own situation we live on the ravine. Our “backyard” neighbors live a quarter mile away and they would have veto power.

City Peeps would be very happy to put some time and energy in working with the City to develop such a booklet, if this direction was chosen.

My sense is we are all in agreement about wanting healthy food options, sustainable practices, animal welfare, and good neighbor relations. Sometimes we see different paths of getting to the same destination. I appreciate all the time you have spent determining which paths are best, and I enjoy being part of this community journey.

Shannon Lee Wyman Kenevan, MSLPC