Who you callin’ chicken?

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by Lisa McRitchie

As our food becomes more and more over processed and preserved with countless ingredients you can’t pronounce let alone guess at what they are, it’s little wonder that some people would like to remove some of the steps between their food and their plate.

The latest trend right now is the fight for urban chickens. People in various cities all over North America are fighting for the right to keep up to six hens, roosters excluded, in their backyards.

No, no, seriously, people want to do this, in the city, maybe even next door to you. Maybe people just miss being able to sing Old McDonald as they’ve aged and don’t realize they can sing it again without actually starting a farm in their backyard. Then again, we do live in the purse-dog era and in a society where it’s more acceptable to bring your dog on a plane than your baby.

Let’s see a show of hands for those of you who have lived on a farm with chickens. Ok, as you can clearly see, my hand is up. How about another show of hands for those of you who have lived in an urban setting, down the street from penned up birds? What’s that? Oh ya, that would be my hand still in the air.

Old McRitchie had a farm…

In a very sad and dark chapter of my life, I had the opportunity to live down the street from a man who kept carrier pigeons (rats with wings) in a very ugly shed. One of my problems with these birds was that they attracted wild pigeons; it was always more than just his birds. Then there was the matter of the odors, and the fecal matter, and then of course my lack of sleep… You know how we’re not allowed to mow our lawns before 8am, and not after 11pm due to the noise bylaws? Birds really really don’t respect those bylaws; they’ll wake you up every morning just because they have nothing better to do with their time.

Yes, I agree that pigeons are not the same as chickens, but they’re similar. They both like to chirp and coo, and they both like to do it at the crack of dawn. Where is their kind consideration for those of us who went out and enjoyed our Friday night and want to sleep in on Saturday? I nearly bought a gun, or a hawk. A really, really big Hawk.

For a number of years I lived on a farm outside of Cold Lake, Alberta. We had a several different kinds of animals, my least favorites being our chickens.

These birds are not calm and pleasant. They fight. A lot. No, it’s not just roosters that fight; hens also fight to establish dominance. During these fights, a lot of fecal covered feathers can and do go flying. Also, this may not come as a surprise, but sometimes the hens don’t like you coming along and taking their eggs. HUGE shocker, right? Even dogs and dolphins get possessive and protective, but they don’t have pointy beaks and zero remorse.

Chicken shit

Let’s also consider the mess these birds make. You know how sometimes you go out for a walk, or even are out mowing your lawn and you see a mess from a dog or a cat, just left there, sitting in the sun, no one picked it up? Not everyone is a responsible pet owner with pets that are comparatively low maintenance. Chickens? Not so easy to clean up or scoop up after.

The fecal matter from chickens is more likely to seep into our ground, or collect in runoff water and further tax our water treatment plants than to get cleaned up and disposed of. Are people really going to be ok with more money going to clean up after city residents that aren’t ok with a dog, or a cat, or even fish and need chickens?

Now, what of salmonella and infections that can be contracted from birds? Yup, still an issue. There’s an argument out there that people aren’t supposed to live in cities, and we should go back to all living on farms and raising our own food like we used to. I would like to ask when exactly in human civilization history this was? There have been cities and surrounding farms for centuries!

Also, when farmers used to live in their homes when the weather turned, life expectancy was extremely short by today’s standards, and people believed that bathing killed you. We’ve come a long ways since then in terms of our understanding of germs and hygiene. At this point we should be able to recognize that living closely with animals poses health risks and concerns — and not to be an alarmist, but in this situation let’s remember the term “bird flu.”

It’s not just a myth; you can catch a variety of infections from hand to mouth contact with birds. The danger is not just present to adults; there are serious healthy concerns around children, who will see something fluffy and want to play with it or touch it. What of the fecal covered feathers that during fights or day to day activities by the birds will fly with the wind into neighbouring yards and green spaces? Children will put things in their mouths — always have, and always will.

Urban jungle

What of predators that are being forced out of their homes due to ever expanding urban sprawl? Have you ever heard a news story concerning coyotes being seen in parks, or roaming residential areas? Of course you have. You know what coyotes would love to eat? Chickens. Keeping chickens in backyards will attract other curious or hungry wild animals.

There are definite pluses to having chickens in your backyard, like farm-fresh (or yard-fresh) eggs. I see the appeal and I understand it. But given the cost to maintain a small number of birds, and the potential negative impact on neighbours, a farmer’s market or visiting a poultry farm is a far better option.

There are organic and free-range chickens farms out there. You can buy directly from them in some cases. You may still support the idea of urban chickens, but I urge you to research infections transferred from birds to humans, consider the makeup of your neighbourhood, and do a little reading on the middle ages or even early Egyptian civilizations — farms and cities.

Cities such as Calgary (which was recently shot down), Vancouver, Halifax and even New York City are allowing small groups of people to test the urban chicken market and it looks to be a wait and see position now. Should you feel strongly one way or the other on this position I urge you to contact your city council representative.

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4 Responses to “Who you callin’ chicken?”

  1. Kevin
    June 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    …….and someone has to wake up early to FEED ‘DEM CHICKENS!!!

  2. Adam Rozenhart
    June 9, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    For me, it’s about the mess and the smell… I’ve also heard [anecdotal] tales that chicken feces are highly toxic to soil, so be prepared for all your grass to stop growing if you have backyard chickens.

  3. Mike
    June 10, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Chicken Manure is high in Nitrogen. That’s why it is hard on grass, as a manure it is good as chicken apparently digest the weed seeds pretty good. About the only positive I could see would be there would probably be less bugs in a person’s back yard.

    I would have problems with my neighbors keeping them mostly because of the noise nuisance. I don’t think a couple of birds would amount to any worse smell than a person who doesn’t clean up after their dog. Honestly I think a person would have to eat a lot of eggs for it to be a benefit. There are people who can hardly look after dogs in my neighborhood, ever mind a chicken.


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