We chose to live in the city of Harrisonburg to be close to work, for the ethnic diversity and the quality of the schools. But our hearts were in the country. We dreamed of a small place with a few goats, some chickens, a dog or two— maybe, someday, a horse. We also wanted to grow as much of our own food as possible.
On our city lot, we have a small vegetable garden, a few fruit trees and enough yard space for an active dog, but the dream of having egg laying hens would not go away. It suited our desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle. The portable chicken tractor was the key to keeping a few hens in our backyard without causing concern for our neighbors. Soon it was occupied by our new pet hens – Buzz, Woody and Rosie.
Before long, we heard that others who had chickens in the city were receiving letters telling them that they must remove their birds within 30 days or be fined. It surprised all of us. We had searched the city ordinances on-line and had not seen any clear code directly addressing chickens. City officials said it was against zoning regulations to start agricultural practices within city limits. Does this mean we also need to get rid of our garden and fruit trees?
So many people received chicken eviction letters that a group, the Harrisonburg Backyard Chicken Project, formed to convince the city to change the code to allow us to keep small flocks of egg laying hens in portable coops or chicken tractors that can be easily moved about in our yards. We’ve heard concerns about smell, noise, public health related to bird flu, and the fear of property values falling if chickens are in the neighborhood. Most of these concerns are blown out of proportion. Maybe some education based on practice will help?
Those of us who have raised chickens in portable chicken tractors have found that smell is not a problem mainly because we move the coop every day. The droppings dry quickly and help to fertilize the lawn or the garden. Likewise, noise is not of great concern with hens. They don’t not crow like roosters, and they only cackle when joyfully announcing “Look what I did!” after laying their daily egg.
As for public health concerns. Proponents of a pro-chicken ordinance, like me, are concerned about controlling their personal food sources and opponents are concerned about the possibility of a rampant outbreak of bird flu. But because of the way bird flu is transmitted, hens in backyard flocks would have to invite other hens over for birthday parties and sleepovers in order to pass on any virus. They simply are not in close contact with other birds if a chicken tractor is their home.
It’s reasonable to be concerned about property values but I don’t think chickens are more offensive than a loud barking dog next door. During the months we had backyard chickens, three of the houses with lots joining our backyard sold at or higher than market value.
I say, let’s give the chickens a chance. They just might make great neighbors!
- ▼ June (4)