Folks are passionate about chickens, and that's definitely the case in Knoxville. Many of you may be keeping up with the happenings of Knoxville's Urban Hen Coalition, especially during these last few weeks. On June 15th, proposed by Council member Chris Woodhull, City Council voted on the first of a two round process whether to approve the proposed ordinance to legalize hens in Knoxville with a positive outcome.
Chickens were the talk of the night. City Council members cracked jokes from the beginning saying, "I don't think you have to worry about (this issue) being on the front page tomorrow, Brenda. I think tomorrow's headlines are going to be about chickens."
About 45 minutes into the general meeting, the great chicken debate began. Three representatives, Chad Hellwinckel, Sonja Spell, and Stephen Smith spoke passionately and eloquently in favor of the proposed chicken ordinance pointing out pros like community building, connection to food cycles, lower crime, assistance with the family food bill and smaller carbon footprint. Beth Needham of Lincoln Park expressed her concerns which ranged from odor to noise, to raccoons, to enforcement, to the H1 overlay and real estate values and stated that she was not in favor of the ordinance. At one point, Joe Bailey asked of us, "Would all the supporters stand up please?" At least 50 people stood. When he asked for any dissenters to stand, Needham was the only one.
The great chicken debate lasted till a little after 9 p.m. with several City Council members in obvious favor and some, not so much, with Brenda Palmer and Nick Della Volpe raising the most concerns. The mood was light and jovial, especially when Nick Pavlis told the story of his own childhood chicken, but it also got a little heated at times. Since members of the audience are not permitted to speak unless a direct question is asked of them, when Della Volpe or Palmer raised concerns and objections, chicken folks squirmed in their seats and bit their tongues as they contained their urges to dispel many of the myths stated by the council members. Instead viewers shook heads, rolled eyes and stated things to their comrades. Many of the chicken proponents have bonded and deep friendships have been formed thanks to the chickens.
The Knoxville Urban Hen Coalition formed 15 months ago and worked with Knox County Animal Control to draft the final ordinance. The ordinance passed the animal control board unanimously including board member Officer Pappas who declared in front of City Council that she was against the ordinance. Chris Woodhull commented that he thought the board's decision was unanimous and inquired, to make sure, that Pappas voted for the ordinance. She confirmed that she did vote for the ordinance and that if an ordinance passed, that this was the one she wanted in place. But, she is against backyard hens stating that animal control has responded to 26 calls this year. Members of the audience wondered how many calls to date pertained to dogs and cats in comparison, so I called the animal shelter. Last year, animal control took in 18,000 animals last year. Even if the number of calls for chickens doubles by the end of the year, this is a minimal fraction compared to the amounts of other animals that end up at the shelter.
Council member, Marilyn Roddy expressed that just as there are good and bad pet owners (as with dogs), the same may hold true with chickens. The majority of chicken enthusiast are well educated, law abiding citizens. The ordinance, modeled after successful ordinances from other cities, is strict. People who jump through all the hoops of the ordinance, are not going to be irresponsible pet owners because they would already have so much invested in their birds. Anyone who takes the time to apply and pay for the permit to build a coop, builds the coop to spec, pays for the chicken permit then purchases their birds is unlikely to be one of those 26 calls.
In regards to a few of the other concerns:
Noise: Roosters are noisy. Roosters are not permitted by the ordinance. Chickens are not noisy. They make a cawking noise when they lay an egg, but for the most part their coos are not noticeable over the daily noise of an average neighborhood and are definitely not as noisy as a barking dog. Personally knowing folks who have chickens, I have never heard a neighbor dog bark at any of their chickens. Chickens naturally go to sleep at night when the sun goes down, so any cooing will not keep neighbors awake since the chickens will be asleep and contained in a coop.
Predators: Predators like raccoons hunt at night. Brenda Palmer mentioned an increase of coyote and foxes in her district. Chickens must be contained in an enclosed coop at night. A coyote, fox or raccoon is more likely to kill an animal, like a small dog or cat, and not a chicken that is in a predator safe coop. If a neighborhood is concerned about predators in the yards, they may have better luck controlling them by bringing their dogs and cats in at night. A better issue to address is why an area may be seeing an influx of predators. Predatory animals don't want to be around humans. Can it be that they are forced to enter the city due to their natural habitats disappearing due to over development so they must broaden their boundaries in the search for food to ensure their survival? Predators are a natural part of the ecosystem and if numbers are out of control, then there is a problem with the natural balance of the ecosystem.
Rats: Backyard chickens have a benefit that industrial chickens don't have; they are able to scratch which means that they have a natural diet of grass, weeds, bugs, etc. Because they are able to fill up on these things and have a natural diet, one is less likely to have to buy chicken feed. Chickens sleep at night, so they are not eating at night. If a person decides to buy chicken feed, chickens are fed during the day when there is less of an instance to encourage rat populations since the chickens will probably eat their feed (which is also locked up) during the day. By keeping the coop cleaned out, one is less likely to have rodent problems as well. Out of the half dozen folks that I personally know who have chickens, none of them have rat problems. Rats are more likely to be attracted to your garbage.
Property values: In any neighborhood, there are good neighbors and bad neighbors. Some people are neater and cleaner than others. Some homes are immaculate. Some homes are not. This is the way of the world as each human has different standards. Chances are that if a neighborhood is pristine, that anyone who chooses to adopt hens, will abide by the code and build a presentable coop. The coop becomes a thing of pride and something to show off. Anyone truly interested in keeping hens and willing to jump through the ordinance hoops is likely to check out chicken coop designs.
Duluth City Chickens states: "Urban chicken growers, like all good pet owners, are concerned about how their chickens might be affecting their neighborhood. They want their chickens to be a positive experience for everyone and they make an effort to keep an open dialog with their immediate neighbors to ensure any concerns or issues are addressed. The American Poultry Association advises that the rights of neighbors must be considered when raising chickens in the city, and that structures and materials used should blend into the neighborhood's existing structures. Actually, chickens can be kept in a yard so inconspicuously, that it may not be apparent that chickens are even around. There are eggs to share, and a chicken coop in the neighborhood can actually be a conversation starter, and thus it can enhance a neighborhood community."
Historic neighborhoods: "We have a hard enough time enforcing the historic code with people's houses. How are we going to enforce code on the structures for chickens especially in the backyard?" I live in a historic neighborhood, and I am under no pretense that it isn't a transitional place. Like in the section above, some homes are pristine and some are not. I also know that I see the codes people a couple times a month perusing our streets and alleys looking for code violations. I would say, that if anyone is in code violation with their coop, that they will receive notice and possibly a fine.
Chickens were classified as farm animals and outlawed for a reason: Probably because there was no ordinance enforcing a limit to the number of chickens on a lot or that chickens be cooped. Folks probably had roosters, too.
Odor: Chickens don't smell. Their feathers have no odor, and if one detects an odor, it's would probably be the same as a down pillow. Their manure composts quickly and doesn't even come close to the odor from the manure of a dog or cat. Mother Earth News calculates that the average backyard hen produces about .116 lbs of manure per day. According to FDA, an average dog generates 0.75 pounds of manure a day. By these calculations, six chickens would generate .696 lbs of manure a day, which is slightly less than one average dog.
Chicken droppings are compostable, dog manure cannot be composted because of the harmful bacteria and parasites (hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms) that can infect humans. If a person keeps a clean coop (keeping a clean coop is part of the ordinance), the straw can go directly in the garden. If the clean out from the coop does go to the compost, it won't stink up the compost. The straw will help air flow to the compost actually decreasing the smell of the compost bin. Composting straw does not smell. I know because I have composting straw bales in my yard.
If a person doesn't clean their coop, then it may smell...to them, when they have to clean it out, but it doesn't smell outside the coop. Trust me, they will learn their lesson. How do I know about coop odors? Personal experience from my AmeriCorps service at Beardsley Community Farm for a year where I helped tend to eight hens and one rooster.
Disease: The Manager of the Environmental Health Division of the Knox County Health Department and Chair of the Animal Control Board (Ronnie Nease) independently sought the advice of Dr John New of the University of Tennessee’s Vet school, who is an expert on human-animal pathogens. Dr New went on record saying that a small number of backyard hens pose absolutely no additional threat to human health.
Dr John New phone number: 974-5570 Ronnie Nease phone number: 215-5200
People will get bored as the newness wears off: People are passionate and have a deep sense of pride about their chickens. Children love them, and chickens provide endless entertainment and discussion. Chickens are fun lively pets. Besides cleaning the coop, which won't be difficult with only 6 hens, they pretty much take care of themselves. They are not like dogs who need a walk. Let's not forget that chickens give back in the form of healthy delicious eggs. Who would tire of that? Besides, if someone happens to tire of their chickens, the Knoxville Urban hen Coalition would gladly assist in relocating the birds into a happy home.
Overall, it was a positive meeting. In the end, all eight City Council members voted in favor of the ordinance.
A few things happened worth noting: The total number of chickens allowed in one backyard was decreased from 12 to 6. Chris Woodhull felt concern over this, but personally, I think it was a good strategic move. Though some folks will be upset at this change, but I think it sets a better foundation for the success of the ordinance because hen keepers have less of a chance of overburdening themselves with too many chickens. Six healthy chickens in their prime laying years may produce upwards to 42 eggs (three and a half dozen) per week during laying season (summer). The national average family has about 3 members. If six chickens laid the maximum of 42 eggs in a week, the average family would need to eat 14 eggs a day to consume all the eggs. Chances are that all six chickens will not lay every day. They lay more in the summer (it's a light thing), and they don't lay as much as they age. Six is a good number. It gives the average sized family plenty of fresh eggs to eat as well as plenty to share with neighbors.
It's common for city councils to revisit a new ordinance in a year to see if it needs or could allow for changes. Within a year, if there have been no major problems, City Council is more likely to increase the number of hens per lot.
Vice Mayor Bob Becker also added that upon the passing of the ordinance, MPC rewrites the code. As mentioned, passing the chicken ordinance is a two vote process. Even if City Council votes in favor of the ordinance at their next meeting, MPC still has to rewrite the code in regards to chickens not being listed as livestock in order for them to be legal. MPC also needs to adopt the code on coops. If I'm not mistaken, if MPC doesn't re-write the code, chickens will still be illegal. So this was a good move on the Vice Mayor's part to ensure that MPC re-writes the city codes.
The second vote is set for June 29th, but council member Marilyn Roddy, plans to call to postpone the vote until July 13th. I'm unsure about the reasoning behind the postponement, after an hour and a half (or so), I lost some focus.
There are still a few things you can do.
Most importantly, please, please, please write, call or e-mail our City Council representatives and thank them for their support. You can take this time to reiterate your support for legalized chickens.
Recruit more support. Continue to spread the word about contacting City Council and expressing support for legalized hens.
Educate yourself. When you hear peoples concerns about legalized hens, if you don't already know the answer, research it and find out the truth. Take the time to educate others.
If you live in a place with a neighborhood association or group, go talk at their next meeting. Ask the board to write a letter of support to City Council signed by the president of your neighborhood group.
Show your support by checking updates, posting any updates and by attending the next city council vote.
For updates and for a world of information about backyard hens, the Knoxville Urban Hen Coalition is the best resource in Knoxville.
This article first printed at The Agrarian Urbanites. Reprinted by the Author.
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