“Today we have a guest blogger! All of us chickens are excited to have Aaron come and talk to you about a very serious issue. Apparently, there are humans who think chickens are an illegal substance – like who-knows-what. While such talk is offensive to us chickens, we are glad that there are some humans who want to be on the right side of history. We’d applaud, but we don’t have hands. Let’s welcome our new friend Aaron!!!”
Thank you, Henri, for your fantastic introduction.
“What Can You Do?” Change Chicken Laws… and Win!
Who am I?
My name is Aaron Rosenzweig. I’m a husband, a father of two children and protector of six chickens (some of which are roosters!). We live in an incorporated city called Gaithersburg (Maryland) on 0.25 acres of land. We are about 20 minutes driving distance from Washington DC. Keeping chickens should be an easy and natural thing to do, let’s talk about how to make that a reality for everyone.
Laws and regulations
America is known as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Not everyone is brave, not everyone will stand up for what is right. None of us are truly free, there are limits on what we can do. There are people who are more than happy to legally remove our freedoms without a “darned good reason.”
Consider dogs. In many places, you cannot own a “pit bull” but you can own a firearm. Why is that? Does it make sense to prohibit an animal that might be deadly yet allow an item that is certainly deadly? It’s inconsistent, yet it is legal to ban pit bulls, it happens all over the country.
Note: We should not ban breeds of animal, limit number of animals, ban animals by gender, nor ban guns. In all these cases it is the people who are dangerous, not the animals nor the guns. On the issue of guns, I do believe one person with a gun can control 100 people without. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.
I know of no place in America where you can legally eat dog meat. I don’t want to eat dog meat, I actually don’t eat any meat, but I question why it is ok to eat a chicken but we prohibit consumption of dogs. People can and do eat dogs in other parts of the world. They say it tastes great. Suddenly they have to give that up if they move to America. Why? It’s inconsistent.
Why people do not like chickens
To change chicken laws and win, you first must acknowledge that most people don’t like chickens. It does not matter that they are misinformed. It does not matter that they want to deprive your freedom without a good reason. What matters is that they don’t like chickens, they don’t want anyone to have chickens, they will do anything to keep chickens out of their community.
Secondly, you must understand “why” people hate chickens which comes in flavors A through E:
A) Housing values. People fear that if you own chickens their own house will become undesirable. Nobody will want to buy their house if you will be the neighbor. There is a grain of truth to their viewpoint. Consider a swimming pool installed at your home. If you sell your home that could be either a positive or a negative. Some people love swimming pools, others consider it a maintenance headache and would rather buy another home. So while someone who hates chickens would not buy a home with you as a neighbor, another person would pay extra to live in such a cool community. You have to stress it’s not a clear cut issue. I currently have neighbors who fight over who gets our chicken manure for their garden. A few houses have sold recently because we have chickens, it was an attraction.
It was also the reason my family chose to move to Gaithersburg Maryland instead of Rockville Maryland.
At the time Rockville had an outright ban on chickens. As more people want to learn where their food comes from, chicken keeping has become even more desirable. Allowing chickens cannot be proven to either decrease or increase housing values but many of the fastest growing cities do, in fact, allow chickens. New York has no problem with chickens and no limit on the number of chickens you can keep. When I define the word “city,” New York first comes to mind. If they have no issue, why should anyone else? Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon all allow feathered friends. In 2010 Seattle relaxed the chicken limit to 8 per household which is in line with USDA advisories for a 4 person home.
B) Disease. People fear that they will somehow get sick if you own chickens. Please disregard that chickens are just birds and wild birds are everywhere, birds that have no human pampering them. Please disregard that birds are not mammals and that they are so alien to humans (we are mammals) that there are extremely few disease that we share in common. Please disregard that a healthy body temperature for a chicken is 104 degrees, a temperature that would cause a human to be hospitalized. That’s a temperature that makes mites, lice, etc. that bite chickens very specific to them, they will never infest a human because we are “cold.” People hear about “Salmonella” food poisoning which is associated with chickens, that’s all they care about.
What they don’t understand is that Salmonella is a bacteria in the manure of chickens and is not much different from E. Coli poisoning. Salmonella can be found in manure from all birds and reptiles. E. Coli can be found in the manure of all humans and mammals. We get sick when someone doesn’t take care of animals, let them live in filth, and don’t keep things clean. The truth is it is very hard for us to get sick from a bird, easier for us to get sick from a cat or dog (because they are mammals like us), and easiest for us to get sick from a mother human! (because we are the same type of animal). Chicken manure has monetary value because we can use it to fertilize gardens with vegetables for human consumption. It is illegal to use dog and cat manure for this same purpose. Just consider the implications for a moment and you’ll realize that disease from chickens is a non-issue.
C) “Chickens everywhere!” People fear that if chickens are allowed that they will give birth rapidly and chickens will take over the neighborhood. They know there are problems with feral cats and also dogs. They fear that chickens will be even worse because new chickens can be born every 20 days. To make matters worse (in their minds) there is no way to spay or neuter a chicken. The truth is that these fears are unfounded. While it is true that few doctors have the expertise to castrate a rooster and drugs to stop the laying of eggs are somewhat hard to come by, it is a moot point.
For an embryo to become a fetus a mother chicken must sit non-stop for 3 days consecutively on an egg. Then, the chicken must continue to sit on that egg for the remainder of those 20 days before a chick can be born. Don’t you think that a human will have either eaten or discovered that egg before they hatch?
If a person loves their chickens, they check on them daily. A chicken owner will never have an unwanted birth and the “spay / neuter” solution for dogs and cats just doesn’t even apply to chickens. Having an “egg” develop outside of the body instead of a live birth makes all the difference.
D) Roosters are loud and they will wake everyone up. People fear that someone will have a rooster and then they cannot sleep anymore. If you have chickens, roosters will be there, that’s true. What people don’t realize is that a rooster crows at 90 decibels which is exactly the same strength as a 40 pound dog.
That fact is real yet we don’t talk about banning dogs, why is that? In reality, when a dog barks you get scared, you wonder if they’ll jump the fence and bite you. When a rooster crows, you notice it but you never fear for your life. The options available to you to silence a barking dog are not nearly as humane as the options for silencing a rooster. While a rooster can crow throughout the day, the worst time is in the early morning. You could keep the rooster indoors until 9:00 or 10:00 am to easily solve the problem. Also, if crowing is not allowed at any time of day, a rooster collar is much better than the shock collars people put on dogs.
E) Chickens are food, not pets. If my child gets to know your chickens, they may no longer want to eat chicken meat. It’s strange for someone to care for food the way I care for my dog. If your rooster is loud, you can’t bring them inside like you would a barking dog! Chickens are great when you eat them. Chickens belong on a farm, not in my community. I don’t want to be that close to where my food comes from, it bothers me.
Flavor C is often a true fear, not hate. It can easily be defused with a quick discussion of how eggs produce chicks. We all basically understand this but never take the time to think it through. Exponential chicken population growth fears are unfounded.
Flavor D is legitimate in the same way that dog barking can be annoying. This can be diffused by asking if we need a laundry list of prohibitions that might happen or rather simply have a universal ban on noise pollution which can apply to anything including both dogs and roosters.
Flavor E is true. It’s hard to eat an animal that you consider a pet.
It’s possible, but harder. The only way to diffuse this is to acknowledge that ignorance is never a virtue. If you know that chickens are lovable which in turn makes you not want to eat them, then don’t eat them! It’s not a reasonable request to prohibit people from treating chickens as pets because you can’t justify your need to eat chicken meat.
Practical strategies on how to change laws where you live
1) Consider moving – Your first option should be to move to a place that already allows chickens that also meets your other living standards. If you move there, be sure to go to city hall and thank them for allowing you to raise chickens. This will set the tone going forward should something happen in the future. The council will remember you thanking them and will immediately give you the benefit of the doubt should a neighbor give you trouble.
2) Consider getting chicken laws approved only for yourself. It’s much harder to universally change laws for all citizens but if you focus on just your house it could meet with less resistance. I got a house where it was illegal to raise chickens. I asked the local government to consider “limited agricultural use” and give me a variance on my land. Since I was going to all that trouble I asked them for up to 15 chickens and up to 3 goats. They visited my home and they sent out a notice to my 20 closest neighbors. They held a hearing, found no objections, so granted my request! They had many real questions which I answered fully and honestly. See how I answered the rooster noise question which was also a pet question:
3a) To get laws universally changed for all citizens, focus on the issues that we all agree on. Issues like making homes more desirable to live in for the growing trend of knowing where your food comes from. Note that you would rather live in a town that would allow chickens than one that does not. Here are two videos where I spoke in the City of Rockville, a town which I did not live in. A few months after I spoke they reversed their 2006 ban on chickens to once again allow them in 2015. Here are the two videos:
3b) To get laws universally changed for all citizens, you may also focus on the “headache” angle. Creating bans on particular kinds of pets, policing that, even determining the sex of a bird… is that something the city wants to worry about? That is something better left to an HOA to decide, it should not be a municipal issue. At the municipal level focus only on universal laws for noise and smell that apply to all things.
4) No matter how well you speak, how much information you know, some people will never accept the idea of chickens as pets and will fight you harder than you could ever imagine. Even in places where chickens are legal, on paper, they will come up with the worst ways to harass you including threatening to use Child Services to take your children away if you don’t get rid of your chickens.
I know because I moved to the city of Gaithersburg where this exact situation happened to my family. In cases such as these, the worst thing you could do is hide in the shadows. You must shine a spotlight on what is happening and shame your aggressors as well as local leaders for their behavior. Ask your neighbors to stand up with you. State everything using facts then progressively turn up the heat. Remember: it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on! By doing this we were able to keep our chickens because it was not worth the PR battle to take them away. This was not easy for my family but at some point enough is enough. We paid good money for our home, we played by the rules, we did not bother any of our next door neighbors. Here’s some websites I made to show how we stood up for our values:
General advice on keeping chickens
If everyone treated their dogs and cats the way we treat our chickens, pet shelters and the humane society would be something we’d only hear of in history books.
You should only get chickens if you are going to treat them as pets. If you are getting them as “pets with benefits” that’s great but if it is “for the eggs” then don’t do it. Find and make friends with people who have eggs for sale and buy eggs from them.
You should get your first chickens in person, from a human. Don’t get your first chickens via mail order. In fact, if you can help it, only mail order eggs that you plan to hatch yourself. There are a few reasons for this. Getting your first chickens from someone local gives you an instant safety net. You can call them up, ask for advice, get some help with any questions you might have. Second, it’s cruel to send day old chickens in the mail, sometimes they arrive dead in the box.
There is nothing wrong with keeping chickens inside your own home most of the time. You can do this in places that generally ban chickens. How is that different than a parrot or a cockatiel? I know, a chicken will never maim you whereas a parrot could remove your finger. A chicken is actually a superior pet in many ways. Chickens are smart. Here’s one of our chickens who can play poker: