Farming

Some Local Governments Are Still Punishing People for Having a Few Chickens

A Pennsylvania couple is fighting an inane local ban on raising a handful of ducks and chickens in their backyard.

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A Pennsylvania couple is fighting an inane local ban on raising a handful of ducks and chickens in their backyard.

In August, officials in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, warned residents Anna Wales and Raquel Rogers that they'd have to get rid of the four ducks and four chickens they housed in their backyard. A subsequent hearing affirmed the ban.

Adding to the controversy is the fact Craig West, the borough council president, who lives on the same street as Wales and Rogers, reported the couple and their flocks to the city.

Wellsboro's poorly written code prohibits keeping honey bees, poisonous reptiles or spiders, or "any live swine or pig, live chicken, turkey, pigeon or other domestic or wild fowl, goats, alpacas, and other species." The Wellsboro council says it's concerned that allowing residents to raise livestock in their backyards will lead to complaints over noise or odors.

Wales and Rogers, who've already been fined $7,000 for refusing to comply with the chicken ban, are scheduled to have their request for a variance heard before the Wellsboro Borough Council on Wednesday. A court date on the matter has also been scheduled for next week—though the couple's fines continue to accumulate

Wales and Rogers are fighting those fines. I don't blame them. According to a report at NorthCentralPA.com, the couple say they were willing to find a new home for their ducks and chickens. But reports also say West and another councilor urged them to rezone their property so that the council could take action on backyard livestock. So Wales and Rogers say they did just that. 

"However, the council then failed to pass a vote allowing birds in rural residential," the report indicates.

People choose to raise chickens in their backyard, as I explain in my book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, to provide themselves not just with fresh eggs but also with free fertilizer and pest control. And Wellsboro, quaint and rural, seems like exactly the sort of place one might encounter owners of backyard chickens and ducks.

In fact, just last year the Audubon Society designated Wellsboro as "a Bird Town." Audubon Bird Towns, the group says, are so designated because they demonstrate "a healthy, more sustainable environment for birds and people." Ironically, the group presented the Bird Town designation to none other than Craig West, the same borough president who seems intent on making Wellsboro a bird-free town.

Conflicts that center on raising small animals for food in one's backyard aren't new. In a 2016 op-ed in the Des Moines Register, for example, I highlighted the plight of Clare Heinrich, an Iowa high schooler whose backyard beehives—which Heinrich used to produce honey that had won three blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair—had run afoul of local law in Urbandale, Iowa, that deemed honey bees illegal livestock. The city ordered Heinrich to remove the hives or face thousands of dollars in fines.

Thankfully, even as Wellsboro and Urbandale treat small-scale hobby farmers as pariahs, other cities and towns are responding positively to residents' interest in raising animals for food. Earlier this year, for example, residents in Pelham, New Hampshire, fought back against a 2019 ordinance that banned many backyard livestock animals. In March, in a "landslide" vote, the town repealed the ban.

Perhaps surprisingly, many bigger U.S. cities today feature more permissive rules for raising small food animals than do many smaller cities and towns—even ones such as Wellsboro that are located in rural areas. As I detail in Biting the Hands that Feed Us, backyard poultry ownership has spread across the country, from Los Angeles to Miami to New York City. And cities such as Seattle, Denver, and Salt Lake City have passed good rules in recent years to facilitate that ownership. 

To oppose bans on owning and raising backyard chickens, as I do, is not to say that the practice can't nor shouldn't be regulated. It can and should. For example, nearly every city ordinance I've read that allows raising backyard chickens also sets reasonable ground rules for doing so that includes prohibiting homeowners from raising noisy roosters.

Indeed, I speak out in favor of such reasonable limitations in Biting the Hands that Feed Us. Sadly, though, prohibitions of backyard poultry stretch well beyond reason.

"Bird law in this country is not governed by reason," lamented renowned (though sadly fictional) Pennsylvania bird lawyer Charlie Kelly several years ago. As Wellsboro's campaign against fresh eggs makes clear, Kelly's complaint still rings true today.

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84 responses to “Some Local Governments Are Still Punishing People for Having a Few Chickens

  1. But I bet they have no rules against dogs, like the ones in my neighborhood who bark and howl all day and night.

    1. Most definitely! It is high time we acknowledge canine privilege!

      1. Let pets vote!

        1. But at least make them get voter ID, and check if the paw prints match.

          1. Racist.

            1. no pit bulls or chihuahuas . . .

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    2. I’m pretty sure you can file a noise complaint for dogs.

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    3. If you have ever lived with or near roosters you’d know it’s a different story. It seems like a common sense law. I lived in New Mexico where people had all kinds of animals. It was like a 3rd world country. I totally get it if people want to vote to change it, but my guess is the same folks who love having animals wouldn’t be so keen on a Death Metal band rehearsing outside on the deck at the next door neighbors. Zoning laws exist for a reason and people should live where they can do what they want.

      1. What if I want to have chickens and play death metal on my deck?

        1. This is actually my life.

          \m/ + chickens = a good fucking start.

      2. I’ve got a half dozen chickens in my suburban backyard, which is locally permitted so long as none of my neighbors complain. I wouldn’t even think of having a rooster, they’re animated noise machines. Fortunately hens lay eggs regardless, and are generally pretty quiet, less noisy than most dogs.

        Now, while hens are fairly quiet most of the time unless disturbed, ducks are a different matter, (Though Muscovies are notable exception.) and both genders are quite loud. So I can understand a ban on suburban ducks, geese, or turkeys. And God forbid anybody in a suburb start raising guinea hens, might as well just install an air raid siren and be done with it.

        1. As an urbanite who prefers to let others kill the animals I eat and ship them to supermarkets, I’ve got to ask: How do hens lay eggs without roosters?

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  2. Wales and Rogers just need to claim the chickens and ducks as emotional support birds. Oh, and describe the birds as trans-something.

    1. Ugly ducklings that identify as swans.

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  4. If a group of citizens want to get together and live in a chicken free, quaint and rural community, it is their right. North Central PA is as close to the middle of nowhere as anywhere. I’m sure that moving a mile or two in any direction will ensure that pretty much whatever you have in your backyard is your own dern business.
    Same issue in SW PA.
    https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/north-huntingdon-to-hold-hearing-on-backyard-chicken-rules/
    Not nearly as rural as North Central but there’s plenty of places within a mile or two to raise chickens, pigs or any other barnyard critters.

  5. “Bird law in this country is not governed by reason,”

    “particularly law dealing with lame ducks.”

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  7. SO….. The Chinese immigrant family that raises dogs for food would be exempt from the onerous livestock ruling of the Wellsboro City Council rules? People should self identify as Chinese immigrants and have a try at dog food.

    1. Dog food is all we will all be able to afford, after Biden wrecks the dollar.

      1. Yeah. Things were going so well four more years of Trump could have only led to prosperity.

        1. OrangeManLessBad?

  8. I live in a small municipality just outside of a larger city. Our local laws only ban larger barnyard animals. So ducks would be fine, but goats are not. You may have chickens but not ostriches or horses.

    Seems to work pretty well. Several of my neighbors have chickens, or beehives, or rabbits. The chickens make a little bit of noise from time to time, but much less than the local dogs. Hell, probably less than the local squirrels.

    1. And undoubtedly infinitely less noise than the local Karens.

      1. Orders of magnitude.

  9. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday was asked if Biden has a comment on the ongoing Antifa violence that erupted in Portland and Seattle on inauguration day.

    Psaki:

    answer: “um, uh, um, ummm” MY JOB INFO

    1. SEDITIOUS BOT!!!

      Them Roosians are at it again!

  10. Wellsboro’s poorly written code prohibits keeping honey bees, poisonous reptiles or spiders…

    If it says poisonous instead of venomous then it is poorly written.

    There are a lot of tradeoffs made when you live like I do – in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors and not visible from any public road – but the lack of this bullshit is probably the biggest thing in the pro column. My dumb hens roam freely my property unmolested by anything on two legs. On the other hand, they can be loud when not free roaming and I imagine would smell if they were cooped all the time. But at least I can say I de facto own my property just a little bit more than these people own theirs.

    1. To keep them unmolested don’t invite buttplug over

  11. If you don’t like your town you can start your own town.

  12. In fact, just last year the Audubon Society designated Wellsboro as “a Bird Town.” Audubon Bird Towns, the group says, are so designated because they demonstrate “a healthy, more sustainable environment for birds and people.” Ironically, the group presented the Bird Town designation to none other than Craig West, the same borough president who seems intent on making Wellsboro a bird-free town.

    No irony here. The Audubon Society is concerned about wild birds, they don’t give a rat’s ass about domesticated birds as either pets or livestock.

  13. According to the author, banning female chickens (hens) is “inane”, but banning male chickens (roosters) is “reasonable ground rules”.
    That’s sexist.

    But seriously, as a child who woke up to roosters crowing from an adjacent farm, and who inhaled the stench of cow, pig and chicken manure when the wind blew (in a house with no air conditioning), I support ordinances and/or zoning restrictions for farm animals in cities and towns.

    While several female chickens typically don’t cause problems for neighbors (until they poop on cars, sidewalks and yards), I don’t think the author of this article would want to live next door (in a city or town) to someone who raised multiple pigs, cows, sheep, llamas, pit bulls or coon dogs (the latter of which weren’t banned by the ordinance).

    1. Fun fact, animal shelters around the country have seen a sharp rise in Chickens being dumped on them.

      Apparently, a lot of hip, young urbanites who decide to go “organic” and practice a little urban “farming” get themselves some chickens and realize right fucking quick that taking care of the things sucks balls. So they offload them at the local animal shelters.

      1. Most urbanites who start raising chickens for eggs get frustrated with daily feedings, weekly cleanups of manure (which stinks worse than mammal manure), or killing, gutting and plucking feathers from the chickens.

    2. Roosters wake the neighbors up against their will, and therefore are a public nuisance that should be banned, if you have any neighbors within a couple of hundred yards at least. It’s not sexist to have the law recognize that only one sex of chicken causes the noise problem.

      1. One of my neighbors with chickens has a rooster. It doesn’t bother me much.

        1. So, correction: I talked to my neighbor today and if they get a rooster that gets old enough to start crowing, he becomes next Sunday’s chicken dinner.

          So, that explains why they don’t bother me very often, I guess.

  14. It’s good were covering the Chicken issue. Meanwhile CNN has a major panel in which the news organization demanded the mass censorship of any news or information source that didn’t go through them. Just, you know, something that happened.

    1. Never fear, Unreason will publish a piece supporting the bad guys on that issue too.

  15. This invites many epithets about chickenshit, rotten egg, et cetra government.

    1. Don’t forget making omelettes.

  16. to provide themselves not just with fresh eggs but also with free fertilizer and pest control.

    As someone who raises some chickens on a rural property – that’s only partially true.

    Yes, I have fewer red ants around because the hens eat them.

    I also have chicken shit – that ‘free’ fertilizer all over the place. Because the hens have to be able to range freely to find the pests to eat. Sure, I get some when cleaning out the coop but chicken shit requires some time and processing before its usable.

    And none of its ‘free’. Those eggs I get are the most expensive ‘free’ eggs I’ve ever seen.

    Oh, and now I have 5 roosters, up from just one. At least until tonight when the number is going to be reduced to 4.

    1. “At least until tonight when the number is going to be reduced to 4.”

      CHICKEN POT PIE
      Printed from COOKS.COM https://cooks.com/7658x8fi

      1 (10 oz.) can Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup or
      Campbell’s Chicken or Turkey Pot Pie Soup
      1 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
      1 1/2 cups cubed, cooked chicken or turkey
      3/4 cup chicken broth combined with 3 tablespoons flour
      2 Pillsbury pie shells

      Preheat oven to 400°F.

      Mix soup, vegetables (may use fresh vegetables), chicken, and broth. (The mixture should be somewhat thick.) If only chicken noodle soup is available, it may be pureed in the blender to make a smooth gravy.

      Put mixture into the bottom pie shell. Cover with the top pie crust and crimp to seal. Slice a few vent holes in the top.

      Bake for 40 minutes or until golden. Cover pie edge with aluminum foil or a pie shield if it begins to brown too quickly.

      Submitted by: CM

      1. You will get a better pot pie if you cover it with crescent roll sheet (cut to fit) or if you are really trying to impress, puff pastry.

        Also, I wouldn’t start off with a mass-market processed soup product. Grab a rotisserie bird from your local grocer and make your own.

        Or, if you’re feeling froggy, make a beef pot pie. much better.

      2. Unless it’s just a cockerel, I wouldn’t use that recipe on a rooster. They’re pretty good stewed with drop dumplings, though.

    2. If the birds are pooping on your grass that’s fertilizer.

      1. Actually, it burns the grass.

        Chicken poop needs to be left to mellow before it can be used.

        1. Best used in nitrogen poor compost heaps, IMO.

    3. Can you train them to “make here”?

      1. Sure. One or two. I have 20.

    4. This is largely true.

      I too raise chickens (and guineas) on a rural property.

      I love my chickens. They provide me with fresh eggs which, as you say, are incredibly expensive (you will never recoup your cost for housing, supplies, and feed unless you can start selling your hatching eggs – and even that only works with certain breeds).

      I do get good amounts of fertilizer, but it’s negligible because I’m generally too lazy to properly care for a garden that might provide some food.

      My chickens are pretty terrible at pest control. My guineas are superstars at it. With the exception of fucking stink bugs, we have no insect problems. We went from horrible tick issues to having zero ticks in 1 season with guineas.

  17. As for the photo accompanying this post – that’s quite an explicit picture of a cock.

    1. That’s not a cock, but a Welsummer hen.

      1. Oh, good, then I won’t have to feel uneasy about eating it.

      2. Looks just like one of our Americana’s.

  18. I used to have a neighbor who raised chickens and goats. Every know and then, the goats would get loose and use my side yard as a jousting lane. Quite amusing to watch goats charge headlong at each other.

    1. Huh-huh huh, butt heads, huh-huh.

      1. It was a dull thud when their skulls hit. And their back legs would come off the ground.

        1. Bad form for football.

  19. Photos of naked chicks:

    https://bit.ly/3c7GA98

    1. Spicy nugs?

    2. too old for SPB

  20. Rules against chickens are not random, they are a PITA
    My neighbors have chickens, got rid of the roosters, one of the chickens became trans and started crowing

    true story

    They barely lay any eggs now so they are pretty much grain to poop converters that wander in our yard

    1. chickens not rules are a PITA

  21. The accompanying article said they live on a 1-acre lot on Bodine Street—when you look at it on Google Maps, it looks like the homes are pretty well spaced out, and that there are other farmettes on the street. At the dead end it looks like that property has a four-stall dog kennel.

    The article said that a zoning change to a classification (rural residential) that would allow domestic birds was attempted but did not go thru. Given the limited info we have on this case, to me that would seem to have been the best solution.

  22. Hen chickens, fine, I get that. But the GD roosters in stereo (one of each side of my house screaming at the other) from dawn until afternoon all summer? I think I have a reason to complain (I did…. to the face of the neighbors).

    OTOH, someone set loose a flock of guinea hens (and cocks…. dunno yet, we’ll see in spring) that are now hanging out with yet another neighbor’s hens – except when they come through my yard screaming like rusty hinges. I’m having fantasies about roasted guinea fowl for Sunday dinner.

  23. For those actually interested in raising a small flock on property, I’d recommend perusing the website BackYardChickens.com – tons of useful info and helpful posters. Even more posts of people doing it wrong – not enough space for their birds, wrong feeds, poor coop designs (other than lack of space). Also tips for butchering, cooking, breed discussions, etc.

    My own flock is “moderate”, about 40 birds who free range a couple acres. No smell, I use a deep litter cold composting method, which is quite effective. Yes, they are the most expensive “free” eggs you will ever eat. Same with the flesh. Even “free” ranging only cuts my feed bill in half, and requires that you own and fence, acres. and acres. It does spread their droppings around, so they don’t burn the greenery, with the side effect of not effectively fertilizing the ground in anything like a reasonable time frame.

    Oh, I’ve ducks too. and soon, goats.

    But its a money losing operation – call it your entertainment budget if you want, but don’t pretend for a moment you will make a profit at it.

    1. Oh, yeah. We raised chickens so our son could have some experience with farm animals up close, and be personally acquainted with the fact his food came from killing animals.

      So naturally my wife fails her saving throw against puppy dog eyes, and we adopted out the cockerels instead of eating them…

  24. “provide themselves not just with fresh eggs but also with free fertilizer and pest control”This is great and really a great pest control project project.

  25. There is a reason chickens can live almost anywhere. you might ask what does it mean?

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  27. I live in Woodstock, very rural environs, and had a dozen ducks in my backyard pen for the eggs.
    The local SPCA swoops in, and cites me for misdemeanor crime for not having a wading pool in the pen, even though there was a wading pool right outside their open pen.
    They even muddied up the ducks right after seizing them all, to create evidence that I wasn’t taking care of them. NYC sensibilities in rustic NY:
    http://www.garytreistman.me

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