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“Fear-mongering and misinformation seem to be rampant in old ranks of our city government”

by Prince Of Petworth April 25, 2017 at 12:30 pm 48 Comments

DC Chickens-5
Dashiel, photo by Alexandra Friendly

“Dear PoPville,

I’m a resident of Chevy Chase, DC, and wanted to bring to your attention a kind of crazy issue going on regarding keeping backyard chickens in the District.

My family has had chickens in a coop in our backyard for over 4 years.  DC law currently allows for backyard chickens with very strict regulations although the Department of Health contends that chickens are banned outright.  The regulations state that the Coop cannot be within 50 ft of any human residence, the Coop must be built to prevent rodent access, the Coop must be kept sanitary and free from odors or pests, owners must obtain the written consent of all neighbors within 100 ft of your home, and you are forbidden from owning a rooster.

Photo by Allison Sheedy

About a year ago the DOH got an anonymous complaint about our chickens.  Animal control/DOH showed up and told us that they had 48 to get rid of them or they would be back to ‘dispose’ of them.   WAMU did a story.

We decided to sue the city to protect our family pets.  We had done our homework before getting the chickens, and were following all of the regulations.  The Post did a story.

When we showed up at court to get a temporary restraining order against DOH, their lawyers conceded we would likely prevail, settled the case, and granted us an official permit to keep our birds.

Fast forward 9 months and Mayor Bowser releases the first draft of her budget.  Hidden away in the section on public health is a small sentence that says “common cages birds does not include chickens.”  This little piece of language is intended to change the current regulations about backyard chickens and explicitly outlaw them. That’s not the proper way to go about changing a law.  To us, it seemed like an underhanded and vindictive response to us having the temerity to protect our pets.

We put out the call to other people in DC who have or support backyard chickens, created a website, and started a petition to ask the city council to yank this language from the budget.  In just a few days we have gotten over 400 signatures.

As a direct result of this activity, Councilmember Grosso, who is on the DOH oversight committee, has expressed his “100% commitment” to backyard chickens in DC.  Councilmember Cheh has now stated that she believes the issue would best be covered through the legislative process and not the budget and will support the provision being struck from the budget.

But we still face an uphill battle. Fear-mongering and misinformation seem to be rampant in old ranks of our city government, which is truly disappointing.  I guess there is a reason DC should have a chip on its shoulder when compared to cities like NY, Seattle, Portland, Austin, etc.

Thought this would be of interest to any DC residents who support sustainability, urban agriculture, and the like.”

  • textdoc

    TLDR summary: We have backyard chickens and are outraged that wording in the Mayor’s new budget would be a non-legislative method of forbidding backyard chickens.

    • dcd

      How is the budget “non-legislative?” Doesn’t it have to pass the city council?
      My tl;dr: We have backyard chickens and are outraged that they may be made illegal. We believe, without any evidence, that we are the targets of this effort.

      • textdoc

        I thought the budget is just a starting point, like a wish list. But maybe I am getting confused with the federal budget process?
        It sounded like the OP was complaining that the Mayor was going to forbid backyard chickens via executive-branch actions (regulations) rather than legislative-branch actions (laws).

      • Truxton Thomas

        I would think they mean having this issue determined by standalone legislation, not a budgetary provision.

      • Anon

        Budgets are not a great way of changing existing law form a little “d” democracy perspective.

  • Guillermo Brown

    You had me until the last sentence.

    • A call to action (reaching out to your councilmember, calling Bowser’s office–not just signing a petition for one family’s cause) would have been more compelling. That, and a quick summary for us non-chicken-owners about why chickens are great pets.

  • meerswan

    just signed the petition; i hope you win the fight.

  • Deebs

    Wtf is Bowser’s problem with chickens? I’m not loaded enough to have space for chickens, but if a bag of money drops from the sky I would love to have a few chickens for fresh eggs.

  • NoMiPa

    My family kept chickens growing up in a rural area, and so did many of our neighbors. They are mean, messy animals. I recognize their utility, and it’s one thing to keep them in a rural area, or possibly even in the right suburban environment. Most parts of DC are just not conducive to chickens. You do not want to live less than 50 feet from a chicken coop. Even without roosters they are noisy and even with excellent care they smell. It’s not fear-mongering or misinformation. It’s just that they’re more trouble than they’re worth in a city.

    • Hill Denizen

      We found a chick in our neighborhood when I was a kid and kept it in the backyard of our suburban townhouse til it grew into a rooster. That thing was the biggest a*hole. Poop all over the yard and it would jump up and try to attack me and my cat while we were lounging in our hammock. On top of that the noise it started to make as it got older, oh goodness. Chickens are jerks.

      • TX2DC

        Your post made me lol. Great visuals….

      • L.

        I agree, I’m from the sticks and have been around chickens. The smell of chicken$#!+ is something you don’t forget, they NEVER shut up, plus they randomly try to peck your soft bits out. Keeping chickens as pets kinda mystifies me.

    • littlen

      I had chickens growing up in a rural area too, and although we had a couple of mean roosters, the vast majority of them were absolutely fine. We hand-raised the chicks as kids and my sister usually had one special one that would sit on her shoulder quietly and as good as could be. The hand-raised chickens have long since passed, but my parents still keep a few they got as adults for eggs and to eat ticks, and although they aren’t exactly friendly they are also are by no means mean. I can’t say we really noticed a smell unless you were within 15 feet or so if their pen either. But yes, very messy if you let them wander around.

      The geese now, those were super messy, noisy, and aggressive to outsiders. They adored us though, especially dad, and would follow him all around the garden and sit at his feet.

    • mmm

      the OP is not suggesting that everyone should be able to have chickens in their backyard. Only those that meet the current restrictions (which are very difficult to meet). The restrictions seem reasonable to me. I don’t see why banning them outright is necessary.

  • anon

    I’m 100% committed to outlawing backyard chickens. Where do I sign?

    • navyard

      Can you explain why? I don’t know the cons, but I sure would love some fresh eggs.

    • wdc

      Why? I’d like to hear the reasons anyone could be against backyard chickens, given the givens (clean, no smells, rodent-proof, no roosters.)
      I just assumed that it was easier for simple-minded folks to outlaw something than to deal with possible complexities. There’s a lot of that going around.

      • textdoc

        Isn’t there a noise factor? Or is that mitigated by the distance requirement?

      • NoMiPa

        Smell-free isn’t really an option when it comes to chickens. You can take steps to mitigate it, but dealing with a strong scent is just part of owning chickens. Even without roosters they still get pretty noisy. They also tend to be pretty mean, and will try to chase and peck people.

        • JPinDC

          We had backyard chickens in DC for most of last summer on loan from a friend. They were anything but mean – happily eating out of our children’s hands and very tolerant of our 3yo’s rather aggressive petting and desire to pick them up. Even in the heat of summer, we never smelled their poop though we would scoop out the wood chips in the coop every week and hose down the bottom, wire floor of the cage. They were certainly much quieter than our neighbor’s dogs and gave us fresh eggs each day.

          • NoMiPa

            My family and neighbors kept chickens when I was growing up, and they were all terrible. No big deal when you can keep them an acre away from your house, but in DC it would be a big issue. I’m glad you had a good experience, but the average chicken won’t be petted. Child NoMiPa tried (a lot) and still has the battle scars from it. As to whether chickens or dogs are louder, it depends on the exact animals involved. I’d consider them about equal on average, but it’s very misleading to pretend that without roosters they’re unobtrusive animals. I think it’s more likely that you got used to the chicken smell than that they didn’t smell at all, which will happen for most people. It never did for me, but that was one of the signs that I was not cut out for country life.

          • wdc

            I also have great chicken experiences from my childhood. Chill hens, adorable peeps, lots of eggs. Also, the chickens will take your kitchen scraps and turn them into the best fertilizer. I agree that you need more space than the average DC rowhouse has, but you hardly need a back 40 to keep them.
            My aunt still keeps them. Since she has many grandkids, she prioritizes friendly breeds. One of my favorite pictures is my daughter as a four-year-old, driving a toy electric car with a chicken under one arm, and another sitting behind her.
            Sounds like NoMiPa’s family picked the wrong breeds? I’ve been around many, many chickens in my life, and never met an aggressive hen. The roosters could be jerks. And a brooding duck will try to eat your kneecaps off if you get too close to her nest. But all our hens were sweet, if a tad stupid.

    • GallowsHummer

      Amen. Way too much filth and rarely inoculated.

  • ParkViewneighbor

    Free the chicken !

  • Anonthony

    So if my neighbor has chickens running around their backyard, can you assure me that I’m not going to smell their excrement when I’m out in my backyard? That and increased rodent activity would be my only concerns. And hopefully the rooster ban is never overturned. Anyone who’s been anywhere near them knows that they don’t just crow when the sun comes up. It’s all damn day and night.

    • Shaw Guy

      I’m on the fence about backyard chickens for my family, but this argument is nonsensical. By this measure you should outlaw outdoor dogs, which are frequently create a lot more poop which many owners allow to decay in piles in their yards.

      You’d also have to outlaw backyard smoking and grilling.

      DC is not a pretty little pristine environment (okay maybe it is in Chevy Chase chicken land), we shouldn’t legislate what happens in backyards without applying in consistently.

      • Anonthony

        There’s a big difference between dog crap and chicken crap, trust me.

    • wdc

      Those concerns are covered in the existing regulations. If your neighbor’s chickens smell, then they are in violation of the regulations and you have a legitimate and actionable complaint.
      Banning all chickens is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    • anon29

      Do the chickens have large talons?

      • Florista

        YEAH!! +A million!

      • JMR

        Heck yes!

    • mmm

      if your neighbor wants chickens and you live within 100 feet, they need your written consent.

  • AsAMother

    Where does the fear mongering and misinformation come into play? I get the OP’s grievance, but she provided zero evidence to support those claims.

    • Kevin

      It doesn’t. They think it’s a personal attack against them (laughable as that is), which clouds the facts as they are laid out above.

      • Anon

        It’s not laughable to think this is targeted against them. The city just settled a lawsuit brought by them relating to this very issue. That’s exactly the kind of thing that causes language like “common cages birds does not include chickens” to be added to a spending bill.

  • Ward One Resident

    I have to agree with the OP somewhat. When this language got slipped into the budget, my immediate reaction was “Who in the DC government hates chickens.” Putting something like this in the budget, as opposed to making it a stand alone piece of legislation or part of a larger animal-type bill just seem suspect to me. Also included in this is the legalization of ferrets. Why is this stuff in the budget?!

  • ET

    I wish I could care about this but I truly don’t. My outrage meter has been set to deal with Trump and this doesn’t even register as a blip.

    • also anon

      +1, Trump and other much more important local issues (WMATA, DCRA, violent crimes etc.) have me rolling my eyes for these poor persecuted Chevy Chase chickens

  • ANON
  • PFlyer

    And speaking of chickens, Google “And that’s how Easter eggs are made.” But make sure that no children are in the room when you punch up the results . . . .

  • Annieonamouse

    Goding Elementary School (9th & F NE) rents chickens while there’s nice weather and keeps them right by the front door. I thought that was way cooler than the class gerbil we had growing up.

  • Anonymouse

    I own a chicken breeding farm in a Maryland suburb. Chickens do not belong in a city like D.C. People often believe that hens are quiet. I have 150+ chickens and trust me, the hens are just as loud as the roosters. Plus the smell is not easily avoided no matter how much you clean.

    But there is a legitimate reason to ban backyard chickens in D.C. right now: bird flu (avian influenza). It is spreading like wildfire in Maryland and Pennsylvania right now by way of wild birds. So far it has not crossed over to humans but it could. At the very least your little flock could continue the spread of the disease and cause it to be spread to larger commercial flocks. Proper testing needs to be done on a regular basis to avoid spreading it. People with backyard flocks simply are not going to take the time to do the testing.

    So if you want to keep chickens, move to the suburbs like PG County or Calvert where they are legal and welcomed. Leave the city to dogs and cats. If you want fresh eggs, there are plenty of organic farms in Maryland and Virginia to provide them for you. Plus getting out the city might do you some good.

    • Crazyquilt

      Amen, +1,000

    • Ally

      Signed the petition.

      • Ally

        To clarify, the petition to allow backyard chickens.

  • Anonymouse

    Of course Grosso is all over this issue. Dude never met a dopey cause he didn’t immediately champion.

  • crin

    The simpler the regulation (i.e. “no chickens”) the easier and fairer it is for the city to enforce. But regulations that so no chickens except if 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…, then it becomes much harder and more expensive for the city to enforce. Complication makes equal enforcement difficult. Sure the best chicken owners can keep it neat, but the regs regress to the mean where idiots live and do harm. Imagine if cat lady got into chickens. She’d have a thousand. K.I.S.S: no chickens.


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