Backyard chickens make sense

Backyard chickens make sense

May 4th, 2013 in Opinion Free Press

Should Chattanoogans be banned from enjoying fresh eggs from their own backyards - especially when it's permitted in every other major city in Tennessee?

Not according to Chattanooga City Council member Chris Anderson.

On Tuesday, Anderson will propose an ordinance that, if passed, will allow Chattanooga residents to keep hens within the city limits. Copying a strategy that has worked in other cities, including Nashville and Knoxville, the legislation provides for licensing standards and requirements that limit chicken-related problems such as predators, noise, odor and waste removal.

Anderson's ordinance forbids roosters (hens can produce edible eggs without the help of males -- apparently a result of women's lib efforts), caps the maximum number of chickens allowed per home at 10, forbids the birds from being housed in front yards, and requires the hens be kept in a fenced enclosure that is either covered or at least 42 inches high. At night, the chickens must be secured in a covered, predator-resistant henhouse.

The enclosures and henhouses must be "clean, dry and odor-free" and kept "in a manner that will not disturb the use or enjoyment of neighboring lots."

Under the proposed ordinance, a prospective urban chicken owner would apply for a permit at the McKamey Animal Center for a $50 charge. That fee would cover the cost of the city's chicken coop inspections. After the first year of chicken ownership, Chattanoogans would pay a $20 annual permit fee.

Anderson even made his proposed ordinance risk-free by including a sunset provision that requires the City Council to revisit the law in a year. If the ordinance needs tweaking or the backyard chicken experiment is somehow unsuccessful, appropriate actions can be taken.

Backyard chickens have become a growing trend in cities across America in recent years. Atlanta, Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle all allow urban chickens.

The idea is popular locally, too. In an October 2012 poll on the Times Free Press website, nearly 70 percent of respondents supported allowing backyard chickens in Chattanooga. Other towns in Hamilton County, such as Signal Mountain, allow hens with great results and minimal problems.

Urban chicken enthusiasts embrace the convenience of being able to get fresh eggs from chickens that grow free of hormones and eat a healthy, controlled diet from their own backyards. There are other benefits to backyard chickens, as well. The hens provide insect control, produce useful fertilizer, engage urban children with nature and teach them farming practices, and even become beloved pets.

With basic regulations like the ones included in Anderson's proposal, it's hard to imagine a reasonable case against allowing backyard chickens.

The plan to overturn the backyard chicken ban gets the Chattanooga City Council off on the right foot by recommending to repeal a ridiculous restriction. Anderson clearly believes that it's better for government to allow as much freedom as possible, rather than micromanaging citizens' lives. We'll soon see if other council members agree.

For freedom-loving Chattanoogans, Anderson's efforts to allow residents to keep a few pet hens in their backyards is a step -- or, at least, a peck -- in the right direction.