Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Debunking the Predator Argument

One of objections to backyard chickens is the fear that they will increase the number of obnoxious opossums, raccoons, and rats.

The increased predator concern is common, predictable and irrational. Every neighborhood in Sarasota is crawling at night with raccoons, roof (black) rats, opossums, etc. They are eating garbage in garbage cans, cat food left outdoors, fallen fruit, and "compost" that is little more than people dumping food scraps outside in a pile. Raccoons work over fish ponds, pulling out fish and tadpoles. Some people actually leave food out for the raccoons, which can carry rabies. If you don't believe rats are already omnipresent, take a walk around any mall and you're likely to see numerous black plastic rat traps that proliferate without any chickens to support them.

Most people are blissfully unaware of all this wild nightlife, and if they were, they would probably try to forget. The point is most neighbors have little awareness of and no inclination to do anything about these night-time omnivores.

Chicken keepers, on the other hand, are passionately motivated to monitor and manage these animals, which once they learn about a food source keep coming back. C.L.U.C.K. is committed to providing prospective chicken-keepers with information about predator-resistant coops, but people who take shortcuts will quickly learn about any shortcomings of their coop design and they will be the people live-trapping predators and calling animal control to come pick them up at $20 a pop.

Yes, it costs $20 to have animal control come pick up a live-trapped animal. Expensive, but there are two reasons why chicken keepers go with live trapping. First, it is the humane thing to do -- secondly, it is a low risk strategy if you catch the wrong target species.

Six chickens is not going to support a population of raccoons for very long, and after the first hen goes, the owner will be obsessively on the case to protect the remaining birds. It can be argued that the best way to reduce night predators would be to increase the number of people keeping chickens.

Snakes are similar, but generally more of a daytime issue. Like the rats, raccoons and opossums, they are already out there. No native snake is going to bother anything larger than a pullet. The notion that the snake population will measurably increase as a result of neighborhood chickens is another misplaced concern.

If you want some advice about local coop design, write to sarasotacluck at for a draft document.

Chickens in....... Lakewood Ranch!?

City of Sarasota residents who want their children to have a better idea where food comes from will soon be able to drive to Lakewood Ranch to see a hen house. According to a recent Sarasota Herald Tribune article, Lakewood Ranch is adding a community "SmartFarm" at the entrance to a Pat Neal residential development and the farm will include a hen house.

We didn't see that coming.

While one Smartfarm is not the same as allowing chickens at Lakewood Ranch homes, it reflects an awareness of local food initiatives we have not seen here in the City.