Saturday, January 1, 2011

CLUCK OPINION: New Year's Resolution -- Let's Have Fair Comparisons

CLUCK believes chickens will end up looking pretty good in any fair head-to-head comparison, and furthermore that when unfair comparisons are made, they should be pointed out. 

For that reason, CLUCK is critical of letters to the editor complaining about experiences in other parts of the country in vague terms that may or may not be faintly comparable to what is being proposed here in the City of Sarasota. In addition, CLUCK believes it would make more sense to compare chickens not to an abstract unrealistic standards, but other common urban pets.

Take for example a letter that appeared today in the Sarasota Herald Tribune Chickens require effort. Let's parse the letter:
I do not live within the Sarasota city limits, but I do know that people who have never raised chickens have no clue what the reality is. Fair statement, but a) people who have never raised anything have no clue what they are getting into (ask a first-time parent or puppy owner), and b) CLUCK has been emphasizing education, which has resulted in our County IFAS Extension Office offering "Chicken 101" classes to help people decide if chickens make sense for them.
I like chickens, but they require constant tending, as any farm animal does. If by constant, the author means daily, sure. But "minutes a day" comes closer. Feeding, watering and collecting eggs doesn't take much time, nor does closing the coop at night. They certainly take less care than any dog. But chickens do take resolute commitment. You have to close the coop. Closing the coop 95% of the time will probably lead to no chickens in less than three weeks. 
And for the record, characterizing chickens as "farm animals" ignores the contemporary reality of the more than 75 US cities that allow chickens. Whatever chickens were in the past in America, they are now primarily backyard pets and industrial production units (and the backyard pets are the fortunate ones). 
 In Massachusetts, I had neighbors who raised chickens, and I had two acres so my nearest neighbor was quite far away. The "neighbors raised chickens" Okay, is that six or less hens (what CLUCK is proposing) or a flock of 60 (or 600?) that included roosters? 
"quite far away" Another vague term -- 50', 100', 1,000'?  I grew up on two acres in New Jersey and could easily throw a baseball and hit our neighbor's house. The amount of land one has is not the relevant measure, but the actual distance to the chickens.
Even so, the birds were noisy at times, and attracted all kinds of wildlife into the surrounding yards. "At times" is that twice a day, twice a month, twice a year?" Dogs are noisy at times, and cats can be too. What people object to is animals that frequently or for continued duration . .  . makes sounds in such a manner as to annoy, disturb, injure or endanger the comfort, repose, health, peace, or safety of a reasonable person of normal sensibilities.  

As for wildlife, yes, predators are attracted to chickens, that's why the hens are secured in their coop at night. But chickens don't create the "wildlife" -- the raccoons, opossums, rats, etc. are already in your neighborhood, eating garbage, cat food, bird seed, fallen fruit and whatever they can fish out of the goldfish pond as well as raiding the "compost pile". Chicken owners shouldn't be blamed for having pets that are attractive to the omnivores their neighbors have been inadvertently feeding for years.
When chickens got away, they were impossible to catch, and, on top of that, the smell of their waste would permeate the neighborhood. Absolutely true --chickens can be very hard to catch, but if neighbors were trying to catch chickens that is a symptom that those neighbors were not great chicken managers. Chickens can be lured to a certain extent, and they can be herded fairly well, but trying to catch them is tough. When my family kept chickens they came when called and were very interested in getting back into their coop at night. 

"The smell of their waste would permeate the neighborhood" -- this suggests we are talking about FAR more than a handful of chickens. Either this statement is exaggerated or we are talking about a lot of chickens.
Do your readers think an animal control officer is going to have the time and resources to go around a neighborhood chasing chickens and enforcing the regulations? It is not fair to the chickens, let alone the neighbors, so my advice is not to allow urban chickens. No, animal services probably won't have a lot of spare time to be chasing chickens. That may be due in part to the estimated 100,000 dogs and cats that don't have licenses in the County and the fact that if one takes the time to read section of the Sarasota City Code Chapter 8-4, City cats are apparently not allowed to leave the owners yard. Enforcing just those laws would require a major restructuring of both County Animal Services and City Code Enforcement. 

CLUCK is not opposed to dog and cat ownership or trying to make cats stay in one yard. But CLUCK challenges the assumptions that chickens should be judged by some abstract set of standards that dogs and cats frequently don't come close to meeting. 

People that live next to boarding kennels might have negative experiences with dogs, but that's not a reason to keep someone from having one as a pet. If people want to write about their terrible, unbearable experiences living next to a handful of hens, I imagine the City Commission would be interested, but horror stories from elsewhere with no relevant or comparable details are neither fair nor helpful. 

Remember to take the poll in the upper right to let CLUCK know where you live.

So here are are two suggested New Years resolutions:

1) If you are going to complain about bad chicken neighbors, let us know the facts about those neighbors -- how many chickens? roosters? etc..

2) If you want compare chickens to something, try other common pets instead of lofty unrealistic standards that few, if any, pets can meet.

Friday, December 31, 2010

CLUCK's Chicken-Related Code Enforcement Quiz Results • Please be seated to read this!

Maybe you saw the Quiz that ran for a number of days in the upper righthand corner of the blog.
Apparently not too many people saw it, or were otherwise engaged because only three people bothered to record an answer. And nobody really nailed it.

Two people thought it had to be a trick question, and one person thought it would be around four percent. 

Here's the scoop: According to the City, during fiscal years 2009 and 2010 the City received 2,988 (that's nearly 3,000!) complaints in which resulted in the following cases where code compliance orders were issued:

·         overgrowth- 1011 cases 29%
·         junk/trash/rubbish - 834 cases 28%
·         housing - 337 cases 11%
·         inoperable motor vehicles - 304 cases 10%
·         illegal exterior storage - 148 cases 5%
·         illegal signs - 109 cases 3.6%
·         no water - 97 cases 3%
·         boats/trailers front yard-52 cases 1.7%
·         commercial vehicles - 48 1.6%
·         trash cans - 39 1.3%
·         graffiti  - 19 .006%

They did respond to 7 chicken complaints (out of nearly 3,000) and only one of them actually resulted in generating a case.  

So 7 out of 2,988 equals 00.2342 percent of the complaints. If that number quadrupled (to 28 complaints) it will still only be 00.9368%. That's a little less than one percent of all code complaints.

Of course, this assumes the volume of other complaints will remain more or less constant. So if you checked trick question and want to feel okay about yourself, you can argue that it all depends on the number of other complaints. Point taken.

CLUCK's point is that, in the greater scheme of things, seven complaints in two years is not a lot and those were complaints regarding people who were violating the law. And only one case resulted.

We'd like to think that people who get chickens after the ordinance is passed will be at least as responsible.

For a humorous treatment (with real facts) of other communities code enforcement realities see David Grimes Offers to Help with Sarasota Chicken Enforcement.

See also Chickens Not A Problem After 2 Year Test in Colorado.

Don't forget to respond to the poll in the upper right letting us know where you live.

CLUCK NEWS: Chicken Fails to Cross Road! Why you ask? Read all about it in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

In a classic Man-Bites-Dog story the Sarasota Herald Tribune has revealed that a Manatee County chicken failed to cross a road. The road in question? Manatee County Road 675.

And unlike in imponderable mysteries of why chickens do successfully cross roads, in this case "authorities" have documented exactly how and why the crossing attempt failed.

:::::::::::SPOILER ALERT:::::::::::::::

It was hit by a Manatee County Sheriff's Office Squad car!

Read all about it (all four lines) here on page 3 of the Police Report.

Accidents such as this one emphasize the importance of confining pets to the owner's property, both for the safety of the pet and the motoring public.

CLUCK's emphasis on BACKYARD chickens is not merely a considerate gesture to those who don't like chicken aesthetics, it is a deliberate effort to keep these animals out of harm's way. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

CLUCK Addresses Public Health Concerns Posed by Backyard Chickens

One recurring area of concern regarding backyard chickens has been a perceived public health problem. CLUCK has taken these statements very seriously and concedes that the transmission of diseases from pets to humans is always a legitimate area of concern. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has a publication Health risks associated with raising chickens that summarizes health risks associated with chickens. This document emphasizes risks associated with Salmonella bacteria and provides a dozen recommended actions to minimize risk, the best known of which is hand-washing. It should be noted that Salmonella is a well-publicized risk with store-bought eggs and chicken meat and that a variety of other pets, including reptiles, amphibians, and fish (animals normally kept indoors) can all transmit Salmonella.

The University of Florida IFAS Extension has published a document What are the risks of contracting diseases associated with chickens? that concludes While nothing is risk-free, the risk of contracting Avian Influenza, Salmonella, E. coli, or mosquito-borne encephalitis by participating in embryology projects is extremely small.”

It is worth noting that the CDC flags fourteen separate diseases that can move from cats to people, and fifteen separate diseases that can move from dogs to people. It is for this reason (the fact that all pets carry health risks) that public health experts do not flag chickens as posing any greater risk than other pets. CLUCK has received a copy of an email to this effect written Sarasota County’s Director of Environmental Health, Chuck Henry.

Another source of concern is so-called Bird Flu or Avian influenza. If you check the World Health Organization Global Alert and Response website, you’ll see there are no cases of Avian influenza in North America. In addition, according to the CDC Avian influenza is a somewhat misleading name as the influenza A (H5N1) virus has been found in pigs, domestic cats, and dogs.

Finally, in addition to diseases, pet-related injuries should be considered. We found no data related to injuries caused by female chickens. In contrast, the New York Times reported recently that in 2008 about 866 people a day went to the emergency room with dog injuries and about 26 were admitted each day and that treatment for those admitted averaged $18,200 per person. And In Sarasota County in 2009, 31 people needed rabies shots from possibly rabid mammals that could not be located for testing. Chickens cannot transmit rabies.

It is worth reflecting upon the fact that CLUCK is proposing backyard chickens that would have limited contact with humans, while dogs and cats are typically brought into the home and cats are typically encouraged to defecate in the home -- a fact that looks a little strange in print, but is nonetheless true. Cat litter that contains the Toxoplasmosis parasite poses a serious threat to unborn children. CLUCK is not arguing against keeping dogs and cats as pets, rather we are pointing out that all pets pose health risks and we find ways of dealing with those risks that do not involve prohibiting the keeping of those species.

Bottom line: If we were allowing people to have pets based on the risk of disease transmission to humans, cats and dogs (with similar mammalian systems) would be near the end of the list. Chickens would presumably be somewhere near the top (after chia pets, sea monkeys, and pet rocks?). 

But lower risk is not no risk and CLUCK supports proper sanitation for both the health of the chickens, chicken keepers, and neighbors. Young children and people with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk. Handwashing after contact with animals is now a common protocol for all animals. 

CLUCK appreciates the concern regarding public health, but after reviewing CDC material and other sources, concludes that the health risks associated with backyard chickens are both manageable and less than the risks posed by more common pets.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

CLUCK: Putting Backyard Chickens on Trial: Solution or New Problem?

One suggestion that has been advanced in regard to the proposed re-legalization of chickens in the City is the idea of a finite trial period -- a test time period with a sunset deadline at which time the whole matter would be evaluated and either continued, modified, or terminated.

Sunset provisions are popular with elected officials because they defer decisions and appear to offer something to both sides. Proponents get to feel like they have gotten most of what they want and can make their case again later, and opponents see it as an opportunity to redouble their efforts to stop what they see as a mistake. Either way it is off the table for awhile -- the hard decision postponed, possibly to another set of decisionmakers.

Hidden in the sunsetting trial period concept are some assumptions:

• The premise that nothing is lost by allowing a change that is only guaranteed for a finite period
• That a particular fixed period determined in advance makes the most sense
• That this is the only way to ensure there will be review and adjustment
• And that the issue will be less contentious the second time around

To the extent that people invest resources during the "trial period" there will be costs and that's because people will make different choices if they think they are making a permanent or a temporary investment. In the case of chickens, people will be investing in a coop. It stands to reason that you might spring for a little better or more secure coop if you thought it was a long term investment, than if you thought it was a short term investment. This becomes obvious the shorter the time period. If it were to be a three month time period people would be foolish to spend a lot of money on a coop.

Picking a date certain is appealing, but begs the question of how one can know in advance what the most appropriate trial period might be. The matter might prove to be problematic quickly, or it may take more time for issues to arise or problems to resolve themselves. In the case of chickens, it will take people awhile to build or acquire coops, get birds, and get them laying. Would a year be enough to evaluate? Two years? Hard to know in advance.

Explicitly declaring a definite trial period may seem like the only way to make sure what has been done can be undone, but that's seldom the case. When you think about it, almost everything in the city proceeds on some sort of trial basis right now. The City manager is employed on sort of a trial basis - if he loses the support of the commission someone else will be hired. Roundabouts are being built on what amounts to a trial basis -- if they are a complete flop, they will eventually be removed and replaced with signaled intersections. Even the commissioners themselves serve on a trial basis -- if the electorate isn't happy they terminate the trial. We can even view the current ban on chickens as a trial -- they were legal, then they weren't, now we're reconsidering -- so their banishment has proceeded on a trial basis. So really, almost any time three commissioners want to revisit something (with the exception of long term arrangements like FP&L or Marina Jacks) they can-- review is always an option.

A basic tenet of procrastination is that by putting something off, it will somehow resolve itself or get easier in the future. That's certainly a possibility, but there is no guarantee. If the parties in contention simply use the trial period to marshal more forces, then postponing a decision won't make things easier, but harder.

ANOTHER DIMENSION  There's a fifth dimension to the issue as it relates to chickens, or any living animal. Unless the those with chickens are to be grandfathered in at the end of the trial, then terminating the trial creates a risk of going to households and telling them to get rid of their chickens. That will not only be traumatic for the owners, but create a serious animal welfare problem. Better to adopt good rules at the front end, than to create problems later on.

For these reasons, the Commission should think carefully about considering any trial period and give serious consideration to the reality that they have the ability to amend or adjust provisions at any time if there is a need.

Re-visiting a situation that has mostly resolved itself because of a prior commitment to do so is probably not the best course of action.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CLUCK Asks: Which neighbor activity would you veto?

One of the recurring suggestions regarding the re-legalization of chickens in Sarasota is the notion that neighbors would have to sign off, that is somehow authorize your ability to have a few hens.

There are a number of communities around the U.S. that have such provisions, but this would represent a radical departure here in Sarasota, and it's hard to see how someone could be blamed for calling it un-American.

It would be a major, unprecedented shift in our understanding of Sarasota's traditional neighborhoods for it would amount to handing veto power over your yard to your neighbor.

There are two sound reasons to oppose such a major shift in doctrine, the first is purely practical and the second, principled.

The first reason is that it would, of necessity, demand an entirely new bureaucracy -- some government entity (probably an office) mediating your relationship with your neighbors, keeping track of which neighbor approved what and when. Would these approvals need to be notarized? Are they perpetual, renewable, revokable? Would you need all, or just some neighbors in accord? Some people in town live on inholdings and have but one neighbor, while others have eight neighbors -- what is fair? Would it be the owner of the adjacent parcel, or the occupant? What if someone changed their minds?

The amount of paperwork that might be required is staggering and all to replace what used to be taken as common sense or common courtesy. It would appear that if we are unwilling to maintain a working relationship with our neighbors, the recommended solution is having government mediate that for us. You don't need to be a Tea Party member to see how off-base that is.

The second reason doesn't deal with the practical realities, but rather the principle that a man or woman's home is his or her castle. We all proceed with major home additions, fence building, tree cutting and other activities that require a permit from the city -- but none of these require the blessings of our neighbors. Yet each of these would appear to have far greater impact on our neighbors than a half dozen or less seven pound birds.

Here's a fun thought experiment: Go around your lot and fantasize about what YOU would veto about each of your neighbors. Nix the beginning trombone scale practice? Ban the leaf blower than interrupts your Saturday nap? Oppose all of their garage color choices until they have to paint it to match your house?

Of course, the kicker is what they might veto of yours. Thought you were adding a pool? Guess again. Butterfly garden?  Not happening. Solar panels? Sorry. Oh, and your cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, he was found in the neighbors sandbox and now is felis non grata.

If the City of Sarasota really wants to head along the slippery slope of allowing neighbors to veto other's activities, they should advance it as a new community planning tool and hold workshops to decide what activities would be covered and which would not. Otherwise, either let people have chickens or not.

Creating a new bureaucracy and a dangerous new doctrine is not a solution.

We're not the only CLUCKs: Links to other Similarly-Named Urban Chicken Groups

Rebekah came up with our acronym, which seemed like an improvement over the obvious Sarasota Urban Chicken Keeping. But it turns out we are not the only CLUCK's around. Here's a sampling of some of the others:

Sacramento's Campaign to Legalize Urban Chicken Keeping

Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub

Charlottesville League of Urban Chicken Keepers

Cluck Ottawa

Northfield Minnesota's Project Cluck

Also see CLUCK NATION "a nesting place where common sense prevails, where birds of a feather flock together, where absurd realities of our world are given perspective and then replayed, prompting even the most simple-minded birdbrain to ask, quite simply, what the cluck?"

Monday, December 27, 2010

CLUCK Report: Six Chickens vs. One Dog: What's the Scoop on Poop?

CLUCK concedes that large quantities of chicken manure can have a distinctive unpleasant odor. But the same can be said for most animal waste.

Whether dog feces smell worse than chicken manure is no doubt subjective, but according to one website an English Springer Spaniel would produce over 10,000 lbs of feces in its (average 12 year) lifetime. Yet, odds are we are unlikely to notice the smell of such a neighbor dog’s lifetime 5 tons of waste.

The daily output of manure from a hen is from .2 to .34 pounds per day. So six hens might produce somewhere between 1.2 and two pounds a day. Six average-sized hens (weighing about 7 lbs each) would cumulatively weigh about 42 pounds, as much as that one English Springer Spaniel, a popular mid-sized dog.

Those six hens, by contrast, would produce between 438 and 745 pounds of manure a year or 5,256 to 8,940 pounds total for all six hens over a 12 year period -- half to five sixths as much waste as a comparable weight dog. So, quantitatively at least, in terms of waste produced, six chickens would be generating considerably less than an average dog.

And bear in mind the chicken manure would be confined to the backyard, while dog waste is sometimes found along the sidewalks and streets throughout the neighborhood. Most dog owners are responsible, but we have all forgotten a bag at times, and when your dog's digestive system is not working properly there isn't always something that can be picked up.