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.

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