Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sarasota H-T Guest Column Provides Overview/Advice RE: City of Sarasota's New Chicken Ordinance

Today's Sarasota Herald-Tribune includes a CLUCK guest column, SUCCESS AT CHICKEN KEEPING, that outlines some of the basic provisions of the just passed City Ordinance 11-4955 and provides advice for would-be chicken keepers. 
Key recommendations include 1) Taking the Are You Ready for Backyard Chickens? QUIZ, 2) Taking an Introduction to Chickens class such as those offered by the Sarasota County Extension Office (next one April 2) and 3) understanding the city's constraints by reading an Annotated Version of the ordinance. Both the QUIZ and the Annotated Ordinance appear in the header bar of the Sarasota Sarasota CLUCK blog

The column,which ran on page 7A of the February 8th issue of the Sarasota Herald Tribune is reproduced below:

Success at chicken keeping

Published: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 7, 2011 at 4:57 p.m.
Yesterday afternoon the Sarasota City Commission changed the City Code to once again make it legal to have a few chickens. Its action is the culmination of an 18-month initiative by a group of citizens known as Sarasota CLUCK -- Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping. CLUCK supporters are intrigued with the possibility of backyard hens. But the new right to have chickens is not an open-ended invitation to start a free-range farm in your front yard. In fact, the newly passed chicken constraints are the most stringent for any animal regulated by the city.
Perhaps all the publicity, puns, and national media attention have made your readers intrigued with backyard chickens as well. But long before making a decision to get chickens, prospective chicken parents need to understand what is involved. Getting chickens is a big decision, comparable to getting a dog or cat, if only because chickens can live as long. In a way, it is a bigger commitment, because there are far more outdoor predators that like the taste of chicken than predators that eat dogs and cats. That reality places a greater responsibility on chicken owners.
How can a household decide if chickens make sense for it? CLUCK is testing a self-scoring quiz that should help prospective owners assess their readiness to successfully raise chickens. Those who score in the 80s or 90s are probably ready to choose a coop design and ponder which of the more than 60 breeds might be a good match.
For those with lower scores, more delving is called for. CLUCK recommends an introduction to chickens course such as the "Chickens 101" half-day workshops offered by the Sarasota County Extension Office. One important aspect of these workshops is getting beyond online and book-learning to provide real world, hands-on experience: How do you hold a hen? What is your chicken manure tolerance? How noisy are chickens really?
Once the decision is made that chickens might make sense, prospective chicken tenders need to familiarize themselves with the ordinance that governs chicken keeping in the city. For starters, chickens may only be kept in single-family residential areas and there are limits on both the maximum number of chickens and their sex. Only four hens are allowed and no roosters (males). And these are backyard animals.
One unusual aspect of the city ordinance is a requirement for "movable coops." This provision was added for several reasons but the most important is to optimize relations with neighbors, so that the coop location could be adjusted. If residents have a backyard enclosed with a fence adequate to contain their chickens, then the birds may be let out during the day, but the hens are required to be securely contained within the coop during non-daylight hours.
In addition, there are property setbacks, minimum space requirements, design standards and a prohibition on egg sales. And the new law does not allow deliberate killing of the birds for consumption. The CLUCK blog features an annotated version of the new ordinance that will both help citizens understand the new ordinance in everyday terms, and encourage prospective chicken owners to go beyond the minimum requirements in terms of neighbor consideration and animal welfare.
Once people understand the requirements, they need to create conditions for success. One common mistake is getting chickens first and then frantically trying to cobble together an adequate coop. In addition to acquiring a compliant coop and secure feed storage system before bringing home chickens, expectant chicken keepers should consider enclosing their backyard with an appropriate fence or wall.
Three years from now city staff will evaluate how the experiment with chickens has progressed. City commissioners will have the opportunity to amend, or even repeal, the ordinance if they choose. In the meantime, chicken lovers have an opportunity to enjoy the birds they have been denied and prove CLUCK's assertion that backyard hens are more productive and less problematic than more common pets. CLUCK stands ready to help.
The CLUCK blog with annotated ordinance and self-scoring "Are you ready for backyard chickens?" quiz may be found at sarasotacluck.blogspot.com.
Register online at sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu, starting February 14th for the next "CHICKENS 101" workshop, which will be held April 2.

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