Saturday, January 22, 2011

Do backyard hens lead to feral populations of chickens? CLUCK thinks not.

One opponent of backyard chickens in Sarasota has forwarded CLUCK with an interesting news story from West Lakeland. The news story features a population of feral chickens that Lakeland is trying to do something about with mixed results. Our critic closes with a snarky "Thanks for bringing the possibility of this to our community." The implication is that backyard hens in Sarasota will inevitably lead to feral chickens roaming the streets. And a local blogger (Critter Comments) has posted an entry wondering: "Sarasota. The new Key West?"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

CLUCK featured on WFLA News Channel 8 and WWSB ABC 7

Channel 8 reporter Jackie Barron interviews CLUCK spokesperson Jono Miller in this video segment. The chickens first seen in this video are upset and alarmed for some reason (probably because the videographer with a camera and possibly lights was in their coop) and don't reflect average or normal chicken sound volumes.

The Bradenton chickens are feral bantams -- one of the flightiest breeds and probably not a great urban chicken choice.  If you are considering chickens, please do your homework, and take a "Chickens 101" class. The "Are you ready for backyard chickens?" quiz under the blog header may help you decide if you are a good candidate to keep chickens.

CLUCK spokesman Jono Miller and local chicken-keeper Megan Jourdan were interviewed by Reporter Jennifer Schwan the day before and appeared on both the 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. newscasts. The pre-hearing WWSB video is here. The hearing-related WWSB video is here.

TBO jumbles Sarasota chicken supporters with opposition

A WWSB story attributed reasons people want backyard chickens to people opposed to chickens. The Sarasota prepares to welcome chickens story was filed January 20th and contains the following paragraph:

"Some people are concerned about the safety of their food, some people are animal welfare folks who don't like seeing chickens confined in cages, some people want kids to know where their food comes from," Miller said about those opposed to the issue.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CLUCK unveils quiz to help Sarasotans decide if they might be good chicken parents

In the wake of the unanimous vote to allow backyard hens in the City of Sarasota, CLUCK has posted a quiz to help Sarasotans decide if they might be good chicken parents.

CLUCK is testing a 20 question quiz to help those curious about raising chickens decide if they are good candidates to raise chickens. The link to the self-scoring quiz appears below the header.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

City Chicken Vote: Unanimous Approval!

Here are the basics. The City Commission passed CLUCK's alternative wording with two important exceptions: four chickens instead of six and a three year trial period.

Commissioner Atwell made the motion, which was seconded by Mayor Kirschner. Commissioner Clapp offered an amendment, which died for the lack of a second. Vice Mayor Atkins indicated he would vote for it and when the roll was called, it was unanimous.

PLEASE NOTE that Board action tonight did not instantaneously legalize backyard hens. That will have to wait until the second reading.

Also be aware that the City regulations will be the minimum compliance expected. CLUCK will work to draft a set of supplemental, voluntary guidelines that will improve conditions for neighbors, owners, and the chickens.

If possible, please convey your thanks to the City Commission and Planning Staff, who started out skeptics, but were open-minded and kept the measure alive and on track.

I'll close with one message from one of the hundreds of people that worked to make this happen over the last eighteen months:

Dear Commissioner Atkins,

I want to Thank You for your support tonight of CLUCK.
Your vote was a deciding factor in moving Sarasota closer to being a truly sustainable city of the future.

Your insight, that in the greater scope of things, this is not an issue that merits endless discussion and  has little impact on residents that don't wish to keep chickens.

Your humor is disarming and welcomed. 

Your patience, and that of your fellow Commissioners, is applauded for having survived the persistent efforts of CLUCK and those of us who believe the ability to contribute to our own food supply is the cornerstone of a resilient community.

Best wishes in your future endeavors and Thank You for your support.

CLUCK on Channel WWSB 7 at 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.

CLUCK spokesman Jono Miller and local chicken-keeper Megan Jourdan have been interviewed by Reporter Jennifer Schwan and should appear on both the 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. newscasts. The chicken featured today lives a life as an outlaw and hopes the outcome of tonight's vote will convey an aura of legitimacy she has never known. 

CLUCK says: Today is the day!

Sometime late tonight the City Commission will vote on a proposal to re-legalize backyard hens in the city of Sarasota. There are many ways this volunteer citizen initiative could have run off the rails.

If CLUCK wasn't in substantial agreement with the ordinance drafted by staff,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If backyard chickens didn't lay eggs nutritionally and gustatorily superior to storebought,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If the Planning Board had rejected the idea 5-0,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and if the Sarasota Herald-Tribune hadn't warmed to the idea and endorsed it, 
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If CCNA had voted to oppose the ordinance,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If we had adopted a fixed position and refused to change or compromise,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and if staff were no longer supporting their draft, 
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If the Pelican Press hadn't taken an open-minded stance,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If chickens posed a greater public health risk than dogs and cats,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If dozens of other cities hadn't gone before and proved it could work,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If chickens were the size of goats or pigs,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If only a handful of people wanted chickens in the City,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If there was strong evidence there would be significant enforcement issues,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If we hadn't demonstrated a commitment to education and responsible ownership,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission
and If we didn't know of multiple people keeping chickens illegally with no neighbor complaints,
there would be no point bringing this to the Commission.

But none of these things happened, so we are bringing this to the Commission with high expectations.

Monday, January 17, 2011

CLUCK Asks: What Pets Pass the Poop Test?

If you read the local section of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune yesterday [Fowl Factions' Face Final Face-Off], you're aware that a resident of Arlington Park has come up with a new criterion for pet ownership in the City. Her test, by implication, is that the City only allow pets whose waste could be brought to the City Commission dais without noticeable odor or a breech of decorum. CLUCK is asking: Could any pet pass that test?

The answer is: Not that we know of. It doesn't matter whether the Creator imbued us with an aversion to the smell of animal feces, or we evolved with it. But we know that are brains are wired to motivate us to avoid animal waste whenever we detect it. That inclination stands us in good stead. 

Many of us baby boomers are old enough to remember a time before kitty litter. You simply let the cat out and hoped the neighbors didn't notice Whiskers in their child's sandbox. But the American entrepreneurial spirit prevailed and Cassopolis, Michigan resident Ed Lowe invented kitty litter, now a $350 million industry that largely hinges on what brands cats will accept and how well those brands mask odor.

Say Lowe: ''It used to be you'd walk into a house, go sniff- sniff, and know they have a cat.'' Adds William Moll, research and development vice president at Oil-Dri Corp., a Chicago-based clay producer and litter manufacturer: ''Time was when you wouldn't want to visit anybody with a cat in August.'' The problem was odor. The 1,800 workers in the cat litter industry owe their $45 million in annual salary and benefits to the fact that cats, being desert- adapted animals that concentrate their urine, produce among the foulest waste products in nature. Behind the cat's quick rise to the status of the nation's favorite pet, according to Moll, was the ability of manufacturers to come up with a filler that could dissipate a powerfully unpleasant smell." 
The fact is the only reason cats have become the most popular pet in America is that people like Lowe found a way to mask the odor of their waste. Put an open margarine container of cat urine or feces on the dais and meetings would a lot shorter.

It is worth noting that we only occasionally smell cat waste outdoors. (Although those toms can really stink up an area.) So bringing chicken (or dog or whatever) waste indoors is not a fair comparison.

By now you must be wondering if there is kitty litter for chickens, and the answer is yes, there is. 

One brand is called Kemira Klasp, which is (Fe 2 (SO4)3•9H2O). This Litter Amendment "is a dry, granulated form of ferric sulfate that contains approximately 20% iron as Fe+3. It is nontoxic, nonhazardous and classified as a GRAS (Generally Regarded as Safe) substance to be used by the poultry industry in pursuit of best management practices. Klasp Litter Amendment effectively reduces ammonia, sequesters phosphorous and nitrogen and efficiently lowers litter pH while providing a drier house environment."   

Will it be needed by urban chicken keepers in the City? Probably not. The product was developed for those huge industrial chicken houses, but it's nice to know it exists.

Let's keep in mind that six Rhode Island Reds (an average size chicken breed) weigh as much as one English Springer Spaniel (a mid-sized dog). If we can survive our neighbor having a spaniel, we can survive a few hens. 

The Arlington Park resident that proposed the poop-at-the-dais test gets credit for out-of-the-box thinking and a flair for the theatrical. And she should be thanked for considering the decorum of the Commission before trying her stunt. 

But no pet could pass her poop test and the Commission should so acknowledge.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sarasota Herald Tribune: Make room for chickens

The following editorial appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Sunday January 16th, 2011. You may prefer to visit the Sarasota Herald Tribune website, if so, click here. The online version includes a photograph and the front page of the local section contains a related news story: FOWL FACTIONS' FINAL FACE-OFF
Make room for chickens
Changes proposed by proponents make city ordinance doable
When it comes to birds in American culture, with all due respect to the bald eagle, none occupies as prominent a perch as the chicken.
If we're scared, we might chicken out. We're taught early on the fable of Chicken Little. We joke about why the chicken crossed the road. We're warned not to let the fox guard the henhouse. The list goes on.
Despite reams of chicken lore, however, the thought of barnyard fowls taking up residence in a neighbor's yard makes some Sarasota city residents uneasy.
The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board has been among the skeptics of a proposal to allow a small number of chickens to be raised at single-family homes in the city. In a Dec. 6 editorial we said the idea merited consideration, but we cited "valid concerns about enforcement difficulties, the measure's overly broad sweep and lack of buy-in from neighborhoods."
We suggested that alternatives to address these shortcomings should be brought before the City Commission, which is scheduled to vote on the issue this Tuesday.
The proponents of backyard coops have risen to the challenge. Sarasota CLUCK (Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping) has offered changes to the proposed ordinance that address many of the concerns about setbacks, odors and animal welfare.
We believe that, with those and maybe other changes, the commission and staff can create an ordinance that protects the city's interests and lets some residents raise a small number of chickens safely, cleanly and with little or no disturbance of their neighbors.
Added restrictions
If the changes are incorporated, the ordinance would, among other things:
Restrict chicken keeping to single-family residences. Any private deed restrictions contrary to the ordinance would take precedence.
No roosters would be allowed, no hens could be slaughtered and no eggs from backyard nests could be sold.
The number of chickens would be strictly limited. City staff recommends a maximum of four; CLUCK would prefer six.
No coop or fenced enclosure could be located in a front yard and would have to be at least 10 feet from any property line and at least 25 feet from an adjacent residential structure.
Odors from chickens, manure or chicken-related substances could not be detectable at any property line.
Henhouses or coops must be impermeable to rodents, wild birds and predators, including cats and dogs.
Also, CLUCK has agreed to take an informal role in enforcing any ordinance and to provide education in chicken keeping to all those interested.
A growing trend
As noted in our previous editorial, "experience elsewhere suggests that odors, noise, pests and sanitary problems are unlikely in a yard that has adequate space."
And the experience elsewhere is substantial. Raising backyard chickens has spread to numerous cities across the country in recent years, as more people seek a sustainable lifestyle and local foods. Fresh eggs are said to be safer, tastier and more nutritious than the store-bought variety. And chicken manure can be used to fertilize gardens.
CLUCK and city staff have taken their proposals to meetings of neighborhood associations, and the reaction has been mixed: Some support the idea, others oppose it, and many are neutral. The Council of City Neighborhood Associations, which includes most of the neighborhood groups, voted not to take a stand on the issue, either for or against.
We suspect that many city residents are wary of backyard chicken keeping because of a lack of exposure or familiarity with the practice. While it is allowed in Sarasota County, it has been banned in the city since 1914.
Raising a small number of chickens may be as safe, clean and relatively trouble-free as the proponents say, but their neighbors might need to be convinced. A trial period of sufficient length, set by the commission, might be beneficial to the city and residents, including the proponents.
Urban chicken keeping has been successful elsewhere and we're confident that, with at least some of the proposed changes and responsible ownership, it can work in Sarasota. But the ancient wisdom of not counting your chickens before they hatch may especially apply in this case.