The Thing About Chickens

With Chickens
There’s been a dialogue going on in our town for a few months about chickens. Sonoma has long been an agricultural town and was well known for its flock of chickens living in our town square. The chickens were quickly removed a few years ago after a visiting child was pecked by one of the roosters. It was quite a hot topic of discussion back then and now chickens are back in the news.

A local farming advocate, Bob Cannard, is proposing, among things, that the city relax its guidelines on keeping backyard chickens. His thought is that more families should be able to have chickens to raise for eggs and for butchering. He’s voiced that families should be allowed to become more self sufficient with their food supplies, which is something that we completely agree with. He’s also proposing that raised beds and chicken coops be included in all new Sonoma housing development backyards. Wonderful.

After having chickens in our backyard for a year, ourselves, we support his argument completely, well, except for a few things. He would like the City to relax its guidelines to allow families to have at least 20 hens and roosters at any one time. That’s a awful lot and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, chickens, even hens can be loud. The content little clucking they do as they search for bugs is adorable, but this loud screeching that our ladies are doing now can drive you nuts. If my next door neighbor had 20 of these squawking feathery friends, that would be hard to live next to. But that’s just the hens. Roosters are even louder. Granted, hearing a rooster crow in the distance in the morning is a really wonderful sound. It just gives you that great country feel, but when it was right outside our window, we just felt bad for our neighbors that we had such a loud pet. When you buy baby chicks, you are given that 90% of them will be females, so chances are that if you get a handful, at least one will turn out to be a rooster. Once our rooster grew up, he was crowing at all hours and became pretty aggressive. Anytime a hen crossed her path, he’d violently jump on her and hold her head in the dirt. He also pecked our oldest son right under his eye. Twice. That action right there sealed his fate of going into the stew pot.

That brings me to butchering. It’s a hard thing to do. We did it because we felt as meat eaters, it was something we had to do, at least once. So that we wouldn’t take for granted what we buy at the market. Not ony was it difficult to kill something that we had come to know as a pet, but it’s a lot of messy, bloody, feathery hard work. To imagine that your average family would want to butcher a flock of their own chickens is far fetched, I think. Would you have the guts to do it?

I don’t want to discourage anyone from having chickens. They are very entertaining and we relish the four eggs a day we get from them. But I think 20 chickens in someones downtown backyard is just too many. Maybe it should be kept at 2-4 hens if you live in a standard size lot and 20 chickens if you live on half an acre or so. In the end, I’ve kept my mouth shut and words away from the town newspaper and City Council meetings, because I don’t know how to support Mr. Cannard. On one hand, I would love to see more people become self sufficient and raise their own nutritious egg layers. On the other hand, sometimes chickens don’t make the best neighbors.

Does your town allow chickens in our backyards? How would you feel if your neighbor had 20 chickens? Kale for Sale just posted about her first chicken harvest, go read about it.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “The Thing About Chickens

  1. We have 22 baby chicks… on 6 acres. I can’t imagine 20 on a small neighborhood lot? Wow.

    I echo your interest in self-sustainability!

  2. Forgot to add that we completely plan on raising them for both eggs and for meat. All of our chickens are dual purpose.

  3. asonomagarden

    Hi Erin! That’s great that you have so many baby chicks. See, I think having that many on 6 acres is totally do-able. 20 in a backyard lot is kind of bananas.

  4. Many years ago I took an organic gardening class from Bob Cannard. I’m happy he’s still around and as forward thinking as ever. Maybe he’s just starting with a high number of chickens for bargaining room with the city. Twenty does seem like a lot – to feed, butcher, listen to, everything. Great idea for the raised beds and a few chickens though. I don’t think San Anselmo would be so welcoming.

    Thanks for the chicken harvest link. I’m still a little surprised I did it but in other ways it was completely natural.

  5. sinfonian2

    A buddy of mine has 6, and my brother wants 3. I think 3 is a good number for a small family. But that’s me. We don’t eat eggs every day (my cholesterol can’t handle it). I think the purpose of the 20 limit is to give room to negotiate down or if passed, make no reasonable limit to backyard chickens. I agree 20 is way too much, but I guess if you’re an urban farmer you could have enough to market. Just a thought.

  6. In my town it is currently legal to keep 12 on a city lot provided you meet the setbacks. They are considering lowering it to 2-4 and I’m upset about it. I actually moved from Santa Rosa where any number of hens is illegal and when looking for a new town to live in I checked city ordinances to be sure I was moving to a chicken friendly city.

    We aren’t allowed any roosters though and I’m fine with that.

    I love keeping hens. I have 4 right now because we lost one this year but I liked the freedom to have more because in another year or two my flock will greatly decrease their egg production. I don’t eat flesh so we won’t kill them. I want to start a second flock in a few years.

    I don’t mind the loud squawking my hens make when laying. I like it. It’s no different to me than the happy sound of people’s children shrieking around outside or the neighborhood (and my) dogs barking.

    20 is an awful lot for any average city lot but I don’t think twelve is too many.

  7. Heidi

    Here in the city of San Diego, you can have up to 25 chickens (or turkeys, I think) but they have to be at least 50 feet from a residence (including your own, I think), and roosters are not allowed because of the noise. Even so, I would want mandatory chicken education classes for anyone who wants to raise ‘em. I’d take them if I could afford a place with a yard that big! I think it would discourage a lot of folks who aren’t interested in all that work and responsibility.

    I think it’s wonderful that more folks are of a mind to get closer to their food, but I’d hate to see another animal pet trend here in our crazy city…or your city, for that matter.

  8. Pingback: We Lost a Chicken « A Sonoma Garden

  9. jane

    I think common sense comes into play with the numbers you are allowed to have. If you live in close proximity to other people, say a suburban area and you aren’t on a farm you probably don’t need tens of chickens, you may want to just have a couple. I think most people are smart and respectful enough of their neighbor to not overrun their yards with chickens. Of course there will always be someone….who ruins it for the rest, and of course there will always be a complaining neighbor somewhere who will ruin it for the rest too.

  10. Nicole

    Yes, our town allows chickens and roosters. However, there is a limit. We are allowed 7 birds. We personally just bought our first hens(hopefully hens). We started with 2 for our youngest two children, but my oldest daughter wanted a hen as well. My oldest daughter is about to fly the coop herself, but we agreed to let her have one anyway. We do own 4 acres of land. Most of it is wooded and some swampy. It’s too dangerous to put the hens out in the woods, so their coop will be in the backyard next to the house. Luckily, I only have one neighbor sorta close. Our houses are pretty spaced apart. The noise should not be a problem. I have one pullet who is extremely noisy. The other two are very quiet. I’m not sure if cookie will quiet down. Right now they are in the house for a few weeks until the snow melts.

  11. S. G. W.

    We have six children so 12 hens would be perfect for us to get the amount of eggs we can go through in a week. It wouldn’t bother me if my neighbors had chickens, ducks, goats, turkeys, etc… in the city as long as they have enough space in their backyards and they take care of the animals. My children make more noise than most animals hahaha. We’d love to go rural but the cost of land is way too expensive so we are trying to make due with what we have where we are and I think that is a good thing which more people should do.

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