Hatching The Truth

By Sarah Kacso and Colin McMahon

(WINDSOR, ON) – With the urban hen debate hopefully hatching on January 24th, it’s highly likely that misinformed anti-chicken propaganda will be spread like pigeon feces throughout the media. I’d like to head that tripe off at the pass in a little piece called ‘Hatching Truth’. We’ve been fighting the hen fight for months now, some of us for years, and we’ve heard it all – every argument, every protest, every ridiculous supposition. I’m going to debunk these myths and counter those attacking these small backyard pets. Below, you’ll find some of the most common concerns and quibbles from those against urban hens, and the truth about each one.

1)  Chickens stink.

This is the most common argument that we hear against hens. Let me make a statement of my own, first: Dogs, cats, parrots, hamsters, and goldfish stink. Now, you could argue that statement is true or untrue, but this comes down to fact: Any animal, whether is has feathers, fur, scales, a tail, or a baseball cap, will create an unpleasant smell if not cared for properly. However, an even amount of chicken poop smells far, far less than an equal amount of poop from a cat or dog. This is because chicken poop is mostly composed of fruit, grasses, and seeds, and therefore breaks down quickly and easily. As for care, chickens require about 10 minutes of attention per day – their coop and run can be cleaned much the same way as a litter box, using a litter scoop to sift through the sawdust bedding. That poop can be safely composted or spread on the garden, where it promptly dries out and breaks down into the soil. We can tell you from experience that 5 hens produce less than half the amount of poop of a medium-sized dog.  The Bottom line: Chickens, like any other animal, are not inherently smelly; improper care leads to smell.

2)  Chickens will spread bird flu and wipe out Windsor.

This is fear-mongering. Chickens, like other birds, have the ability to spread bird flu. However, it is key to note that only 263 people have been killed worldwide by H5N1 or bird flu.   The deaths occurred in Asia and Africa, where people lived in squalid conditions, surrounded by hundreds of birds – not unlike the conditions on some North American factory farms, ironically. Not one single person in Europe or North/South America has contracted or died from bird flu. The common seasonal influenza, in comparison, hospitalizes 200,000 people per year and may be responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 in the US alone. Let’s use some common sense, people: 3 backyard hens, separated from other chickens by several miles, are far less likely to start a global pandemic than the hundreds of thousands of malnourished chickens kept on factory farms to produce your grocery store eggs. Add that to the fact that H5N1 is a bird-specific disease, and therefore has great difficulty adapting enough to transfer to another species, and you have the near-impossibility that bird flu will wipe out our city. If that was the case, cities like Miami, Vancouver, Guelph, and New York would have been wiped out decades ago. The Bottom Line: Urban chickens will not spread bird flu.

3)  Chickens attract rats.

This is another half-truth. Chickens themselves do not attract rats. Chicken feed, like any other edible product, can attract scavenging animals, be they rats, possums, raccoons, mice, or pigeons. Again, this isn’t a good enough reason to ban chickens from our city. It’s up to every citizen to keep their yard tidy and free of food sources. Here’s another reason why chickens won’t attract rats: Chicken food costs money, and leaving food out for other animals wastes food (and therefore, money). People with pet hens certainly don’t want to drive out to the county to buy more food more often than they have to, so responsible pet owners take the food and place it inside the locked coop with their hens at night.

In addition, rats pose a serious health risk to chickens. Any wild animal, especially rats and pigeons, can spread diseases to chickens. Rats will also attack and kill chickens if given the opportunity, so it makes sense that owners would construct safe runs and coops to keep scavengers away from their hens.The Bottom Line: People don’t want rats around their hens, and work hard to prevent it – for the health of their pets.

4)  Chickens are noisy.

This is partially true. Roosters, the male half of the species that isn’t required for egg-laying, can be noisy. Depending on the breed or individual rooster, some may crow all day (this is about as noisy as a dog), and some may barely make a peep. Hens, the egg-producers, mumble and coo to themselves during the day and may chirp excitedly when their owner brings them treats. They put themselves to bed at dusk and sleep silently through the night. The Bottom Line: You’ll never get a legitimate noise complaint about hens. If you don’t believe us, we’ll gladly bring our alpha hen, Dolce, to visit you.

5)  Allowing chickens will lower property values.

Have you seen the property values in cities like Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, Chicago, IL, Long Island, NY, and Vancouver, BC? All of those cities allow chickens, and they have some of the most beautiful (and expensive) properties in North America. We’ve also spoken to a local realtor who has assured us that a few well-kept hens next door will not affect the selling price of your house. If anything, allowing chickens will encourage people to move to a city. Let me elaborate: Our politicians are trying to rebrand Windsor (a city that lies downwind from Zug Island, and one of only 2 cities in the Great Lakes that, until recently, pumped raw human waste into the Detroit River) as a Green City. We want to build solar panels and wind turbines, and be at the forefront of ecological technology development and design. It’s a small gesture, but by allowing citizens to keep backyard chickens, the city adds one more ‘green badge’ to its name.

Keeping urban hens allows people to use natural fertilizer instead of toxic chemicals, to produce their own organic food that’s free from synthetic hormones and steroids, and it encourages people to take an active interest in what they’re eating. It benefits the environment, public health, and potentially, our local economy. So why are some people so chicken?

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1 Comment for “Hatching The Truth”

  1. At the core, this has to do with free choice. What I’ve read of bylaws in municipalities where chickens are permitted, individuals are limited to 2 or 3. One bylaw I read, required the interested homeowner to acquire a written statement by their neighbour(s), though I find that to be discriminatory. I find some homeowners dog(s) incessant barking quite aggravating and no one had to ask me whether or not they could have a couple of dogs.

    The existing property standards bylaw can be more than adequate to address those individuals who do not care for, nor clean up after, their chickens.

    Personally, I think this has more to do, based upon the comments I’ve read, a person’s perception of what it means to be ‘civilized’ – or another term, elitist to some degree.

    The examples you highlight indicate it can be done. Some thoughtful comments expressed are valid concerns that should be addressed in the bylaw.

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