Should Philadelphia legalize backyard chickens?

For years, Philadelphia has been home to thousands of illegal residents: backyard chickens.

Despite a 2004 ordinance banning backyard hens, underground chicken coops have been popping up all over the city, especially during the pandemic. Last week, City Councilman Curtis Jones introduced a bill that would legalize small backyard flocks and let these hidden hens out of the shadows.

But not everyone is happy with the proposed change.

We Asked Two Locals: Should Philadelphia Legalize Backyard Chickens?

By Maureen Breen

It’s time to empower all Philadelphians to keep backyard chickens. Backyard flocks have many benefits, and every resident deserves to enjoy these benefits.

There is no other pet that cooks breakfast every day. Small backyard flocks provide fresh eggs that taste much better than store-bought eggs. (One of my dogs wouldn’t eat store eggs after tasting those from my backyard flock.) Many people consider a laying hen in the backyard to be part of food culture, as natural as a few seedlings. tomatoes in the garden. At its peak, a hen lays about one egg a day, a local source of healthy protein at a time when access to fresh, healthy food was difficult. During recent egg shortages, neighbors knew they could ask me for eggs when they couldn’t get them at the grocery store because I’ve been handing them out for 10 years.

READ MORE: Philly backyard chickens on the rise despite city law banning it

Chickens are particularly useful if you garden, as their droppings are excellent fertilizer. (Amazon sells a fertilizer made from chicken droppings for around $3 a pound.) Backyard chickens not only produce no waste for a gardener, but they consume food scraps, keeping them out of discharge. Chickens are happy to eat most of the same foods as humans; According to a small study I conducted, each backyard chicken eats about 1.6 pounds a week of kitchen scraps. Austin, Texas has even paid people to keep backyard chickens as part of their zero waste efforts.

Backyard chickens are a complete ecosystem that should be available to everyone in Philadelphia. Other townspeople were not so denied; cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh have legalized backyard hens for laying.

Backyard chickens also benefit our community in other ways. A small flock can keep a yard pest-free without using pesticides, as they eat ticks, mosquitoes, and the dreaded spotted lanternfly. Chickens are the number one predator of spotted lanternflies; I rarely see them on my property.

“Beyond the practical reasons for keeping backyard chickens, hens make great pets.”

Maureen Breen

Beyond the practical reasons for keeping backyard chickens, hens make great pets. For people with fur allergies, a hen is a nice alternative pet that won’t mess up your home. Additionally, backyard hens are a very pleasant and beautiful animal to have in a yard. I love sitting outside watching them peck and scratch; it’s very relaxing. It’s also great for kids, who love asking me questions about my chickens and learning how eggs are obtained. Chickens can even motivate children’s interest in healthy foods. Some chickens are so pleasant that they are used as therapy animals, including for people with autism.

I know some residents are concerned about the noise of the chickens. But only roosters crow, and the new bill would continue to ban them within the city limits. Although the hens proudly announce the laying of their delicious eggs by clucking a laying song, they are much quieter than a barking dog. And yes, like all animals, untended chickens can smell, but it’s not hard to control. There are products for chickens similar to cat litter, which absorb moisture and reduce odors. I’ve never noticed a smell from my birds and never had any complaints from neighbors either.

I’ve enjoyed my backyard flock for years and want the same for other city dwellers. Philadelphians deserve the freedom to support themselves with fresh eggs, support the environment with an eco-friendly backyard chicken cycle, reduce pests including spotted lantern flies, teach children about food and to smile at the simple pleasures of a backyard chicken.

Maureen Breen lives in Fox Chase.

By Judith Samans-Dunn

I don’t think urban neighborhoods should be home to backyard chickens. History tells us that many people won’t take care of it properly, and the timing only adds to my worries, given the highly contagious bird flu that is spreading like wildfire among birds around the world. ‘State.

Councilman Jones’ new bill will allow a maximum of six chickens (no roosters) per household, kept in a fully enclosed chicken coop that includes a minimum of one square foot per chicken and a coop of at least two feet squares per chicken.

Doesn’t sound like a “race” to me – more like a crawl space.

People consider backyard chickens to be low maintenance, but they are a species meant to move around. Locked in the yard, they require a higher level of daily feeding, cleaning and disinfection to maintain their health and safety.

READ MORE: About 1.4 million birds are killed after bird flu outbreak at Lancaster County farm

I fear that the residents of Philadelphia are buying birds, of dubious origin, without knowing how to properly care for them. Although chickens live outdoors, they are sensitive to heat and cold and may need insulation or extra heat in the winter or shade and ventilation in the summer. I don’t like the idea of ​​birds freezing to death or getting too hot in the summer because their owners didn’t know what to do.

According to the Humane Society, chickens need access to grass and other vegetation to scratch, peck and feed, and plenty of room to do so. How many inhabitants of the city can or will supply it?

Then there is the question of a chicken coop, which must protect the chickens from insects, weather and predators. It’s a problem, even in the city, where foxes and raccoons can easily wipe out an entire herd, and dogs can chase them and stress them out. Many city dwellers will not consider or be able to provide this, nor maintain, sanitize and clean the chicken coop regularly.

Even for the small percentage of Philadelphians who have the space, the grass, the energy, the knowledge, and the means to properly care for chickens, it makes no sense to legalize low-level chickens. court at the moment. Last month, a farm in Lancaster County detected a dangerous and highly contagious form of bird flu, which forced them to kill more than a million birds and create a quarantine zone. Bird flu is a concern even for small backyard chicken owners.

“Bird flu is a concern even for small backyard chicken owners.”

Judith Samans-Dunn

Even without the deadly bird flu, chickens can carry infections. Recently, hundreds of people in the United States were hospitalized with salmonella, an outbreak that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to backyard chickens. Most backyard poultry owners probably don’t know they should wash their hands after handling chickens or their eggs, leave their shoes outside, and take extra precautions to avoid infecting the young children or older adults, who are more susceptible to infectious diseases.

Philadelphia requires an annual license for pet dogs and requires that they be vaccinated against rabies. Will the city create – and fund – chicken licensing and require inspection of chicken coops to ensure these minimum space standards are met, even if they are inadequate ? Will people who buy chickens thinking they’ll be a low-maintenance form of fresh eggs end up overwhelming our (already overwhelmed) urban havens when they realize their mistakes?

Legalizing backyard chickens in Philadelphia is a bad idea for the chickens, for the residents trying to care for their chickens, for their neighbors who have to put up with nuisances, and for our beloved natural wildlife who may be susceptible to the increased risk of spreading avian influenza.

Judith Samans-Dunn lives in Roxborough.

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