City resident Kasey Efaw gave a presentation before the Amsterdam Common Council last Tuesday explaining his reasons for wanting to change the city’s code to allow residents to raise a small number of chickens on their property. I think he made a good case, and I think we should give it a shot.
Some of the reasons Kasey cited for allowing chickens in the city:
- Chickens provide a source of food in the form of eggs and meat
- Their droppings are excellent fertilizer for gardens
- They eat undesirable insects (like ticks)
- They eat food scraps that would otherwise end up in the landfill
- Raising chickens provides a good educational experience for children
Kasey also argued that the potential negative risks involved with keeping chickens was no greater than that of dogs and cats. All pet owners have to cleanup after their pets, otherwise unsanitary conditions result. But according to Kasey, a 40 pound dog produces as much waste as 10 chickens. He said that the amount time it takes to properly care for and clean up after chickens is no greater than any other type of pet. He also pointed out that many neighboring cities, such as Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, already allow chickens.
I talked briefly with Kasey and his wife Melanie after the meeting. Kasey describes himself as an avid gardener whose desire to raise chickens stems from his interest in urban farming and “knowing where your food comes from”. Melanie said she hoped that their two young children would benefit from the experience of watching chickens hatch and then helping to raise them up.
Currently, chickens (or any other type of fowl) are illegal to keep in the city. Kasey proposed a very sensible and conservative change to the code that would allow a small number of chickens to be kept under the following conditions:
- A limit of four hens (no roosters) can be kept in an outside enclosure
- A permit must be obtained from the city
- Chickens can only be kept at a single family residence with at least 25 feet of space between the enclosure and the nearest neighbor.
- The enclosures must be cleaned on a regular basis so avoid any offensive odors
He also proposed the idea that a test could be conducted, giving out a limited number of permits and then evaluating the situation after a year.
One of the fears that I can imagine people will express (and have already seen on Facebook comments) is that if chickens are allowed that we’ll be overwhelmed by a flood of negligent chicken owners. After all, we already have plenty of problems with dogs and cats in the city, won’t chickens make our animal problems worse?
Being that I grew up with chickens around and actually raised pheasants myself as part of a 4H project as a kid, I think these fears are unfounded. The truth is that chickens do not have the same appeal to pet owners that dogs and cats have. They don’t purr and curl up on your lap. They don’t play fetch. They don’t guard your property. Some chickens might like to be petted, and they are certainly fun to watch, but they don’t provide the same type of companionship that make dogs and cats such popular choices as pets. I think the chances are that chickens will only appeal to those like Kasey and Melanie who are interested in the whole experience of raising chicken and the specific benefits they provide.
I know this issue may seem like a small one in the grand scheme of the things. It won’t immediately create jobs or lower taxes. But I think changing the code, even on a trial basis, would send a positive message that Amsterdam is willing to try new ideas. It would send a small positive signal to the growing number of people who are now moving back to cities and who are also interested in sustainable/local food sources that their ideas are appreciated. I don’t think it’s going to harm anyone to try. So why not give the chickens a chance in Amsterdam?