Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Don't you need a rooster for eggs?
A: No, you don't. Hens lay eggs without a rooster. The eggs you buy at the store are unfertilized and no rooster is around those hens. You only need a rooster to hatch chicks. Roosters will NOT BE ALLOWED in South Portland.
Q: Are chickens loud?
A: Roosters are loud, and they will not be permitted. Hens are, on average, far quieter than most dogs, parrots, or macaws. They generally make a soft chuckle or cluck. Occasionally, when they are showing off an egg they've just laid, their clucking is slightly louder. Normal noises are not audible past 25', the loudest noises at about 50'.
Q: What about predators
A: Since the ordinance stipulates that the hens must be in a completely enclosed, predator-proof enclosure, and locked in a solid henhouse at night, the hens will not attract predators any more than a rabbit in a hutch (and since the ordinance regulates pen construction, the coops will be much more predator-proof than the average rabbit hutch.) The ordinance also contains restrictions concerning feed so that other pests will not be attracted.
Q: What about diseases like Avian Flu?
A: Avian Flu of the type that is contagious to humans has not been found in North America. Any type of avian influenza is spread by contact with the contaminated feces of other birds, primarily migratory waterfowl. So the key issues are sanitation and contact with wild birds. Unlike rural farm birds, which "free range" and might, for example, drink from a pond shared with Canada Geese, "backyard chickens" in South Portland will be kept in an enclosed pen with no contact with the migratory birds. In addition, should avian flu ever reach here, it would more likely spread in situations where birds are maintained in unsanitary conditions, such as the large commercial "factory farms" where chickens are crammed together in filthy cages.... not where chickens are kept as pets in well-maintained coops cleaned as regularly as any suburban pet.
Salmonella is the other primary concern associated with chicken and eggs. Again, this is an issue of cleanliness and chickens kept as pets are unlikely to cause any problems. In fact, Consumer Reports magazine reports that 71% of all supermarket chicken and eggs are contaminated with salmonella: eating your own backyard eggs, where you have control over the sanitation, significantly reduces your chance of exposure. In terms of exposure from pets, chickens are no more likely to carry it than parrakeets, and pet reptiles are far more likely culprits. Good hand-washing practices are always important after handling animals.
Pet chickens, unlike cats and dogs which are prime vectors for rabies and tick-borne diseases, actually keep your yard healthier by eating ticks and other insects.
Dr. Donald Hoenig, the Maine State Veterinarian in charge of animal health issues for the State, endorses backyard chickens, and feels they can peacefully coexist in dense neighborhoods. He also confirms that the public health risk is minimal when the chickens are properly cared for, the same as the health risks associated with keeping any other animal as a pet. You can read his comments here, and here.
Dr. Richard J. Brzozowski, Extension Educator at the University of Maine Coopertive Extension responsible for statewide programming in poultry science, also endorses allowing pet hens in South Portland. You can read his letter here.
Q: Will chickens be running wild in neighborhoods?
A: No. The drafted amendment includes the stipulation that the hens must be kept in a completely enclosed pen at all times unless they are in a securely fenced yard with supervision.
Q: How many chickens are we talking about here?
A: The ordinance will limit the number to 6 or less. Maine State Law prohibits the puchase of less than six baby chicks. Four to six hens will also supply a family of four with enough eggs for personal use, and to sometimes share with neighbors.
Q: What about smell?
A: Unlike the farm chickens many of us are familar with, whose coops generally aren't cleaned more than once or twice a year, suburban pet chickens are treated like any other pet. Think of a rabbit in a backyard hutch. The chicken coop is cleaned several times per week, or even daily. The amount of chicken manure produced by six hens is roughly equivalent to the dog droppings produced by a medium-large dog. And, unlike dog or cat poop, chicken manure can be easily composted into fabulous garden fertilizer.
Q: Aren't chicken coops an eyesore?
A: Suburban chicken owners, unlike rural folks with acreage, have their chicken's enclosures in their backyard living space. Thus, they tend to be well-built, well-maintained, pretty structures. The South Portland ordinance will contain restrictions to ensure that henhouses and coops are attractive and well-maintained, and not a detriment to the neighborhood. Take a look at some of the links about "backyard chickens" to see some adorable chicken coops in other urban communities.
Q: What's this about an "Urban Chicken" movement?
A: In the last 5 or so years, more and more communities have been relaxing their zoning laws to allow chickens to be kept as pets in urban and suburban areas. As part of the growing awareness in this country of living “green" more and more people are interested in growing at elast some of their own food in kitchen gardens, and in raising a few hens for eggs. The "movement" probably began in the Pacific Northwest, and has spread across the country as people realize that owning a few hens, kept as suburban pets in pretty garden coops, is a good idea. Some people want organic eggs and garden compost, others are concerned about food security, others want to "eat local" to save resources, and others wish to enjoy the lovely, fun pets hens can be. There have been lots of news articles written about this growing trend, increasing in primarily upscale neighborhoods. Here is a collection of news stories for more information.
Q: Aren't chickens mean?
A: Just like any animal, it's all in the upbringing. If you took a bunch of parrots, cockatiels, kittens or puppies and stuck them in a pen with minimal human contact beyond food and water, they probably wouldn't be very good pets. Just like these animals, chickens that are hand-raised from chicks can be wonderful pets. They come when they are called, enjoy being held and are beautiful and even affectionate pets. Check out the links area for websites like "My Pet Chicken" and "City Chickens" for more information.
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