Michael McCarty, Contributing Writer
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It is a heady and perplexing question, to be sure. Like the classical philosophers of old, I do not have an acceptable answer, either. I’m not even going to try.
However, for more and more people across this land, a more appropriate and timely question has evolved.
They now ask themselves if perhaps they should acquire some chickens, which could provide some tasty eggs for their morning breakfast. People are now looking at their backyards with fresh eyes, searching for a handy and level spot to erect that new chicken coop.
Unfortunately, the next question becomes all to prominent and leaps to center stage: Is it legal? Now there’s a question! Again, it is also not so easy to answer in simple terms. This can of worms is large, and it holds more slithering things than your well-tended compost pile.
For lack of a better term, the backyard chicken movement is exploding across the country, much to the chagrin of local jurisdictions and the faceless bureaucratic machine. It is a suburban, and increasingly urban phenomena. Well-informed citizens are demanding high-quality, locally grown food. Imagine that! The local food movement continues to gain momentum, with more followers and practitioners every day. It’s a national issue now, and it is not going away anytime soon. But it starts on the local level, and chickens are a big part of it.
For example, the city council of a small town near me recently voted to consider new draft code provisions relating to chickens within the city limits and residential neighborhoods. Apparently, it is currently illegal to keep a chicken. Who knew? Well, several of the residents who testified did not.
They had been keeping chickens for years, without issue. No one had bothered to discuss it with them. For some unexplained reason, it was time to come out of the chicken closet. They now wished to tend to their birds legally, with favor, and approval.
The city council was quick to state that it was a land use matter and, as such, falls within their purview. It’s all about zoning, you see, and it’s not about how you live, but where you live. It’s all about proper consideration and planning. It’s about rules and regulations, and lawful ordinance. It’s about monitoring and control, enforcement, and penalty. I don’t think the entire sordid show is about chickens at all.
Typically, an ordinance relating to keeping poultry will determine how many hens you can have, and where and how you must keep them. The birds must be contained and quiet, the coops must be secure. The installation of electric fencing can be required. One must mitigate for noxious odor, and control predators. The birds cannot be allowed to roam free and spread disease, or attract a wandering skunk. Above all, the noisy and offensive rooster is not allowed. They might disturb the neighbors, and it is simply too much for the controlling mind of the clerk. On and on it goes.
I don’t fault our nearby chicken keepers for trying; in fact, I applaud them. It’s a noble and just cause, and they have done their best to work along the only route available to them. It is the manner in which we fight that disturbs me.
The documenting newspaper article talks of how the group promises to play by the rules. One person is quoted in saying, “I’m confident we will be 100 percent in compliance.” Compliant, says she?
The article goes on discuss the good points of chicken raising; of how it can educate children as to where their food comes from, while having fun. It touts the economic benefit that could be brought to the revenue of the hardware supply and the gardening store. It balances these ideas against the potential downsides and complaints, and makes the case that perhaps it is not a foolish idea after all.
Foolish, indeed. Imagine the foolishness of someone with the audacity to supply their own food.
The residents of Denver, Colorado begged for their right to keep animals some time ago, and now they live under some of the most draconian laws imaginable. Their ordinances require a permit to keep poultry on property. A fee is demanded, and stipulations must be met and maintained. Once permitted, the property is subject to inspection and multiple visits by more than one controlling agency. They arrive when they wish, without appointment. The property must be properly posted, and the neighbors so notified. Permits are subject to renewal, at the government’s discretion, with annual fees. Violators will be prosecuted. Does this sound like some type of preposterous science fiction movie, or a town, or city, near you? We are talking chickens here, and not about some dangerous creature from outer space.
I want to know who gained the authority to decide that the chicken limit stops at four, five, or six. When did they decide that? Was I asked to voice my humble opinion? What made it so important to come up with such a law? Were the parameters based on some well thought out scientific study, funded with the public dollar, and performed by some chicken police think tank? Has anyone considered that roosters are an important piece of the poultry puzzle? If I am not mistaken, they are a vital and necessary component of procreation, and life. Is it new life that they despise?
The message they wish to send is clear. How dare you think of enjoying a private egg or two, for yourselves, in peace? You are a criminal of the worst kind, guilty as charged until proven innocent. Your fine, and punishment, is what we say it is. And oh, by the way, the chickens now belong to us.
It is a proverbial, in-your-face case of the foxes guarding not one, but all of the hen houses. I like foxes, and I would prefer to preserve their good name. The truth is, they are not foxes anyway, as that would be too tame a description. Bloody tongued wolves would be more like it, circling impatiently in the dark night, eager to blow your house down. The devil is always in the carefully crafted details of the hidden contract, and they administered and diverted our rights away many years ago.
Yet, the wheels are wobbling on the fatally damaged, corporate-driven shopping cart. We are taking our chicken coops back, one backyard at a time. They know it, and they cannot allow it. They are desperate, and they grow more terrified every day. We know the truth, and can see the madness of their souls. They hold power over us because we empower them. We didn’t even show up for the fight.
My advice is uncomplicated. Don’t give it all up to them so easily. Refuse to grovel before the beast. Compliance is not an option, and the monster’s cravings are insatiable. Do not give them the satisfaction of obtaining what they seek, nor allow them the sustaining succor of our fear.
It is time to bypass the lowly denizens of the city council and their ilk. The time has come to dress down the petty and falsely officious policeman of your subdivisions, and expose the multitude of local tyrants and self-important snitches. It is time to ignore the directives from the “authorities” on high, or the blather of the party line. They do not have our best interests in mind. If they did, they would encourage and help, and not preclude or impede. It’s time to stop playing their dishonest game. Why should we? They don’t play fair, and they never have.
It is time to slip the chains of the oppressors, and throw them back at their flimsy facades. Take a stand, and stare the predator in the eye. Do something disobedient and bold, today. It’s been done before, many, many times. Our acts cannot be separated from the revolutionary history of the sleeping giant, the once-free people of our United States.
Let us rise from our knees and stop asking for their permission. It is not their permission to give. It’s that simple. Go out and get a chicken or two, and perhaps a rooster to go with it. It all starts with a chicken and an egg, on the home grounds of an independent, proud, and defiant people.
Read other articles by Michael McCarty here.
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Michael Patrick McCarty earned a B.S. Degree in Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University. He has worked in both the public and private sectors in a variety of capacities relating to fisheries and wildlife biology, water and environmental quality, and outdoor recreation. Michael and his wife steward a small acreage they have named Peach Valley Heritage Farms. It’s a “work in progress” for sure, but a little piece of heaven in the Rockies, just the same. Their work can be found at The Backyard Provider.