In 2014, Oswego lifted its unique explicit chicken ban, resulting in an article in the newspaper stating it was now legal to own chickens in the city.
However, after the neighbor heard some crowing from our rooster (who is now free to a good home, by the way), we got cited with thus:
While it's certainly a sweet deal that our pets give us eggs and weed the garden for us, they will still be our pets when they no longer lay or weed - they are part of the family rather than a commodity for us.
The zoning officer mentioned there's not even a process for making an allowance for an exception to the rule. The zoning officer has been clear that he's sympathetic and isn't going to give us more trouble than necessary for this, but if the neighbor keeps complaining, it will end up in court. To note, the landlord who complained (who we believe lives in the actual building behind us) did not seem aware of or bothered by their existence before our cockerel decided to try out yodeling (only audible on the first floor, couldn't hear a thing upstairs) at 11 AM yesterday.
We plan to go before the City Council to contest this ruling and interpretation. There has been one similar case in neighboring Fulton. We've prepared the following statements to make our case:
Chickens are too noisy!
Dogs are much more noisy, both in volume and quantity of barking. As chickens are diurnal birds, they wake up when the sun is coming up and retire early - around 8:30pm in the peak of summer, and as early as 4:30pm around the winter solstice. They wake with the morning - as many first shift workers with dogs do. A hen’s maximum volume is similar to human speaking volume; a rooster’s is on par with a dog’s, sometimes quieter (a rooster’s crow at dawn also takes place inside the coop, muffling the noise). If noise is the chief complaint, then it is just as unreasonable to keep dogs in this neighborhood.
Chickens will cause bad odors!
We have had the chickens since July, with few of the neighbors other than those we talked to even being aware of their presence. It takes about a dozen chickens to produce the same amount of feces as one dog, and yet there are no caps on how many dogs one might have, aside from the stipulation that there must be sufficient space and shelter for all animals. Chicken feces also has much less of an odor than dog or cat feces. In addition, chicken manure serves an important purpose - it is valuable and restorative to a property, leaving the soil more fertile and habitable than it was, whereas dog feces dries soil out, inhibits plant growth, and renders it difficult to landscape.
During the summer, the first thing you smelled coming into our yard was mint - not chickens. Guests have been pleasantly surprised by how little odor the chickens have, and it takes no special measures to ensure this.
Chickens decrease property value!
On the contrary, chickens can make a neighborhood more welcoming and attractive. It is increasingly fashionable for homeowners to keep chickens in upscale areas of cities such as Salem, Massachusetts, and the chickens are not seen as a problem, but bring delight to neighbors and passersby.
Chickens are a rural thing!
New York City, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo allow chickens: why don’t we? The American backyard was in fact designed specifically to have room for two things: a garden, and a small flock of chickens. When World War I began, the United States released posters urging its citizens to raise chickens for the good of their country. Chickens have lived in close proximity to humans for thousands of years, usually in small yards and enclosures; they do not require large amounts of space as horses or cows do, and thus are suited to a backyard just as well as they are suited to a rural environment.
A well-cared for flock of chickens is not a likely disease vector. High rates of disease are a result of factory farm conditions that are inhumane and do not begin to meet an animal’s basic needs, let alone keep epidemics from happening. Agricultural scientists consider small, well-tended flocks of chickens to be the solution to epidemics such as avian flu - not the cause of them. Factory farm chickens’ immune systems are compromised due to stress, poor hygiene, poor nutrition, over-medicating, and overcrowding, as well as routine purging of all birds when disease appears rather than breeding for disease resistance; backyard chickens are hardier and healthier from circumstance alone. The risk of disease from tending a small flock of chickens is comparable to the risk of disease from handling feline or canine feces - proper hand hygiene after handling waste will eliminate most problems.
Chickens love to eat insects, mice, and other small animals, and thus they can also curb the spread of pest-borne diseases. They also love to eat the weeds that pests make their home in. When we moved here in August 2014, we had a horrible mosquito problem. It was to the point we went out at the break of dawn and in the dead of night to avoid being bitten. This changed once we got the chickens; our yard has become much healthier and more habitable due to the chickens’ natural pest control. We also had a massive mouse problem, to the point our cat was catching mice weekly - often multiple times a week. We live next to an abandoned house, which according to officials who have been in there, had “everything” in it - yet has stayed up until now untouched for seven years. Within months of getting the chickens, the mouse problem has near-completely vanished: we haven’t seen one indoors since September, three months after we got the chickens. Anyone who’s ever had a mouse problem knows it typically gets worse this time of year rather than better.
Chickens are commercial livestock, and don’t belong in a residential area!
When Zoning Officer [redacted] cited us, [they] said: “Raising chickens is commercial agriculture: it’s not like raising a garden.” Keeping chickens can actually be an integral part of keeping a garden. These chickens saved our garden from slugs, and their manure fertilizes our plants. Where most people are spraying harmful pesticides on their plants and fertilizing their gardens with fossil fuel-based fertilizer, we have a completely natural, harmless Integrated Pest Management system.
To say that a chicken’s purpose is strictly commercial is akin to saying a dog’s purpose is strictly security or a cat’s purpose is strictly to catch rodents. All of these animals are capable of creating a symbiotic relationship with humans: this does not negate their companionship.
Our chickens have formed a genuine bond with us. They run to the fence when they hear our front door open. They follow us affectionately in the yard. They eat from our hands. They know and answer to their names, and are clever to boot. These once-timid birds who were slated for the slaughterhouse have, despite all they’ve been through, come to love us - and vice versa.
Major US Cities Allowing Urban Hens (as of 2012)
Do we have a case? Are there ways we can strengthen it?