Help refuting an "expert"

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances' started by MarniSue, Dec 15, 2009.

  1. MarniSue

    MarniSue In the Brooder

    Dec 15, 2009
    I'm brand new to the forum, hello! I live in Clinton, Utah and our planning commission is currently looking at the chicken issue, deciding just what to recommend to the city council regarding chickens. I want to look though more of the threads on here, but in the mean time, this is a letter that was just passed on to the person heading our fight. (Of course it's been sitting in the City Planner's e-mailbox for over a week...) The letter is from our extension poultry specialist, and I thought it would be more positive in regards to chickens but it's extremely negative! I would love some help in responding to this. This guy will be at the planning commission meeting tonight, and I am no expert! [​IMG]

    Thanks in advance,



    By way of introduction, I am David Frame, Utah State University Extension Poultry Specialist. I am a board certified poultry veterinarian and have worked for the commercial poultry industry and universities as a poultry specialist for over 20 years. I currently am an associate professor in the Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences Department of USU and reside in Sanpete County.

    I will try and address some considerations we discussed over the phone from my perspective. I obviously realize each community and local governing agency needs to assess their unique situation, implementation, and enforcement of specific ordinances. The following are merely put forward as critical concerns that need to be fully addressed to avoid unanticipated results of legislation.

    1)Community concerns

    a.Noise. Most local communities that I know of do not allow roosters because of the concern of crowing. Basically, there are no practical or humane methods to “de-crow” a male fowl.

    b.Mixing of species. It is extremely risky to allow multiple species of poultry and waterfowl to be raised on the same premises. This is how the deadly H5N1 Asian strain avian influenza (“bird flu”) got started.

    c.Animal control. Chickens are no respecters of property lines. They are prone to wander at will into neighbors’ yards and gardens. Remember chickens can also fly. The impact of stray birds in neighbors, yards, etc. is something to be strongly considered.

    d.Animal waste. In many instances, used chicken litter can be incorporated into the garden soil or composted; however, improper composting or storage may create excessive odor and fly problems. Proper composting requires careful management of moisture, aeration, and temperature. Allowing chickens to superficially scratch through a pile of manure is not sufficient for optimal composting to occur for a number of reasons. There are many Extension publications from various universities addressing the issue of general composting techniques. These should be thoroughly perused before any decision is made in this regard.
    Litter in the coop must must be kept dry (by “dry,” I mean under 35% moisture); otherwise, in warm weather especially, it will become a breeding ground for fly and beetle larvae. If it is wet, it MUST be removed frequently and properly composted or taken to a landfill.

    e.Rodent/varmint control. Mice thrive in areas where chicken feed is improperly stored and excessive spillage occurs. Rats could become a problem in excessively wet areas or where water leaks occur. Feed should never be “sprinkled” into the litter or floor of poultry houses! This only encourages rodents to hang around the coops. Feed is to be properly dispensed in hanging hoppers that limit access to marauding rodents. Also, unused feed should be stored in closed containers in a cool area. A rodent control program of bait feeding and/or trapping should be mandatory in addition to all other precautions.
    Chickens need to be enclosed in a coop at night to protect them from raccoons, weasels, and other varmints. Although the debate could go on ad infinitum as to what the optimal construction should be, specifically what gauge wire, etc. etc., common sense is usually adequate. Doors should tightly close, glass or strong plastic windows should be used, and a solid floor should be in place. The solid floor is probably the most important part. Periodic inspection around the bottom of the coop will indicate if varmints are trying to enter. Then take care of the varmint problem.

    Having said this, there is one thing that in my opinion in non-debatable. Outside runs need to be covered with good quality wire or roofing that will keep out wild birds and keep the chickens inside. I realize most people will find this a serious inconvenience, but it is imperative! Wild birds can carry diseases that would kill people’s birds and perhaps get the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Health Department and possibly federal authorities involved. There is also the possibility of disease from backyard chickens getting into the State’s commercial poultry industry. This would have devastating effect on Utah’s >$140 million poultry economy. This is a risk that any responsible county or city governing body should not take. My opinion is that this be a mandatory requirement to demonstrate adequate control of exposure or the entity should not be permitted.

    f.Disposal of dead and spent fowl. It is important that people realize that keeping a few chickens in the backyard is not equivalent to owning a dog or cat or pet. Sooner or later, baby chicks grow up to be adult chickens and adult chickens end up as OLD chickens. Community leaders need to seriously
    address the issue of bird disposal. How will dead birds be handled? Buried on the premises? Composted? Taken to the landfill?

    2)Animal welfare

    a.Proper care and feeding: It is imperative that poultry owners understand and implement proper care of their birds. Inhumane practices such as denying poultry access to water or a protected coop during hot days or during inclement and cold weather are intolerable. Many of these would-be poultry owners have in all probability never raised chickens or farm animals before. They may not realize what the proper care and feeding of poultry entails. These are not like a family dog or cat – they are production animals, regardless of how people might view them.

    How many chickens will be allowed? Do the would-be chicken owners realize how many eggs will be produced by a given number of hens? Consider that five mature hens will lay at least three to four eggs per day during their laying cycle. That’s a lot of eggs; people need to understand this and plan for their use. Also, the owner must realize that hens won’t necessarily produce eggs all year round, and must eventually molt (lose feathers and grow new ones) to rejuvenate their plumage and prepare for the next round of egg-laying. Four or five hens in the backyard will probably not produce enough shed feather to be a public nuisance, but this is still one of many reasons why it is necessary to keep the birds in an area enclosed by chicken wire in order to control the feathers. Also, the feather issue depends on how close the dwellings and lots are together.

    Space allotment per bird. The general rule of thumb is to allow a minimum of two square feet floor space per bird in the coop. The Provo City ordinance say that six square feet must be allowed if the birds aren’t given access to the outside. This may not necessarily be best, especially in cold climates. The coop could have so few birds in it that they can’t generate enough collective heat to take the edge off the cold air. A person would need to consider that supplemental heat may be required in particularly cold weather. Another disadvantage of so much floor space is that the bedding is more apt to remain very dry and get dusty. This could cause a respiratory health issue to the birds if totally confined, such as in winter time. My opinion is that for adult chickens, a minimum of 2.0 to 2.5 sq. ft per bird is adequate.

    b.Enforcement of noncompliance: If some type of local poultry permitting program is practiced, will there be sufficient funds and personnel to carry out the program? Does the community have the adequate resources and personnel to deal with people who break the rules or handle poultry in cruel or inhumane ways?

    3)Public Health
    a.Proper care and handling of poultry products (eggs and meat). Do your city residents fully understand how to properly set up a coop for egg laying, how to adequately gather eggs, and how to take care of those eggs? Are there ordinances prohibiting slaughtering of poultry on private premises? How are people going to get their birds processed if they choose to raise meat birds? (There is no one in the state that I know of who is licensed or is willing to process just a handful of meat birds.)
    These are important human health concerns as well, such as proper washing of hands, proper handling of eggs and poultry products at harvesting and food handling techniques.

    Another public health concern the might occur should the poultry litter not be handled appropriately. An increase of flies and perhaps rodents will accompany piles of litter not properly disposed of or composted. Although it is true chickens will eat bugs and some flies, they should not be considered as adept in controlling winged insects such as flies and mosquitoes. (Chickens are used as sentinels for detection of West Nile Virus. They are placed in mosquito-infested areas, not because they eat them, but rather so they will be bitten by the mosquitoes, thus becoming infected by the mosquitoes should the mosquitoes be harboring the virus.)

    b.Implementation and maintenance of biosecurity procedures. Biosecurity is just a fancy word for preventing diseases from entering and preventing diseases from leaving. Keeping disease-free birds and not allowing them to become exposed to disease is a cornerstone practice in poultry-keeping. This applies to keeping both the birds and owners healthy. Chicks must be purchased from sources certifying that they are free from specific diseases. Certain species of poultry can carry organisms that may do little harm to them but could cause devastating disease in other species. Mixing of species increases the potential infection and spread of avian influenza (bird flu) and Newcastle disease, should they occur. This is especially a concern for communities such as Clinton because of the relative close
    proximity to marshy areas. Waterfowl, particularly the Mallard Duck, are natural carriers of avian influenza viruses. Note: the highly pathogenic strain of “bird flu” is not currently present in the US; however, there are many strains of avian influenza that can do serious harm to the commercial poultry industry.
    4)Science-based education is critical

    Be cautious of advice from self-proclaimed “experts” or people with informal training who attempt to fill a perceived educational niche. Many would-be poultry raisers are novices or first time owners. Learning how to do things correctly from qualified science-based sources is paramount in order to be successful. Optimal decision-making must be based on facts – not hearsay or folktales. Utah State University Cooperative Extension offers research-based education in small flock poultry raising. Fact sheets are available on line at USU Extension. County agents throughout the State are here to offer assistance. I have advanced training in poultry health and management and would be available to educate community leaders in science-based poultry issues.

    Because of the much closer proximity of neighbors in urban and suburban settings, raising of poultry should be done under more stringent conditions than might be tolerable in a “farm” environment. The most obvious reason is potential infringement of other people’s privacy or property because of many of the issues discussed above. Also, demographics tell us that the majority of folks are growing up without any connection, first-hand or even second-hand, experience with raising farm animals in a production setting. Improper care and management of poultry could cause community problems or even animal welfare concerns. How the government addresses this issue is an ominous question, but has to be a basic tenant in deciding if widespread unpermitted raising of poultry is really in the best interest of the community. Personally, I would strongly consider a permitting process that requires at least a basic course or instructional lectures in animal care and feeding, food handling, public health, and biosecurity from qualified people. Again, how this would be implemented and how feasible is it would be the community government’s decision.

    I’m sure there are many other topics that are worthy of consideration. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

    David D. Frame, DVM, Diplomate ACPV
    Extension Poultry Specialist
    Phone: (435) 283-7586
    e-mail: [email protected]

  2. CheerfulHeart2

    CheerfulHeart2 Creative Problem Solver

    Apr 8, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ

    Ok, this is too long for me, but I'll toss out a few points...and comment on my dissappointment in the USU guy. I would think Clinton would be more friendly to chickens.

    a) I read a thread on de-crowing roosters. It sounds like it can be done but is very risky. There is another thread where a lady solved her crowing problem by having the roosters sleep in cages that don't let them extend their neck. They can't crow until being let out of their sleeping quarters. Other have their roosters in garages at night. In Mesa, AZ, there is no rule against rooster, but there are rules against noise disturbances during certain hours.

    b) no comment, but I don't trust this one.

    c) dog's and cats and other pets have property line issues. It is much easier to confine chickens, just clip their wings after they molt. And besides, heavy birds would rather not fly anyway. Many folks have their chickens in covered runs to keep out disease from wild birds and especially to guard against predators. You can have rules about keeping the chickens on peoples own property, like you do for dogs, without disallowing chickens all together.

    d) Utah is a desert. Lots of folks have back yard chickens in much wetter climates. Silica from diatomaceous earth can be used to help keep it dry if needed. Many folks take good responsability of their back yard flocks. Just because some dog owners never pick up after the dog waste doesn't stop us from allowing dogs. Chickens are easy to clean up after if you keep on top of it.

    e) Chicken owners are HIGHLY MOTIVATED to keep rodents out of their food. Food is expensive.

    Ok, that said, your best derfense is likely to gather information about how other communities handle chickens. I wish you could find another expert to go with you tonight, but am not sure where to look. Maybe you could see if there is a Utah thread on here somewhere and post there also.

    Good luck.

    Oh, there is a link on the AZ thread that shows a video of an interview of a back yard chicken family. I heard it was very good. I can't access from the place I often read the forum on so haven't seen it.

  3. dacjohns

    dacjohns People Cracker Upper

    It may have sounded negative but you need to consider the source and the audience. I thought the extension agent stated the issues very clearly. You also should realize that he probably deals more with larger scale poultry operations than small backyard operations. Also, as a public servant he has to be very careful in what he says.

    You, or whoever, should take each of his points and address them factually and without emotion.

    Good luck.
  4. WisconsinGardenChick

    WisconsinGardenChick Songster

    Jul 30, 2009
    Quote:I wish I'd taken a look at this earlier. Did you ever get enough help? How did it go? I can think of many responses to his (clearly negative) letter. We're lucky here in Madison - our poultry extension guy supported chicken-keeping, with restrictions that I think are reasonable. I just don't have time to type everything just now - some things I would have to look up to be sure. That H1N1 assertion is not how our poultry guy told it to us at all. If it would still help you, I'll try to come back late tonite.

  5. dacjohns

    dacjohns People Cracker Upper

    Quote:I wish I'd taken a look at this earlier. Did you ever get enough help? How did it go? I can think of many responses to his (clearly negative) letter. We're lucky here in Madison - our poultry extension guy supported chicken-keeping, with restrictions that I think are reasonable. I just don't have time to type everything just now - some things I would have to look up to be sure. That H1N1 assertion is not how our poultry guy told it to us at all. If it would still help you, I'll try to come back late tonite.


    Perspective. As someone who has had to write neutral papers I read the extension agent's letter as neutral. If I was emotionally involved in getting chickens allowed in my yard I would probably read it as biased and negative. As someone looking out for the greater public, I'm back to neutral.

    It was not H1N1 that was referred to, it was H5N1. I feel that Wikipedia is not a totally reliable source but it does you some basic background and a starting place.

    , almost everything he said you will also find on this forum as a means of giving your birds proper care.

  6. WisconsinGardenChick

    WisconsinGardenChick Songster

    Jul 30, 2009
    Quote:I've had to write papers, too, I was an academic, and I disagree with your assessment. My PhD is in sociology and I used to do discourse analysis. You can write something academically neutral that has a subtext of bias.

    Thanks for the correction about H5N1. My eyes are tired tonite...

  7. dacjohns

    dacjohns People Cracker Upper

    No problem. Different fields and different type of experience.
  8. Dora'smom

    Dora'smom Songster

    Dec 14, 2009
    I thought his comments regarding the number of eggs laid was a little silly. He indicated that five adult laying hens will lay an average of three to four eggs a day, and people should plan accordingly. I guess I just don't see that as a problem, as possibly the majority of people with backyard flocks want eggs. We don't have any difficulty getting rid of the extras, either.

  9. wing it

    wing it Songster

    Aug 13, 2009
    long island
    most of what was said can be said about dogs, cats, hamsters, fish, and any other pet

  10. LizFM

    LizFM Songster

    Dec 15, 2009
    Quote:Tah-Dah! The poultry extension specialist is really worried about possible harm to the poultry INDUSTRY. Surprise, surprise [​IMG]

    Quote:Not surprisingly , the poultry extension specialist is worried that people will look for information OUTSIDE the academically approved bank of knowledge that has been geared toward helping and protecting the interests of industrial agriculture and those who profit from it. And that would be a disaster [​IMG] as we all know.

    Plus, poultry extension specialist thinks that, in general, people are dumb, don't know what they're getting into, and will not take appropriate care of the animals once they get them. Hard to argue with that logic because so many of us have seen don't have to be a vet with a practice open to the public (which actually I assume he isn't) to know this...just see news reports of hoarders etc.

    This is not a reason to prevent EVERYONE from the opportunity to have backyard chickens, just as the fact that some people are hoarders or puppy and kitten mill operators is no reason to ban the keeping of dogs and cats (PS this is one refutable point)

    THere definitely IS bias but I doubt that the good Expert realizes how much. He definitely intentionally pushed the hot button: "But how would we PAY to enforce"...which was clearly a tactic designed to play to the fears of legislators in today's economic climate.

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