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Chickens ‘R Us?

Chickens were the main topic in the waning minutes of Monday evening’s City Council meeting. There’s been public interest in allowing backyard poultry-keeping (mostly for eggs — and in support of sustainability, the locavore lifestyle, and connecting kids with “nature”). Oak Ridge’s zoning ordinance doesn’t allow “livestock” (including fowl) except in the RG-1 zone, so poultry-keeping is illegal unless we change the ordinance. The Planning Commission is taking up the issue — and Charlie Hensley says it’s on their policy work session agenda for this Thursday, February 11 (5:30 pm in the Municipal Building Training Room).

Urban chickens (and other fowl) are “in” these days, and many jurisdictions have been changing their zoning laws to allow them (for example, here’s a news story from last year on Durham, North Carolina, legalizing backyard chickens).

Most prospective chicken-keepers suggest that the ordinance should allow no more than 4 to 6 chickens per household — and almost everyone seems to agree on no roosters (many people enjoy hearing “cock-a-doodle-doo,” but there are many more who don’t). One poultry proponent said in an e-mail that “What matters is … that the conditions are sanitary and that it does not stink, and it is not an eyesore.” The Planning Commission will also have to think about whether an ordinance would need to include specifications on things like setbacks from property lines, and whether the city can and should enact requirements on how these birds are housed. The Planning Commission can make a recommendation to City Council, and any change in the ordinance would require City Council action.

I expect that people interested in keeping chickens (or turkeys, ducks, guinea fowl, geese, pheasants, or quail) will be at Thursday’s meeting — and will be communicating their views to Community Development directory Kathryn Baldwin, Planning Commission members, and City Council. To help in reaching good decisions, we also need to hear the concerns of people who don’t like the idea — and I expect that we’ll hear from them, too.  As issues go, this one should be an amusing one to discuss — already I’m hearing good stories about people’s personal experiences with fowl.



  1. Ellen Smith says:

    Comments from Facebook:

    Linda wrote:
    As long as Mr Rooster isn’t around, trying to replace our alarm clocks! I could only assume backyard fencing would be required for those residents who had hens in their backyards. Did you plan to discuss it again at the next meeting?

    Steve wrote:
    I’m a little worried about all the fowl language that will be taking place at this meeting! (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

    Nicky wrote:
    Does that mean I can’t buy a pig? They are great pets and can be liter box trained… just saying!

    Ellen replied:
    The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission will discuss this — and formulate some sort of recommendation — before it comes to City Council for formal consideration (the only discussion that Council has had thus far could be called “fowl talk”. As for fencing, I don’t know if it would be required, but I can’t imagine that anyone could successfully keep chickens without it. Actually, I think more than fencing would be needed to protect chickens from dogs, cats, coyotes, etc. — I imagine they would need to be kept in a full enclosure.

    Nicky: Just so you know, the zoning ordinance says “No animals, livestock, or poultry of any kind shall be raised, bred or kept in any residential zoning district except RG?1 except that, subject to the provisions herein, dogs, cats or other customary pets may be kept provided that they are not kept, bred or maintained for any commercial purpose or in a manner constituting a public or private nuisance. In all cases, the Board of Zoning Appeals shall determine what is a customary pet in the event of dispute.” My take on that is that you probably could have a pig as an indoor house pet, but if you build a pig sty in your backyard or let it roam the neighborhood off-leash, the ordinance would be enforced. I don’t doubt that pigs can be litter box trained, but I can’t imagine sharing the house with a full-grown domestic pig. (The cat is rough enough on furniture — what would a 250-lb pig do to a sofa?)

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    More comments from Facebook:

    Barb wrote:
    Madison has a MadCity Chickens website.

    I checked it out (MadCityChickens.com), and it’s a great resource for communities and people starting to think about backyard chickens. Good information, photos of coops, etc. Madison, Wisconsin, legalized backyard poultry almost 6 years ago, so they have plenty of experience. Thanks, Barb!

    Matt wrote:
    Oak Ridge already has a bit of a coyote issue and I wonder what effects this could have. Perhaps we have some empty space that could be home to a new city farm or plant?

    Elizabeth wrote:
    Yes, backyard chickens support all those things you say Ellen, plus they roost at night in their enclosure and don’t howl at the moon.

    Charlie Hensley wrote:
    I support some reasonable allowances for backyard chickens. There are many reasons, the least of which is not becoming more self sufficient.

    And, finally, G.H. says:
    I am planning on raising Ostrich’s…..much larger eggs

  3. Ellen Smith says:

    And more comments from Facebook:
    June (who doesn’t live inside Oak Ridge city limits) wrote:
    Some neighbors down a lane from me have a lot of hens and roosters. One of the roosters crows all night. The owner says he will have chicken & dumplins if he doesn’t stop.

    Theresa wrote:
    NO ROOSTERS!! Had it up “to here” and then some with Little Mexico’s attempt to raise poultry for their own rendition of Friday Night Fights. I’m all for the chickens and free eggs!! I could use the poop for my veggie garden too!

    Tricia wrote:
    Funny timing. We had a friend give us some “home grown” eggs just last night. I told Paul, maybe we should raise chickens since we eat so many eggs! We have 2 different friends that do this ; )

  4. Ellen Smith says:

    Still more comments from Facebook (I even omitted a few!):

    James wrote:
    Uh … people … how are your chickens supposed to reproduce without at least one Rooster?

    Ellen Smith replied:
    Roosters aren’t needed to produce eggs, and when flock sizes are restricted, it’s not a good idea to let the chickens reproduce. When people who keep chickens for eggs need to replace birds, they buy female chicks from a vendor. (I know about this from friends who were keeping chickens — outside Oak Ridge, of course.)

    Tricia wrote:
    That’s weird about not needing the rooster … learn something every day!

    Angi wrote:
    Hens are quiet, friendly, and easy to care for in small numbers. The eggs are a bonus,their manure makes great garden fertilizer (especially for tomatoes!). Tractor Supply has a goodly supply of layer pellets, and everything needed for proper fencing (to keep out neighborhood dogs, coyotes, etc.).

    Coyotes prefer cats to chickens anyway.

    Stuart wrote:
    Also interesting…cats prefer chickens to coyotes.

    James wrote:
    Not needed? Some Roosters are going to have to go into therapy to deal with serious self-esteem issues soon.
    Since the coyotes moved into the greenbelt behind me, the rabbit population in the yard is almost down to zero.

  5. […] up to my earlier post on chickens… Today’s Oak Ridger reports that the 5 Planning Commission members who attended last […]

  6. Ellen Smith says:

    [b]And still more selected comments from Facebook[/b] (where there have been [b]31 comments[/b] on this item):

    Randall wrote:
    A now defunct non profit called the East Tennessee Earth Alliance toyed with this and brought it to the attention of several City Council Members, Charlie being one who supported our ideas, almost a year ago. Nothing came of it, but one of our members raised a few chickens in his backyard until they were almost adults and the neighbors were fine … See Morewith it, the animal control people saw some chickens and protested so they were all given to a sustainable farm effort out Kingston way. Anyway, there are many cities changing their charters to allow small numbers of livestock within city limits. On a health note the ratio of omega 3 (good) to omega 6 (not so good) fatty acids in commercial factory raised eggs is low on the 3 side whereas in grass fed (or purslane fed) chickens their eggs are much higher in omega 3, the same good acid as in salmon, and heat doesn’t affect the egg based fatty acids like it does flaxseed oil so this is a good thing for the health of our citizens as well as a good step toward a more locavore based diet.

    BTW he had a couple of roosters as well (Lakenvelders and auracana which lay blue and green eggs) and his neighbors didn’t seem to mind one bit, but then they were all early risers anyway, they thought it was kind of cool.

  7. Richard says:

    hi ellen, question…are chickens allowed to be kept in the city limits of Ok Ridge TN?

  8. Ellen Smith says:

    Currently, chickens are allowed only in the R-1-G zone, which covers rural-type residences outside of normal subdivisions (Wiltshire Rd and the unpaved part of Tuskegee are in this zone, for example).

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