Here is where we stand with the chicken ordinance:
The Planning Board didn’t want to make any decisions without Mr. Tate, the Planning Board Vice Chair, who they consider their chicken expert on hand. We expected Mr. Tate to not be present yesterday, he stated last month that he had commitments and would not be at this meeting. The county will be forwarding the results of yesterday’s meeting on to Mr. Tate and the county attorney, Ryan Ross and depending on their opinion, the chicken ordinance will either move forward as a public hearing or will see at least one more session as a workshop meeting.
The only obstacles in our way for this to move forward is that Code Enforcement and Animal Control demand a limitation be imposed on the amount of chickens that residents can kept on a residential zoned property. I had hoped we could figure out a sliding scale that would work based on property size, or perhaps coop size, but it seems that no one can agree on or offer a working scale.
We spoke with Code Enforcement and Animal Control after the meeting and they do not want their staff to have to show up for a complaint and have to start surveying the property to figure out what number of chickens that property or coop would be eligible to keep. This is understandable, they have been understaffed for many years, as per standards set in place by the National Animal Control Association. The county population has grown, but the local government has not allowed new staff positions to be created to meet the ever growing demand. Steve Littlejohn, Lead Land Development Officer said if they had the man power to handle it, they wouldn’t need to set a limitation. This is where that figure of $250,930.00 came from at the Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb, 14, 2013. Our county is already squirming to avoid staff increases in potentially more volatile environments, they will likely not even consider Code Enforcement’s request for more Animal Control officers.
To this extent, we need to go back to the County Planning Board with a maximum number of chickens to allow. Remember, we are talking only about residential zoned property, which can range from small land lots of mere fractions of an acre to two or more acres in size. While this is a fairly large swing in property size, and numbers of chickens that you could reasonably keep on the property is considerable even on small lots, we must remember that we are looking to keep chickens for personal use.
So what is the reasonable maximum number for personal use before you would be considered a commercial operation? At what point does egg production become more than a single family can consume or give away? If you are raising chickens for meat, how many chickens do you need to raise at a time before they are ready for processing?
With the proposed ordinance, it is still an option to process chickens for food, unlike the City of Pensacola’s ordinance where it is forbidden. However, the common consensus is that at our level, our chickens become more pets who happen to help feed us rather than a potential chicken and dumplings dinner. A good example of this is when I got my chickens, I had the grand idea of keeping them for eggs and then meat, but very shortly after I brought them home, my kids gave them names. My two young girls would never forgive me if I tried serving Speckles, Freckles, Tiny, Lilly or Cutie Pie for dinner. On a farm, chickens would be culled once they stop producing eggs on a reliable basis. In backyard chicken keeping, those old hens that would get culled elsewhere are usually given the luxury of living out their lives as pets.
During the meeting yesterday, 24 was suggested for the maximum number of chickens. I can accept this number, it seems a reasonable compromise. With 24 laying hens, you could potentially get more than 9 dozen eggs per week. That’s a lot of eggs for any family to handle, you’ll be giving away a lot of eggs, but if you start selling them, you’ve entered into the realm of commercial production and are no longer keeping chickens for personal use. With a 24 chicken limit, you could start out with a small flock with 5 chickens. If you keep them for only eggs, you are still talking about nearly 2 dozen eggs per week. As the chickens get older and slow down their egg production, you could reinforce your flock with new young chickens that will help pick up the slack of the older hen’s declining egg production. By adding one or two new pullets every year, your original flock would be able to die off naturally after living a good life and you can still enjoy those fresh eggs.
If you keep chickens for meat, you’ll need to plan out your cycle based on your family’s consumption rate. Depending on the breed of chicken you choose, you would be processing your chickens anywhere between 5 weeks for hybrid breeds to 15 weeks of age for pure bred chickens. I did talk about cycling flocks for meat purposes to the Planning Board and asked if they would consider allowing a flock to exceed the limitation if you have a batch of chicks that will be replacing a batch of chickens that are on the way to processing. We’ll see what comes of it.
When the ordinance moves forward to the Board of County Commissioners, we’ll need all the community support we can get. Come to the Public Forum and express your support. Be sure to contact your county commissioners to tell them that you want them to support passing the chicken ordinance. The most important thing here is to get involved.