What’s all the fuss about Backyard Hens?

At this time, it is illegal to own a flock of Backyard Hens in residentially-zoned areas of Staunton. But, I think residents everywhere should be permitted to own, care for and choose/grow the feed for their own personal supply of sustainable, clean, happily clucking protein.

Eggs are hands down, one of the most nutritious protein sources on the planet. Eggs from any fowl provide easily-digestible protein, a healthy source of cholesterol (specifically proven to enhance heart health), choline (which boosts brain health) and other crucial nutrients in abundance.

They’re arguably the easiest protein source to prepare. And that can be done with an amazing amount of variety by the least skilled of cooks, from boiled & scrambled to frittata & soufflé.

Eggs laid by fowl have been devoured by humans for a very long time. After hunting eggs of wild fowl, we decided they were so scrumptious that we gathered the birds in pens to make their eggs easier to get ahold of. East India domesticated egg-layers as early as 3200 BC. Ancient Egyptian and Roman people ate eggs on their own, as well as in breads and cakes. Europe domesticated chickens in 600 BC. You could say humans and chickens progressed through time together, hand in… talon!

The American Egg Board estimates that roughly 75 billion eggs are produced in the United States each year. The average American consumes +/- 246 year. That translates to ~20 eggs a month per person and includes home preparation, restaurants, and dishes/condiments that contain egg as an ingredient. Most Americans buy their eggs from huge factory farms that host 20,000 birds in chicken houses the size of football fields.

Considering humans’ long and intimate (and delicious) history with fowl and their eggs, it’s surprising that some cities have laws that prevent their citizens from owning their own chickens. Staunton is one of those cities. In Staunton, we can own cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits, snakes, lizards and non-egg-laying birds, but we may not own chickens.

My reasons taste like chicken:

Humans have been eating domesticated chickens and their eggs for a very long time. As early as 3200 BC, humans have been living with egg-laying fowl. Ancient Egyptian and Roman people ate eggs on their own, as well as baked in breads and cakes. Europe domesticated chickens in 600 BC. You could say humans and chickens progressed through time together, hand in… talon!

If humans and chickens living together was a bad idea, we would not be here today. Or, we would have abandoned the practice of owning domesticated chickens thousands of years ago.

Today, chicken’s eggs are hands down, one of the most nutritious protein sources on the planet (besides liver… yeah, I know.) Eggs from any fowl provide easily-digestible protein, a healthy form of cholesterol (proven to enhance heart health, even touted by Dr. Oz the Great), choline (which boosts brain health) and other crucial nutrients in abundance.

My reasons sound like chicken.

Hens are not very loud. Roosters are loud, and are completely unnecessary. Frankly, most everyone, including hens, is much happier without those machismo alarm clocks running around. At their loudest, with someone standing in the coop with them, hens produce 70 decibels, which is the same as normal street noise. But this is only at their loudest, when they’re excited. Normally they’re much quieter, especially since people are not generally hanging out reading a newspaper in their coop. A babbling stream is 50 decibels, and quiet conversation is 30 decibels.

My reasons smell like chicken.

Chickens do not smell when taken care of correctly. I’ve stood in front of the huge coops of chickens at Polyface Farm admiring and inhaling for many minutes. I didn’t smell a thing. Also, while visiting coops in Augusta County and in Seattle, Washington, I smelled the same thing: nothing.

When chickens are not taken care of, they smell. They also don’t survive and are not fun or worthwhile to own. This equates to animal abuse and is reported by neighbors. In other cities in which chickens are legal, the reports of “chicken abuse” are minimal. I am currently doing research to compare those instances to dog abuse.

When chickens are legalized in other cities, people do not run out and buy them en mass. Chickens are a big responsibility that people don’t take lightly (plus a significant cost is involved). I probably will not have chickens because I like to bundle up when it’s cold, rather than trudging in my yard caring for a coop. And when it’s hot, I like to go to the beach, rather than sweating in my yard caring for a coop.

But, if I were ever able to, and did decide to get a few hens, I would hire someone to come consult with me on the best place to put them in my yard. I might save up some money to have a custom coop made that looks like a hobbit’s house from Lord of the Rings. I would definitely pay a consultant in dollars, or in hOURs, to periodically come make sure I’m doing everything right. And I would pay someone else to come feed and care for them when I go to the beach or spend a weekend in DC. I may even buy my ladies chicken sweaters for the winter holidays.

My reasons look like chicken.

Chickens are hearty animals, which do not succumb easily to disease. When fed foods that Nature intended they eat and given clean places to live, they are not dirty or unsafe. They are nostalgic. Many feel close to their hens, like they are pets. Chickens are hypnotic, the way they strut and peck (and by the way some of the things they peck at are ticks, which spread the dreaded Lyme disease, a growing epidemic in Virginia with which I have personal experience). Some people enjoy sitting on an overturned bucket and watching them, like fish in a tank… but unlike fish, chickens make delicious eggs.

My reasons feel like chicken.

Few things can match the sense of pride and empowerment provided by growing one’s own food. Whether harvesting kale, string beans or chickens, being self-sufficient is incredibly gratifying.

Few lessons for children can match those taught by homegrown food. But better than carrots, chickens teach invaluable lessons of respect for fellow life forms no matter their category, awareness of the connection between the Earth and all of life, empathy for the basic needs of other organisms and the natural cycle of life to death. Children who grow up with Teacher Chickens in their yards, or the yards of their neighbors will, in many ways, be better off.

Finally, nothing can match the feeling of security of raising chickens in one’s back yard. Chickens produce a fantastic source of sustainable protein that vegetables cannot provide. When families are struggling to make ends meet, chickens can provide both confidence and relief. Food security is a right of every human on this planet and if Staunton can provide that in a safe and well-regulated way, it is absolutely obligated to do so.

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