Backyard chickens got the axe

Published 9:17 pm Friday, May 26, 2017

In Suffolk you can own dogs, cats, fish, snakes, lizards, gerbils, canaries, parrots and more. Chickens, on the other hand, are forbidden in the suburbs after City Council refused to amend an ordinance that would have allowed them. More specifically, the ordinance would have allowed only hens.

For many, the decision was met with a bit of a shrug. They probably would have had the same reaction if it went the other way. There were some that cared a great deal though, both in favor and against the ordinance.

In fact, the number of speakers on the issue of backyard chickens was similar to the number of speakers on the $160-million school budget.

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If approved, Suffolk would not have been setting a precedent by a long shot. A quick Internet search for communities that allow backyard chickens returned a surprising list. Among them are Charlotte, Raleigh, Seattle, Durham, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Jersey City, Buffalo and dozens more.

Still, council should not feel obliged to follow a trend it feels would be a mistake for Suffolk. You can’t really blame residents for having concerns. And you can’t blame council for voting in support of their constituents’ wishes.

Disappointed chicken supporters think these concerns are a bit like claiming the sky is falling. It does not seem like potential problems will be anything near what some fear. Judging by the evidence that a couple quick Internet searches dished up, the pro-chicken crowd has some strong arguments.

About 68 percent of U.S. households have some kind of pet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with dogs and cats dominating.

So how many suburban homes might actually take advantage of having backyard chickens? Less than 1 percent.  At least that’s what the USDA found in a 2013 study in Denver, Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

The study found single-family homes with less than one acre in property averaged backyard chicken ownership of less than 1 percent. Even with property of more than one acre, the average of chicken ownership increased to only a bit more than 4 percent.

Proponents might also point to the issue of property rights. How would using your backyard for a couple chickens be different than keeping other pets that are allowed?

One speaker at council noted they would rather live next door to chickens than a dog. The speaker had a point. Other backyard pets can create more noise and mess than a couple of hens. In the hands of poor pet owners, some pets are a menace to a neighborhood.

But other pets are not only welcome, they are cherished. We completely support this, by the way, and are committed to helping organizations dedicated to the welfare of animals, like the Suffolk Humane Society.

Chickens will never be considered man’s best friend, but they won’t be much of a danger to anyone either. They may reduce a backyard bug population, though, and give fresh eggs as a bonus. What other types of pets can leave behind can be much less desirable.

This is not to say anyone would call chickens the ideal pet. They will not come close to giving the kind of unconditional love a dog does, and they certainly are not welcome indoors. But in the limited number of backyards we could expect, problems should be minimal.

It would have been nice to have given backyard chickens a chance here in Suffolk. Maybe someday it will be considered again. For now though, chickens are only welcome in suburban Suffolk homes at the dinner table.

John Carr is the publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. Email him at