Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Of all the farm animals, chickens are among the easiest to raise, and they are probably the most productive pound for pound. At their peak, each can lay an egg a day. Their manure is essential for our garden, and after two or three years, they get to become part of the best stew or pot pie you’ve ever tasted.
And they are also a lot of fun to have around.
Chickens are a natural for rural towns like West Gardiner where we live, but there is growing acceptance to “backyard” chicken operations in cities and towns in the Kennebec Valley — with one exception.
In Gardiner, for example, an ordinance is in the works that will allow up to six laying hens (no roosters) almost anywhere in town, as long as you have 1,000 square feet of open space in your yard. That’s roughly 20-by-50 feet.
The “second reading” of the ordinance is Wednesday, according to Dave Chickowski, code enforcement officer, and if all goes well, it will take effect 30 days after that.
In Hallowell, chickens aren’t allowed in the built-up areas of town, but are permitted elsewhere, as long as there are no complaints from the neighbors, according to City Clerk Deanna Hallett.
Augusta doesn’t mention chickens specifically in its ordinances, so theoretically, chickens could be raised almost anywhere, according to City Clerk Barbara Wardwell. They can be an issue only if someone complains, Wardwell adds.
But if you want to raise chickens in Waterville, you have to live in the city’s rural residential zone.
A few weeks ago, Mayor Paul LePage vetoed a revised zoning ordinance that would have allowed chickens elsewhere — with heavy restrictions.
The restrictions included a 10,000-square-foot lot minimum; six hens only (no roosters or meat birds) and no killing of the animals. Apparently, LePage had gotten a barrage of complaints from people who were definitely anti-chicken.
The zoning revisions are on the agenda for Tuesday, without any chicken provisions for the city council to chew over.
“The problem was that the council itself was significantly divided,” said Tom Longstaff, the councilor who drafted the chicken provisions. He said he might bring up the chicken issue at a later date, if there is enough interest.
Please everyone, remember just one thing: Chickens are fun!
Chickens greet you in the morning when you bring them new water and feed (standard brand feed that is mostly corn), and open their door to the outside. Every day is a new day, and they run out to find out what has happened overnight.
When they run, they are at their most dinosaurian — their necks horizontally stretched ahead and their legs pumping furiously atop their Jurassic-like three-toed feet. They quickly return to the new food and water being provided with greetings of cooing and clucking to signify that they approve of what you are doing for them.
During the day, when they are alone with themselves, they are remarkably rambunctious with their calls and yells, possibly signaling the laying of a new egg or finding a surprise bit of food. They can be clearly heard 750 feet away in the front garden, but their noise is not annoying like that of a barking dog.
And when they get a ration of kitchen compost once every day or two, they are all present for the devouring.
At dusk, they reassemble inside the coop, walking around, jumping onto their roosting spots.
A few, inexplicably, roost on the ground near the door. That’s when it is easiest to gather eggs, seemingly with their approval. Mostly, the eggs are clean, resting in the wood shavings we have provided.
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