Sarah Brodsky
Last night, the Columbia City Council passed its urban chicken measure by a 4-3 vote. The meeting was well-attended, and spirited public comments preceded the decision. If you missed it, you might want to watch the archived video here.

Opponents of the proposal brought up two arguments against urban chickens: First, that chickens would be dirty, noisy, and wild; and second, that chickens would lower property values. Urban chicken supporters answered both objections very well.

Opponents told horror stories about disgusting chickens, but they failed to show that chickens are any worse than the birds that already live in Columbia. If chickens harbor pestilence and filth, then so do all the sparrows and pigeons that fly around unmolested. Chicken supporters pointed out that other pets like dogs can carry disease or leave waste, and Columbia has no trouble regulating dog ownership so that most people are satisfied. No one is asking the city to ban all dogs for sanitation reasons; chickens should be equally tolerable.

The Columbia ordinance prohibits roosters, which should go a long way toward preventing noise disturbances. One Realtor who spoke predicted that wild roosters will find a way into the coops despite the owners' best intentions. I find it hard to believe a rooster could break into a coop that, by law, is made of sturdy fencing with a wire net on top — unless the rooster had access to power tools.

Then there's the possibility that escaped chickens will flock in the streets. Again, the opponents haven't shown that chickens are more likely than other animals to cause problems; owners of any kind of pets can be irresponsible. As one councilman said, chickens aren't the nuisance — people are. Those people are the exception, and Columbia can deal with them on an individual basis. Urban chicken supporters have lots of ideas for reducing the number of wild chickens: A private organization has offered to teach people how to care for chickens, and it's volunteered to help place abandoned birds in new homes. One graduate student pointed out that unwanted chickens can be sold on Craigslist.

It's clear that chickens are no more of a nuisance than dogs or cats. However, some Columbia residents — namely, Realtors — say that chickens are uniquely harmful because people think of them as farm animals. They claim that the chicken ordinance will lower property values, and that chickens next door to homes on the market could quash sales. These Realtors overlook the fact that the ordinance doesn't override neighborhood associations' covenants or landlords' policies, which can exclude chickens. Chickens are not about to move into a community of mansions and destroy the value of the surrounding estates. And, as several commenters indicated, some people would actually prefer to buy a house in a city that allows chickens.

The only time chicken enthusiasts lost me was when they appealed to "sustainability" and "food security." I can't imagine how building a chicken coop could be fun, either. But whether I agree with the chicken owners' ideology is not the point. People should be free to pursue their ideals and passions so long as they aren't hurting anyone else. Chicken raising meets that criterion.

About the Author

Sarah Brodsky

Sarah Brodsky