“Outlaw chickens” granted amnesty

kjahner@newsobserver.comJune 6, 2014 

— A number of household pets in Garner just gained legal residency.

Town council unanimously voted to legalize backyard hens Monday, a vote met by applause in council chambers from several residents who had come to speak in favor of the new ordinance.

The rule allows up to eight hens – but no roosters – in a backyard enclosure maxing out at 300 square feet. The ordinance includes provisions allowing the town to intervene in the case of noise, smell or other nuisance complaints. But hen owners praising the rule say that, if done right, hen ownership provides all benefits and no drawbacks.

“I grew up on a farm myself. These are not the same kind of chickens we raised on our farms. We have names for them,” said Jennifer Holt. “They are probably better to us than any dog I had on the farm.”

Holt received permission from the town about five years ago to have four chickens, which she said she got in large part to help her young son Evan, who has autism. Experts regard pets as good therapy for developing social and communication skills, but the family has allergies to dogs and cats. Evan Holt, now 11, and his nine-year-old sister Lydia spoke first at the hearing.

“The eggs are cheaper than from the store,” Evan Holt said. “I like to read them books, pet them and take care of them. I also clean them, (give them) water, and clean up their poop. I think everyone should have chickens.”

He also said chickens could easily jump a fence meeting the two-foot height requirement and suggested it be increased, echoing concerns of some council members. Before the vote the rule was changed to require a four-foot fence.

Holt’s sister pointed out that they also eat bugs and “even really small snakes.”

The rules say coops can be no more than seven feet tall and must have four square feet of space per hen, or 10 if there’s no outside run for them. The runs and coops must be inside of the back corner of the property, and at least a 10 feet from other properties.

Gra Singleton had advocated for the increase from five or six hens and 120 square feet of open space, arguing both insufficient. The Holts, among others, were thankful for the increase to eight hens, allowing for more egg production.

Outlaw chickens

The Holts are not the only ones in Garner for whom the new rule granted amnesty for existing pets rather than permission to get new ones. Kristen Warren noted that there were stores in Garner that sold chicks.

“These chicks, surely some go to homes in Garner. They are living their lives as outlaws,” Warren said.

The line drew laughs, and multiple subsequent speakers validated her, wryly confirming that they also had “outlaw chickens.”

Howard Michael had asked the council to reconsider the rule a year ago after learning he had violated the rules after he had set up chickens in his own back yard. The town at least granted asylum then, putting a moratorium on enforcing the chicken ban.

Ricardo Cobos didn’t have chickens, but like Holt has an autistic child and family allergies to cats and dogs. He expressed surprise that Garner hadn’t done this before.

“I told my wife this is fine, we’re in Garner, we’re not in Cary,” he said, noting that often-restrictive Cary also allowed the birds. “I was astonished (to find the town had a ban).”

The one complaint came from a woman upset that the backyard and setback rules prevented her from providing what she regarded as a good place for chickens.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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