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Should city allow backyard chickens?

Lauren, 3, holds a baby chicken that her family kept in its backyard, in apparent violation of city rules, which her aunt Laurie Russell hopes to change.

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

 

While most may still have turkey on the brain, for one Lincolnton resident, it’s another breed of bird that has sparked her passion.
Laurie Russell is on a mission to modify the city’s ordinance banning backyard chickens. Having appeared at recent meetings of the Lincolnton City Council to speak on behalf of the issue, Russell is hoping to get the word out and drum up support for her cause.
She has even created a Facebook page, entitled “Chickens4Lincolnton,” to raise awareness of her efforts.
Russell, who lives with her sister and niece, said her cause began after they received notification from the county’s animal control that the chickens they had been keeping in their backyard needed to be removed within three days. They were out of town at the time and came home to find the notice on their front door.
As Russell pointed out, finding a home for displaced chickens is a bit tougher than giving away a couple of hamsters, and, as such, they received an extension.
Nonetheless, Russell is quick to admit that they were at fault, and she emphasized that animal control had been very cooperative and professional about the situation.
After receiving the notice, Russell said she talked to Mark Carpenter, Lincolnton’s zoning administrator, and was encouraged to write a letter and attend a city council meeting to speak during the time allotted for public comments.
Russell did just that at the October meeting, where she enthusiastically provided various reasons as to why she believes backyard chickens should be allowed within city limits. She also cited a number of cities across the state and country that are already bird-friendly, with even New York City making the list.
During the Nov. 3 meeting of the city council, Planning Director Laura Simmons presented an update on Russell’s request.
Russell had volunteered to do some research about other jurisdictions’ regulations regarding chickens and fowl. She had then met with City Manager Jeff Emory to look over the information she had compiled and sent it over to the Lincolnton Planning Department.
Simmons presented this information to the mayor and city council members at the meeting, along with draft language to be considered should they decide to amend the city code.
The ordinance currently reads, “It shall be unlawful for any person to keep any ducks, geese, guinea, chicken or other domestic fowl in the city.” The planning staff suggested removing “chicken” from the list and adding “roosters” to it, which would allow Russell and others to keep hens as an exception and in accordance with certain standards.
Mayor John Gilleland requested that Simmons speak with and survey other cities that allow backyard chickens and then report back with her findings. Council member Devin Rhyne emphasized that enforcement would also need to be looked at further.
This week, Russell received word from Emory that the issue will also be on the agenda for the December city council meeting next Thursday, with an eventual public hearing.
Russell said all those with city government that have been involved in the process so far have been “phenomenal,” adding that they have been helpful in letting her know what steps she can take and keeping her in the loop.
“I’m not fighting with city hall,” she stressed. “I’m working with them.”
She has also received encouragement from others in the community, saying many have commented to her that they “love the idea.” Nationwide, similar sentiments are being echoed in the organic and local-foods movements.
For Russell, her primary goal is more self-sufficiency. And she believes that permission for individuals to raise their own hens is a step in the right direction.
She additionally cited the benefits of chickens in terms of sustainability and gardening, such as using their excrement for fertilizer and their egg shells to provide calcium for plants.
Furthermore, Russell said many people are allergic to store-bought eggs, and, by raising their own, they can guarantee the hens won’t be injected with unwanted hormones or antibiotics.
“What you give chickens is going to be in their eggs,” she said.
People can also feed the raw eggs to their dogs for protein, said Russell.
In Russell’s household, chickens are pets, not food, and she noted that they have personalities of their own.
“I’d watch chickens rather than watch TV,” she added, pointing out their added benefit as a means of entertainment.
She and her sister are “trying to create something” for her niece with their garden, compost and animals by teaching her to be self-sufficient and to appreciate the outdoors.
Russell believes that, whereas many people want things done for them these days, she is trying to accomplish the opposite with a lot of time, effort, energy and love.
“It’s important that people are able to do more for themselves,” Russell said.

Image courtesy of Contributed

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