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Egg Supporters “Hoping to Give Peeps a Chance”

by ARLnow.com May 20, 2011 at 8:30 am 4,397 36 Comments

A group dedicated to legalizing backyard chicken keeping in Arlington met in Fairlington last night to discuss their strategy for winning the support of fellow residents and, in turn, the county government.

An unscientific poll conducted on ARLnow.com last week found that most respondents were amenable to the idea of urban chicken ownership.

Below is the press release sent to us by the ‘Arlington Egg Project’ after last night’s meeting.

On Thursday, May 19, a committed group of Arlington residents gathered at the Fairlington Community Center for an organizational meeting to discuss methods for promoting community conversations about the benefits of backyard hens. Their group, dubbed the Arlington Egg Project, seeks for Arlington County officials to research the issue and, ultimately, revise local zoning ordinances to allow people living in Arlington neighborhoods to engage in small-scale, sustainable hen-raising.

Currently, Arlington County zoning ordinances require that poultry be kept at least one hundred feet from any street or lot line. This provision precludes virtually all Arlington households from keeping backyard hens.

“Backyard hens provide clean, healthful food and reduce dependence on environmentally harmful factory farming. Allowing responsible homeowners to have small numbers of backyard hens would be in the best tradition of Arlington’s values,” says Tycie Horsley, an Arlington resident and Arlington Egg Project member.

A recent morning poll in www.ArlNow.com indicated strong interest in allowing backyard chickens in Arlington, with 72% of respondents expressing support for or openness to revision of Arlington ordinances to allow more residents to keep chickens.

The positive participation of Arlington residents in the Arlington Egg Project is consistent with a growing urban agriculture movement in communities nationwide, as increasing numbers of people recognize the myriad benefits of raising small numbers of backyard hens and other sustainable urban agricultural practices. Many urban communities, including Portland, Seattle, Madison, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York, allow residents to keep hens, and many others are jumping on the band wagon as interest in sustainable, healthful living grows.

The May 19 meeting of the Arlington Egg Project featured guest speaker Kirsten Conrad Buhls of the Arlington office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Buhls, an expert on urban agriculture and natural resources, states, “The Sustainable Urban Agriculture education programs that are led by Virginia Cooperative Extension in Arlington County have been part of an effort to educate residents about land-use decision-making that goes beyond the natural resource conservation education efforts currently led by Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Arlington County government offices. To meet increased interest in programs about local foods, Extension is pleased to be able to help develop and support initiatives like the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Lecture Series, Local Foods Local Chef and the Arlington Egg Project, with research-based education that brings the experience and teaching of our state land grant colleges to Arlington County. Across the state, local Extension agents provide training on all aspects of poultry keeping and the office is pleased to be able to offer these services to residents of Arlington County.”

The members of the Arlington Egg Project will continue to plan and conduct educational efforts about the benefits of backyard hens, working toward a well-considered revision of Arlington ordinances. Models for such a revised ordinance are available in other urban communities, many of which place limits on the number of backyard hens, prohibit roosters, and ensure secure and proper housing for hens. Arlington Egg Project members believe such an approach, tailored for Arlington’s own interests and values, could promote sustainable and healthy lifestyles to the benefit of all of Arlington.

  • Eggcelent

    Great idea! I think this is a wonderful idea.

  • I doubt there is any residence in Fairlington that would meet the ordinance requirements.

    • Take it down a notch

      Having the meeting at the Fairlington Community Center does not mean it is a Fairlington-centered effort. The facility can be rented by non-residents.

      Regardless of county ordinances, I’d be surprised if the Fairlington Villages condo board approved something like this for residents.

  • Dumb Cluck

    I look forward to the day when I can enter my hens and eggs in the Arlington County Fair.

  • I’m going to start raising Chicken Hawks.

  • grouchou

    This is eggciting.

  • Burger

    Of course, the poll demonstrated that 60+ percent of the people either did not want chickens in the county or want strict limitations – for example, like say 100 feet from a property line which ironically is the current county position. So, the burden is up to the egg nuts to provide why the 100 foot rule is not acceptable.

    • Set the Controls

      I would like to raise a few chickens, as pets, and the eggs would be a bonus. The 100 feet figure, or 50 feet or 20 feet is less arbitrary than it is beside the point. I think it would be more helpful to determine:

      Can the chickens be free range or do they have to remain in a coop? If they are free range then the question becomes how many square feet are required per bird (maybe consult extension service for this), since birds would be bumping against fences/property lines eventually. Since roosters are verboten there is no need to allow for expansion of the population. If confined to a coop, then the question becomes how many feet from neighbors does it have to be (and why there would be a square-foot allowance for free-range birds anyway). I don’t think the burden of proof lies with chicken ranchers about the 100 feet rule, but with the people who came up with the 100 feet rule and why the figure wasn’t arrived at just to banish chickens from all but three properties in Arlington.

      Frankly, with all the foxes running around I can’t see how such a project would be feasible at all. And with all the wildlife and domesticated pets we have now, why are chickens so much worse?

      • FoxvsChix

        I’m w/you. We have so many VERY healthy foxes running around our street (which butts up to Donaldson Run) that I’ve witnessed them stalking and catching squirrels in broad daylight-them chix wouldn’t have chance.

    • Dumb Cluck

      Actually, only 28 percent oppose chickens, not 60 percent as you would like people to believe. Seventy two percent support chickens (it goes without saying that there would be regulations, this IS Arlington County, afterall).

  • CW2

    What a bunch of chicken****!

    • Eggcelent

      Thanks for sharing, that’s very helpful.

  • PikerGirl

    You would have to coop the chickens at night. Otherwise the Arlington coyotes would get them. The only other problem with the chicken keeping would be disposal and handling of the chicken poop. That would be something neighbors could complain about if not handled right.

    • UrsusMajeure

      Exactly – it’s the droppings issue. Otherwise, I cannot see a good reason as to why a few hens (not roosters, hens) in a fenced-in backyard would be more of a nuisance to neighbors than say, people’s f-ing dogs that bark all night long.

    • Set the Controls

      I’ve been feeding my lawn a forty-ish pound bag of (dry) chicken poop fertilizer every year. Smells, not terribly, for about a day. A lot comes down to how many square feet per bird is allowed.

    • Jim

      As if dog poop and cat poop aren’t problems! Chicken poop is a lot less offensive than either of those…

  • cluck

    I have an idea – maybe people could keep chickens in community gardens. That way they could keep them in a central location away from residences, and have a better place to properly use or dispose of the waste. We could even call it a community farm instead.

    • PhilL

      Put them up on all the new green roofs.

    • Then there would be fowl theft along with veggie theft.

    • Thes

      Would chickens be allowed in the dog parks or would they go to the children’s parks? Or would we have to create a new class parks just for chickens?

  • JimPB

    Go Chicks. A reasonable and desirable step toward more locally produced, fresh food and away from agri-business complex “foods.” Also a help with the household budget.

    What’s not to like about chicks?

  • TuesdaysChild

    Chicken houses and chicken feed brings rats. If you want chickens, move to a farm.

    • jjbug

      Yes, Phil, but how you would you know which of the chickens were yours?

  • Barbin

    I wouldn’t want this. I’ve been around too many smelly chickens. Arlington is urban, not rural.

  • jjbug

    Glad you are bringing up the topic. It has huge religious impact as Muslims wish to slaughter their food source on the day they eat it.

    The egg aspect is doubtful as hens need roosters to keep the eggs coming, ( I have enjoyed Key West’s roaming roosters speaking to the town every morning!) Are we ready for that?

    • Dumb Cluck

      jjbug and others have the misconception that roosters are necessary for egg production. Not true. A hen is like a woman in that the hen will ovulate without being fertilized. By picking the eggs daily, the hen continues to ovulate and produce eggs, about 4 a week, depending on the breed. So, no roosters! In fact, a rooster will harass the hens, and fertilize the eggs which results in eggs with blood spots. Not good. And no one is talking about meat production, only layers to produce eggs. And regulated at that. Google backyard chickens and find out the facts. This is a great idea that is catching on across the country.

    • jjbug,

      Roosters are NOT necessary for the hens to lay eggs. Roosters only fertilize the eggs. The hens will lay unfertilized, edible eggs on average of one per day.

      • Thes

        In fact if you try to eat an egg from a hen that’s been too close to a rooster, you might get a nasty surprise…

  • Carol_R

    It sounds like a good idea except for the issue of Exotic Newcastle Disease (END).


    Outbreaks of this will cause the destruction of the chickens and I don’t think that people with backyard hens are going to take all of the precautions necessary to prevent contamination. As a parrot owner, it concerns me since if there is an outbreak, officials may target all birds not just chickens for destruction within the specified infection zone.

  • loocy

    Nope, sorry. Lived for a time in the outer suburbs where chickens were allowed. The Central American families in my area were very big on having chickens, not so much on controlling the chickens. They smelled, made a mess, got into everything. Chickens are not house pets. If you want fresh organic eggs, go to the farmers market.

  • loocy

    I used to live in an outer burb where chickens were allowed, and have no interest in seeing this in Arlington! They are dirty, smelly, and get into everything. They are good at getting out and getting into other people’s yards or wandering down the streets, and then their owners were the ones who got huffy when dogs jumped the fences to chase them. We had feathers, excrement, and seeds all over. They attracted rats and other pests. It created a lot of tension in the neighborhood between chicken owners and non chicken owners, and enforcement of the rules was very difficult. Not to mention the trauma when children found out that Speckles was cooking on the stove at the neighbors house.

    If you want ultrafresh organic eggs, the farmers market has some superb ones.

    • We had hens for years in our back yard and they were neither smelly nor a nuisance. No one wants their hens getting out, just like you don’t want your dog roaming loose. And I hope you’re vegetarian to bring up trauma over meat – have you educated your children on factory farming practices? My children would rather eat a humanely raised, happy hen any day, and it is a great experience to know where their food comes from.

  • Charles

    Maybe beekeeping also.

    • PhilL

      I doubt that is not allowed. When I was a kid one of the houses in our neighborhood (corner of Williamsburg and Ohio) had a couple hives he tended in the backyard.

  • oink

    How about pigs? Pigs make better pets than chickens.

  • We have been offered great jobs in DC and are considering picking up my three green building businesses (and employees) to relocate to Arlington. The main reason why we’re leaving Richmond is because of regional Richmond’s refusal to see what other, larger *livable* cities are doing to allow its citizens the basic food right to be more sustainable, which includes backyard hens.

    We have to make a decision by spring so I will be keenly watching whether Arlington changes its zoning!


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