I got some nice stuff for Christmas but Santa didn’t bring me what I wanted most — chickens.
No, not KFC chicken nuggets — I’m talking about live backyard chickens. You see, urban chicken-raising is the hottest new fad among hip, green, locally grown sustainable food progressives.
Seriously, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Baltimore County and Montgomery County all are relaxing their zoning codes to permit backyard chicken-raising.
For instance, Montgomery’s code currently restricts chicken coops to no less than 25 feet from neighboring property lines and no closer than 1,000 feet of a neighboring dwelling. But Montgomery’s revised code reduces the property line distance to 15 feet and allows one hen for every 1,000 square feet of a chicken-raiser’s property (up to eight hens). However, Montgomery’s ordinance prohibits roosters (male chickens) because they create noise pollution.
I can’t wait for the first disappointed urban chicken farmer’s distressed call to the local agricultural extension agent, “My hens have been laying eggs for six months but, so far, not one egg has hatched into a chick. Do you think it’s due to global warming?” No, you idiot, it’s because you don’t have any roosters to fertilize the damn eggs!
Despite this little glitch, the yuppie chicken farmers are having great fun turning hens into pets, giving them names, accessing a 24-hour chicken information hotline and buying chicken coops.
The latest Williams-Sonoma catalogue offers “The Alexandria” chicken coop, which is “hand built from certified-sustainable solid pine.” It houses up to six hens, is fully mobile, comes in green or red and costs $1,449.95 (add $150 for delivery).
Less-affluent chicken-raisers can go with the “Reclaimed Rustic Chicken Coop” made of “crafted reclaimed California redwood,” which comes with either a painted chicken ($859.95, add $150 for delivery) or plain ($699.95, add $150 for delivery).
Hobby chickens also need a frame run (wire enclosed yard) “to give hens access to fresh air.” So add $599.95 plus $65 for delivery. Bottom line, housing those pet pullets will cost up to $2,609.90 ($435 a bird), and that’s before you ever buy the chickens!
Actually, I was into home chickens long before it became cool. When I was a kid growing up in what used to be semi-rural Montgomery County, we got color-dyed chicks for Easter and raised them into egg-laying hens housed in a handy shed with a fenced-in yard. No one worried about lot lines or hen limits and, believe it or not, a nearby general store sold chicken feed. Every morning we had fresh eggs and awoke to one of nature’s greatest alarm clocks, a crowing rooster.
So, after all these years, why am I joining the yuppie backyard chicken craze? Why am I putting up with the costs, the dirty work (have you ever tried plucking a chicken?), the smell, the salmonella and the neighbor’s complaints?
It’s not because I like spending $20 for a fresh egg, it’s because I’m in solidarity with Maryland’s real chicken farmers, who are under attack from the environmental crazies and the elected officials who do their bidding.
I want all the state’s chicken farm regulations to apply to urban chicken hobbyists so they can experience what real farm families are going through. So, just like real chicken farmers, the urbanites must pay $20 to enroll in a seven-session course in “how to prepare a nutrient management plan” (nutrient is chicken poop).
Once they pass the open book exam they’ll need to write their own nutrient management plan, which must include a map and the dimensions of their property, soil tests and a current chicken manure analysis (not more than two years old).
Once the plan is approved by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, state inspectors will guide the urban farmers on where and when they can store and spread their chicken poop. If their property is already over-saturated with phosphorus or nitrogen, the urbanites must arrange to have their chicken manure hauled away and disposed of elsewhere.
Just one mistake and a host of Hollywood celebrity-funded environmental vigilantes will descend on your chicken farm with expensive lawsuits. Just ask Allen Hudson, the Eastern Shore chicken farmer who spent $300,000 defending himself against a malicious lawsuit that was thrown out of court.
Meanwhile, hobby farmers should be aware of Del. Shane Robinson’s (D-Montgomery, where else?) new chicken tax, the environmental lobby’s latest attempt to destroy Maryland’s chicken industry.
Here’s how environmental activist Jolie Gouldner explains it: “We’re looking at bringing Maryland back to what it was and bringing the Eastern Shore back to what it was before Big Chicken (the chicken industry) landed there and pushed everyone out. The Eastern Shore used to have quite a diversity of agriculture going on, including fruits, vegetables and feed crops. Not only would this be much more sustainable and produce healthier food, it would allow space for small and midsize farmers to exist ... that’s the bigger picture we’re hoping for.”
That’s the “big picture” — no more Big Chicken, no more KFC. From now on we’ll only eat the chickens and eggs that we can raise in our backyards. And perhaps, for sustainability’s sake, the environmentalists’ “big picture” will even permit a few noisy roosters.
Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio.
His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.