Sunday, July 27, 2008

Planning for a positive outcome!

While I was out of town this weekend the news broke that the folks fighting to have chickens as pets in Cary, NC were not successful. I plan to use the information gleaned from their fight to help me with ours! It seems their issue didn't get to be heard by Cary council members until very late in the meeting (about 6 hours in!), and by that time their issue fell on deaf ears. One council member even had the gall to say "Is it really Cary?" (As if they're 'above' such things as having chickens as pets!) The council members apparently didn't even want to entertain the idea of changing the current ordinance, and voted 4-3 against even considering a change.

In order for our plan in Wake Forest to come to a more positive end, I have decided to seek the advice of one of our Town Commissioners as to the best approach. Luckily I have been successful in my goal to converse with him on this subject, and in light of this conversation, I have made more plans.

This week I plan to speak with the Town Clerk, Joyce Wilson about the best way to get the chance to address the Board of Commissioners. I am hoping that we'll figure out which part of the next meeting would be the most efficient use of our (and the Commissioners') time. I have been told that she knows the 'ins and outs' of the meetings and processes better than just about anyone and she would be our best bet for getting on the agenda.

I have also been told not to expect my amendments to be accepted as written, but that they will most likely be re-written by the Town Attorney. This is perfectly fine with me, as long as they ARE re-written and allow me, and people like me, to have pet hens! That is my goal - I'm not looking for public recognition or authorship on a town ordinance. I'm NOT a politician in any way, shape, or form!

If I am successful in coherently presenting my proposal to the Board of Commissioners on August 19, they will still most likely not vote on it that night. I'm told the earliest they could make a decision is most likely 2 weeks after that meeting, so we're looking at 5 weeks and 2 days of waiting still, from today. I hope that the Wake Forest Town Commissioners will take the time to make a carefully informed decision, unlike the hasty decision made by the Cary Council members.

So - Don't forget! If you're in Wake Forest, or ZIP code 27587, to please sign my petition, and send it to anyone you know that could vote. Each person in your household who is voting age! I have had a few people shock me completely, as I thought they wouldn't be in favor of the idea, and they turned out to be staunch supporters! So sometimes folks will surprise you - but you won't know unless you give them that chance!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Don't you need a rooster for eggs?
A: No, you don't. Hens lay eggs without a rooster. The eggs you buy at the store are unfertilized and no rooster is around those hens. You only need a rooster to hatch chicks. Roosters will NOT BE ALLOWED under the new ordinance in Wake Forest.
Q: Are chickens loud?
A: Roosters are loud, and they will not be permitted. Hens are, on average, far quieter than most dogs, parrots, or macaws. They generally make a soft chuckle or cluck. Loud clucking rated at about 70 decibels, while the average conversation would be 60 decibels. Occasionally, when they are showing off an egg they've just laid, their clucking is slightly louder. Normal noises are not audible past 25', the loudest noises at about 50'.
Q: What about smell?
A: Unlike the farm chickens many of us are familiar with, whose coops generally aren't cleaned more than once or twice a year, suburban pet chickens are treated like any other pet. The chicken coop is cleaned several times per week, or even daily. The amount of chicken manure produced by six hens is roughly equivalent to the dog droppings produced by a medium-large dog. And, unlike dog or cat poop (health hazards), chicken manure can be easily composted into fabulous garden fertilizer!
Q: Aren't chicken coops an eyesore?
A: Suburban chicken owners, unlike rural folks with acreage, have their chicken's enclosures in their backyard living space. Thus, they tend to be well-built, well-maintained, pretty structures. The Wake Forest ordinance will contain restrictions to ensure that hen houses and coops are attractive and well maintained, and not a detriment to the neighborhood. Check out for an example.
Q: What about predators or pests?
A: Since the ordinance stipulates that the hens must be in a completely enclosed, predator-proof enclosure, and locked in a henhouse at night, the hens will not attract predators any more than a rabbit in a backyard hutch. The ordinance also contains restrictions concerning feed so that other pests will not be attracted.
Q: Will chickens be running wild in neighborhoods?
A: No. The drafted amendment includes the stipulation that the hens must be kept in a completely enclosed pen at all times unless they are in a securely fenced yard with supervision.
Q: What about diseases like Avian Flu?
A: Despite some sensational news stories that may lead us to believe otherwise, Avian Flu of the type that is contagious to humans has not been found in North America. Any type of avian influenza is spread by contact with the contaminated feces of other birds, primarily migratory waterfowl. Unlike rural farm birds, which "free range" and might, for example, drink from a pond shared with Canada Geese, "backyard hens" in Wake Forest will be kept in an enclosed pen with no contact with the migratory birds. In addition, should avian flu ever reach here, it would more likely spread in situations where birds are maintained in unsanitary conditions, such as the large commercial "factory farms" where chickens are crammed together in filthy cages.... not where chickens are kept as pets in well-maintained coops cleaned as regularly as any suburban pet.
Salmonella is the other primary concern associated with chicken and eggs. Again, this is an issue of cleanliness and chickens kept as pets are unlikely to cause any problems. In fact, Consumer Reports magazine reports that 71% of all supermarket chicken and eggs are contaminated with salmonella: eating your own backyard eggs, where you have control over the sanitation, significantly reduces your chance of exposure. In terms of exposure from pets, chickens are no more likely to carry it than parakeets, and pet reptiles are far more likely culprits. Good hand-washing practices are always important after handling animals.
Pet chickens, unlike cats and dogs, which are prime vectors for rabies and tick-borne diseases, actually keep your yard healthier by eating ticks, grubs, japanese beetles, slugs, and other harmful insects.
Q: How many chickens are we talking about here?
A: The ordinance will limit the number to 20 or less. While four to six hens will supply a family of four with enough eggs for personal use, and to sometimes share with neighbors; Hens will produce eggs from age 6 months to about 6 years depending on their variety. They will live for another 2-4 years after that, so a family would usually desire to add to their flock at that time to allow for continued egg production.
Q: What's this about an "Urban Chicken" movement?
A: In the last 5 or so years, more communities have been adjusting their zoning laws to allow chickens to be kept as pets in urban and suburban areas. As part of the growing awareness in this country of living “green" more people are interested in growing at least some of their own food in kitchen gardens, and in raising a few hens for eggs. The "movement" has spread across the country as people realize that owning a few hens, kept as suburban pets in pretty garden coops, is a good idea. Some people want organic eggs and garden compost, others are concerned about food security, others want to "eat local" to save resources, and others wish to enjoy the lovely, fun pets hens can be.
Q: Aren't chickens mean?
A: Just like any animal, it's all in the upbringing. If you took a bunch of parrots, cockatiels, kittens or puppies and stuck them in a pen with minimal human contact beyond food and water, they probably wouldn't be very good pets. Just like these animals, chickens that are hand-raised from chicks can be wonderful pets. They come when they are called, enjoy being held and are beautiful and even affectionate pets. Check out the links on the sidebar for websites like "My Pet Chicken" and "City Chickens" for more information.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Day at the Market

Today, Dave, Mitzi, and I spent the morning at the Wake Forest Farmer's Market. The vendors were all very nice and a few even came and signed our petition before the Market opened. We set up a little table in the Gazebo, and put one of the Catawba Converticoops in the mulch nearby.

I was a little apprehensive at first to approach perfect strangers and ask them about signing our petition, I'm not really the public-speaker type! Luckily it seemed that my fears were unfounded, and it didn't take long to get semi-comfortable asking for signatures. It was much easier knowing I wasn't there alone too. There were a lot of people to talk to, and it was great to have Dave and Mitzi to help field questions and gather signatures! There were also a lot of people interested in the hen coop and it's design. Most people there had read the article in the Wake Weekly or seen the story on NBC 17, and were interested in hearing more about Backyard Chickens.
Wake Forest Farmers Market shoppers gather around the coop and sign the petition.

Many people who visited the Market parked right behind where we were set up in the Gazebo, and so they got to see the chickens right away. So many people remarked about how pretty they are and how calm they seemed. The Bissette girls were there off and on, and so was Taylor Anne, so there were usually a couple of children gathered around the coop, which also drew folks' attention. The kids showed others how gentle the hens are by hand-feeding them weeds and grass they picked nearby, and many of the 'visiting' kids got in on the action. There were quite a few families who thought the hens were so sweet, and wanted to get a coop like that for their family! I even got to talk to one of the town commissioners who was visiting the Farmer's Market that morning. It was a nice conversation, and I think the morning was a success - we were able to get over a hundred signatures on the petition!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Dave and Mitzi's interview with Leslie Rudd from the Wake Weekly must have gone pretty well, because look at what came 'hot off the presses' today! It was on the front page!

Some flock to ‘urban farmer’ trend
By Leslie Rudd, Wake Weekly Staff Writer
July 17, 2008


Gas prices have affected everything from family vacations to food prices. Some Wake Forest residents like Emily Cole are taking matters into their own hands, by getting food from the backyard. Cole wants to offer cheaper, healthier food alternatives for her family. That’s why she is petitioning Wake Forest to allow chickens in the town limits. For Cole, it’s one more way to keep her family “green.” “Food is coming in from other countries and we don’t know what the (health) regulations are, what the inspection process is. For my family it’s important to know where it comes from and how the animals are treated,” she said. Cole said the inhumane treatment of chickens for commercial production is motivation to change Wake Forest’s current livestock ordinance. “The majority of the eggs you buy from the supermarket are about a month old ... (chickens are) stuck in a cage roughly the size of a sheet of paper, injected with hormones and fed highly processed food in order to have her lay as many eggs as possible. If a person were treated that way, it would be illegal,” Cole said. Intent on creating healthier food choices for her family, Cole began Wake Forest’s permit process, which requires the applicant to receive written approval of all residents within 500 feet. “Many have been really excited about this,” she said. “They’re interested in having fresh eggs available to them.”But not everyone is in favor of Cole’s idea. “It seems like a lot of people are close-minded and don’t want to learn the facts,” she said. Opponents have concerns about offensive odors, the attraction of predators and noise. The application process is arduous and that keeps most potential urban farmers at bay, said town planner Bill Summer. “The provisions to get the permit are vigorous. Getting written approval from each dwelling within 500 feet ... it’s the thing that always trips people up.”In Summer’s five years as a town planner, he said he has issued two permits: one for horses and one for chickens. “The chickens are in a very visible place and people that see this become very interested,” he said. David and Mitzi Bissette were able to sway their neighbors earlier this year to obtain a permit. They have raised 10 chickens for personal use on their South Main Street property. David grew up with chickens in Wake Forest. For Mitzi, it’s been a new endeavor. “They are so much fun and it’s teaching our children responsibility — they have to feed them, give them water every day.”Bissette daughters, 10-year-old Anna, 7-year-old Katelyn and 5-year-old Sarah, see the chickens as pets. “They love playing with them, petting them and caring for them,” said Mitzi.The chickens live in urban coops — designed and built by the Bissettes that look something like an ark. The modern cedar coops are covered and mobile. This allows the chickens a new place to peck and prevents any lingering smell. Beyond being a welcome addition to the family, the chickens give the Bissettes peace of mind. “I don’t have to go to the store to buy eggs. But also, I know what I’m feeding my birds and we know they’re healthy,” said Mitzi. David said the application process wasn’t easy. “It’s highly intensive, which strikes me as odd. They’re no more a nuisance than a barking dogs or traffic.” The shift from a rural to urban mindset presented a potential barrier for the Bissettes while pursuing neighbors’ approval. “It was normal to have chickens 40 to 50 years ago,” said Mitzi. “We’re only a generation removed from this. “Our neighbors were very encouraged by the idea. We can’t praise our neighbors enough for being open to this.”Following a pecking orderBecause the permits are issued annually, there’s no guarantee the Bissettes’ backyard farm will fly with neighbors next year. “All it would take is for one new resident to oppose it,” said Summer.To keep up the neighborhood’s enthusiasm, the Bissettes said they will send out flyers to correct any issues neighbors have with these feathered friends. They will need to collect 18 signatures by Jan. 1, 2009 to renew the permit. The reason behind the ordinance is to prevent nuisance animals, and it’s working, said Summer. “It’s effective for what it is. We haven’t had problems with animals at all.”The Cole and Bissette families hope to shake that “nuisance animal” perspective. “We’d really like to see chickens reclassified as pets,” said David Bissette. “Rabbits, cats, dogs and ferrets can be a lot more annoying.” He asks skeptics to consider the smell and noise these other pets can produce.Cole is circulating a town-wide petition to amend Wake Forest’s current livestock ordinance by excluding chickens from the definition of livestock. In the meantime, she and her husband Mike actively teach their children, 6-year-old Taylor Anne and 2-year-old Anderson, how to reduce their carbon footprints. “We carpool a lot, we use cloth diapers, and I use soft handkerchiefs on the kids at home because we can wash and reuse them. We have a vegetable garden and three compost piles — but we don’t get any complaints about the smell there,” she said. To read Cole’s online petition for “green eggs” go to

You can visit the Wake Weekly online and see it on the front page, there's a cute photo of Sarah Bissette with one of her pet chickens!

The Wake Forest Gazette also decided to run my article this week. I hope this will bring a lot of people to the Farmer's Market this weekend to sign our petition!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Come See us at the Wake Forest Farmer's Market!

An update:
This Saturday (7/19/08) from 8am-12pm, we'll be at the Wake Forest Farmer's Market. They have graciously offered a space for us to set up an information table and for people to sign the petition. We're also going to have some of the Bissette's hens in a Catawba Brougham ConvertiCoop, so everyone can see how nicely the chickens can be kept. We will be sharing a tent with the Master Gardeners, so come by and say "Hi!"

Monday, July 14, 2008

It appears that Em's postings on this blog and online are reaching an audience. Last week NBC-17 News came out and ran a segment about backyard chickens in Wake Forest on their 7 o'clock news program. Here's a link to the video!

Also, we expect to have an interview with a reporter from The Wake Weekly tomorrow around lunchtime. I'll let you know how that goes afterwards.

Also I found a link to a blog that shows you how to research other municipality's chicken ordinances so that you can assist your local government in crafting a better chicken code than the one they currently have!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Our 15 seconds of fame?

So, after writing the article and submitting it to the site, Kerry Hall, from NBC17 (our local station) contacted me to do a story for the news. It was so nerve wracking! I didn't know what to wear - so I just wore my favorite shirt, a blue/green tie-dye North Carolina Zoo T-shirt, and shorts. I also guess I didn't realize how flat my hair was! I had just spent the morning at the town pool for swim lessons, and of course our weather was warm and humid. Whatever!

SO the interview went pretty well, I was a little nervous, and it was hard to remember what I wanted to say, but in the end it didn't matter so much because 90% of what I said on camera was cut out of the actual segment, or just said by Kerry on the voiceover and that was fine with me! I have to commend Dave on his on-camera session - he seemed very natural and didn't look or sound nervous at all! The children were all great on camera too. I was really proud of them! I hope we are able to gain more community support from this publicity.

You can see the segment online at Battle for Backyard Chickens in Wake Forest. There are actually two segments, one is the short introduction they put into the 6pm newscast, and the other is longer and played at 7pm.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site if you saw the segments!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Welcome to Backyard Chickens for Wake Forest!

Welcome to the Backyard Chickens for Wake Forest blog!

I hope you find information you're looking for here. We are a small group of Wake Forest citizens who are interested in helping Wake Forest join many of the more progressive cities and towns which recognize the need for a more sustainable urban landscape including household food production!
This journey all started when I decided to get some chickens for my backyard. I have been interested in chickens since I was a little girl. There was a family in my downtown Greensboro neighborhood who had some chickens in a large pen in their backyard. I used to sneak over while out playing with friends and watch the chickens. They were very entertaining! Even through the vine-covered fence we hid behind. Once I was married and had children, I didn't really think a lot about having chickens until I saw some on a few of the crafty blogs I read. I thought, 'If these folks can do it in a neighborhood, then I can too!'. I talked with my husband about it and after doing a lot of research, he agreed that it would be a great thing for our family, but that it was MY project, and up to me.
I found out from the town that there is a permit required when you live inside the town limits, and that you have to gain written permission from each neighbor within 500 feet of your property. Whew! This made me back up a second and think about it for a while. I am not a person to go talk to anyone I don't know... and I'm certainly not a person to go door-to-door asking complete strangers for their permission for something! I put the idea on hold, until I could get my plan together.

One evening, my family was out for a bike ride, and as usual, we headed down toward the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We like to ride there because it's relatively flat (easy on us while toting kids!), and it's nice scenery! On our way there, we rode by a house on the corner near the town park, and boy were we surprised to see what was in their yard! They had a beautiful Chicken Ark, made from oiled cedar, and in it was 2 Rhode Island Red chickens! Wow - we were impressed that they had them, and on our ride back home, we felt lucky to see some children in the yard. We stopped to ask them about their chickens, and eventually talked with their parents about them. We learned that they did go through the permit process, and it wasn't too bumpy of a road for them. This conversation gave me more determination to get the ball rolling on my own chicken endeavor.

Soon, I put together a flyer which detailed some of the questions my neighbors may have had about backyard chickens, and walked them around to each house which was within 500 feet of our property. I taped them right onto the door of each house, and waited a few days before I went back to collect the signatures. I also added a little 'info tube' to my mailbox post in case some homeowners would like to sign the paper and drop it off. I got a total of 9 'yeses' and 2 'nos' within the first week. Unfortunatly, once I got the 'no' answers, my plan had to be attacked from another angle. I decided to go to the town council to have the ordinance changed. I feel that chickens should be considered pets, not livestock in the town ordinance. Certain precautions should be made in order to insure the animals would be well taken care of and not be a neusance, of course. On this blog, I will chronicle the adventure of 'taking it to the town'. I hope you'll join with us and help make the dream of having backyard chickens easier for everyone.
More details to come!
In the meantime, please check the links section for details on my article on the web site, a link to the petition and proposal we're taking to the town council, and David and Mitzi Bissette's local Chicken Ark company, Catawba Convertible Coops!