I am contacting you as part of the leadership team of a community group called "4 Chesapeake Hens." We request changes in the zoning laws to allow more residents to legally own up to six laying hens on residential property. This would be good for Chesapeake families, especially children.
I am sure you are aware of the rising problem of obesity linked to poor nutrition, excessive consumption of processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle. As an educator, I see students increasingly suffering from diet-related issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which affects not only their current health and academic focus in the classroom, but even their potential life spans. This is the first generation in U.S. history that is expected to live a shorter lifespan, on average, than the one before it.
So-called "nature deficit disorder" is part of this problem. When we were children, we regularly went outside for unstructured play: climbing trees, exploring local farms and ponds, and playing impromptu games like kickball in our yards. Our parents cooked for us. Many of today's children are spending those hours in sedentary activities like watching television or playing computer games. They are eating meals from take-out restaurants or from packages of sodium-laden, processed foods that are unwrapped and popped in a microwave. As a teacher, I have taught middle-school students who were completely unaware that the sunflower seeds they like to sneak into class to nibble on actually came from real flowers. They had never even seen a real sunflower.
Backyard laying hens will not solve all these problems, but these old-fashioned backyard pets may be a step in the right direction. They are easy to care for, so children can have the responsibility of heading outside every morning to help take care of the family pets. And children find delight in the miracle of seeing a pet turn grain and kitchen scraps into eggs. They will learn early biology lessons that will help them make connections in school.Our hope is that more children will take a greater interest in 4-H activities and in eating fresh, local foods as a result of their interaction with their birds.
And the eggs of well-tended hens will be healthier than the cheap ones mass-produced on factory farms. The recall of 500 million eggs in 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/weekinreview/26eggs.html?_r=2) should be incentive enough to source eggs more locally and on a smaller scale.
Yes, chickens can carry salmonella, but careful hand-washing after handling hens or eggs will greatly reduce the risk of transmission. Therefore parents will have an opportunity to teach children some important hygiene lessons along with biology and the responsibility of animal husbandry. Hens rarely bite, and even more rarely draw blood, and they pose no risk of transmitting rabies or cat scratch fever, unlike dogs or cats.
Please support "4 Chesapeake Hens'" efforts to liberalize the zoning laws to allow more laying hens in residential yards. Our community's parents and children will thank you for it.