Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why Does 4 Chesapeake Hens Want Six Chicks?

Regular readers know that I belong to a group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, that advocates changes to the zoning laws in Chesapeake, VA. Current law allows chickens only on land zoned agricultural. There is one exception: owners of "residential estates" of 3 acres or more my have four hens kept in a pen.

Potential changes are before the Planning Commission right now. Unfortunately, the proposed changes are still unnecessarily restrictive and expensive. The Planning Department has proposed that hens be allowed upon all single-family residential lots, but only four hens, which must be kept confined to a pen, with easements for the coop, and with a six foot privacy fence around the back yard, to boot!

We are most upset about the privacy fence, but fellow chicken activist and political guru, Andrea Margrave, recently published this detailed account of why the four-hen limit is also a terrible expense. The laws Andrea refers to (about buying chicks in flocks of six) are at the municipal level in Chesapeake but are also reflective of Virginia state code:

Sigh. Just did the numbers on ordering juvenile birds as opposed to chicks. (from McMurray hatchery) Just 4 laying hens of a common breed (Rhode Island Reds) are 17.95 EACH, for a total of 71.80 for 4 hens. Then, add shipping of.... areyousittingdown.... $111.00, for a grand total of 182.80.

THIS is why we need the Planning Commission to change the number of hens from 4 to 6, so people can buy locally and LEGALLY from farm stores or order chicks from a hatchery in amounts larger than 4.

It is confusing, but the law states that you aren't allowed to buy or sell less than 6 chicks at a time, up to the age of 2 months. After 2 months you can buy any number the retailers will allow. Unfortunately, hatcheries don't sell 'juvenile birds' until they are at least 15 weeks old (old enough to be 'hardened off' from the cold, and just on the verge of starting to lay eggs).

I checked on a few others that weren't sold out, and Meyers was 136.80 for 4 juveniles including shipping. Cackle didn't even list juvies, only a few select grown birds, mostly rare birds like a single Lakenvelder for $75 (the cheapest!) or one Silkie for $125 shipped.

Compare the price of chicks, freshly hatched, or even fertilized eggs to incubate yourself. 6 RIR female chicks only cost 15.78, and the shipping is less than that at 14.70. 6-10 hatching eggs will run you anywhere from $30 to $45 shipped from McMurray, even less other places. Meyer will ship for free any number of eggs from a huge variety of breeds, with the exception of a 'small order' surcharge if you get 6 or less. So if you get RIR's they are $3.87 per egg plus the $7 surcharge. 6 chicks would set you back even less, but I couldn't see if shipping was included for the chicks or not.

My point is, it is REALLY OUTRAGEOUS the cost to ship mature birds compared to getting just 6 chicks locally (Southern States was GIVING them away with the purchase of a bag of feed this spring!). Neither SS nor St. Brides will sell you less than 6, because I asked. And with the new Tractor Supply opening up sometime in the coming year, we will have plenty of options to buy locally, if the City will allow it.... 
 **Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.

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