Saturday, December 21, 2013

Athena the Hen Visits the Vet

When you have backyard hens, one of the things you need to decide is to what extent these animals are for  food, and to what extent they are pets.

If you have hens mainly for the meat or even the eggs, then you will by necessity take a rather hard-nosed attitude towards birds that are aging, injured or sick. You will treat what you can with the help of extension agents or possibly veterinary diagnostic laboratories. You will want to treat birds as inexpensively as possible and will plan to cull (kill) birds that are old or otherwise beyond home treatment. If a bird dies suddenly, you might even perform your own necropsy. If the bird is healthy at the time she is culled, you will probably eat her. Hens that are past their prime as layers often make great soup, or so I'm told.  But truly sick birds need to be humanely culled and disposed of quickly and in a way that will minimize not only suffering but potential transmission of disease to the rest of the flock or to other animals.

If, like Don and I, you keep backyard hens  for not only eggs, but fertilizer for the compost pile, help with gardening tasks, and hours of entertainment, you may decide, like we did, that the hens are more pets than livestock. Ours have not only names, but personalities, too. We aren't competent enough to doctor them ourselves, so if our hens are sick, we plan to take them to a veterinarian.

 Athena, our Delaware, developed chronic loose stools ever since she molted back in late October or early November. I also feared she might be losing weight. My husband and I both thought she'd seemed lighter than last summer, and I noticed her breastbone stuck out more prominently than our other hens'. Because they are prey animals, chickens, like other birds, tend to hide signs of illness instinctively as a way of discouraging potential attacks by predators. By the time they actually show obvious signs of illness, they are usually extremely sick.

We decided not to risk this with Athena. Luckily, we have a great veterinarian  in Dr. Tony Poutous of Midway Veterinary Hospital  in Chesapeake, Virginia. He treats exotic animals including various types of birds and even chickens. When we brought our first three chickens home back in February, we made an appointment with Dr. Poutous for an initial exam and health check, so I knew he could tell us if she had lost weight since then.

The staff at Midway Veterinary Hospital in Chesapeake is ready to check us in

My husband, Don, waits with our hen (in a pet carrier) for our turn in the examining room

Even though Athena grew up on a farm, she is, like most chickens, an extremely good patient. It is particularly easy to get a stool sample from chickens, for example, because they poop a lot. Besides weighing her and taking a stool sample, Dr. Poutous gave her a careful physical exam. He did note that her stools were loose, although not alarmingly so.

Dr. Poutous' assistant takes down details for Athena's records before she weighs her.

Athena seems to like the scale and spent quite a bit of time there after being weighed.

Dr. Poutous arrives with a smile.

The doctor gets to work examining the patient; Don looks on.

Athena's loose stools were easy to observe (on the scale and on the examining room floor)

Much to our relief, Athena had actually gained a little weight since last spring, about 1/4 pound. Dr. Poutous still feels she's a little underweight, and he suspects she may have gained over the summer and then started losing weight again, since our impression was that she was heavier last summer. Her overall health and respiration seemed good upon examination. There were no parasite problems from the stool sample.

But she did have signs of a slight bacterial infection with clostridium. Dr. Poutous said that these bacteria are plentiful in soil. Since chickens live low to the ground and scratch in soil a lot, they tend to get exposed to it. He said it usually doesn't cause problems in them unless their immune systems are weakened or they suffer from stress. We had mentioned that Athena seemed to have a hard molt and that she'd been working harder than usual to maintain her status at the top of the pecking order in our flock. He suspects that these might be the kinds of stresses that could have allowed the bacteria to multiply to the point that they are giving Athena trouble.

Unlike other family pets, chickens produce food (eggs) and are potentially food (meat). Because of this, a veterinarian needs to be mindful of laws regarding use of medications in chickens. Luckily, Dr. Poutous knows his stuff. He said Athena needed an antibiotic, and he prescribed one (Metronidazole) that is safe and legal for use in chickens. He also gave us a withdrawal (discard) time of one month for Athena's eggs. This means nobody is allowed to eat her eggs for a month after she finishes her antibiotics, just to be on the safe side.

This is not a problem, because none of our girls is laying right now. They are heritage breeds, we do not supplement their light in the winter, and so they are taking a natural and much-needed break from laying. By the time they resume in the spring, we are hoping Athena's bout of poor health will be far behind her. Besides, we suspect Athena does not lay, anyway.

 By the way, according to Chicken Health for Dummies, "extra-label drug use in food-producing animals by anyone other than a licensed veterinarian is illegal. Some drugs are completely prohibited for food-producing animals--even veterinarians can't prescribe them for chickens. Examples of drugs on the no-no list are popular dog and cat antibiotics enrofloxacin (Baytril) and cephalexin (Keflex)." This is under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules.

Dr. Poutous had already warned us never to use Baytril in chickens, and I assured him that I would never give our hens an antibiotic without checking with him first. It really helps to have a diagnosis rather than playing guessing games with drugs and antibiotics, which can do more harm than good if misused.

So we feel his services are worth the money.

Sometimes friends or neighbors want to buy our eggs. I just laugh when they ask. The way we treat our hens, there's no point in charging for the eggs. We give eggs away or freeze them when we have extra. Competent veterinary care like what Athena gets from Dr. Poutous is not inexpensive. The examination, fecal analysis, and medication cost $129.00. He also wants a call if Athena does not improve, or if the loose stools come back.

Will do! We enjoy our birds and want to do right by them.

Update on 1/12/14: Athena seems back to her normal self, bossing the other hens around. Her stools are much better, so we are hoping she is cured for the long run. Thanks, Dr. Poutous!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dog vs. Hens Again?

I started a group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, that successfully lobbied City Council to allow up to six hens on all single-family residential lots with certain restrictions. But Council passed the ordinance with a sunset clause. This means that Council must vote by December 20, 2013, to continue the law, or our rights to keep the hens will lapse. On Tuesday, November 19, Council held a work session regarding the hen ordinance. They met with the Zoning Administrator, the Head of the Department of Development and Permits, and the Chief of Police. The meeting is summarized in a previous post. Here are my comments emailed to City Council regarding Councilman Rick West's raising of the issue of the state depredation law, which states that animal control officers must kill dogs caught in the act of killing chickens.

Dear City Council Members:

I  write to express the dismay I felt when the subject of the state depredation law was raised at Tuesday's City Council work session. Nothing about this law should seem new or surprising. The law was raised in the Staff Report provided to City Council prior to its vote on November 20. The concern was also rebutted by our group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, in a report entitled, "Further Information Regarding Chesapeake's Staff Report,"  provided prior to the vote. This report may be viewed at

Please be reminded that loose dogs are illegal in residential areas for a reason. The owners are responsible for keeping them leashed or on the owners' property, just as it is the chicken owners' responsibility to keep their birds on their property and in a secure enclosure.

Please note that this state law has not prevented cities around Virginia, such as Richmond, Norfolk, Hampton, Portsmouth, and Fredericksburg, from legalizing backyard hens. Nor has there been, to our knowledge, a single instance of a dog being summarily killed for chicken predation in a residential area anywhere in Virginia or anywhere in the United States where there are similar laws. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the discharge of firearms is illegal in residential areas, perhaps due to the use of fences and leash laws, or perhaps due to common sense on the part of animal control officers and people in general.

It disturbs me that Councilman West mentioned this point after a conversation with a councilman from a neighboring community. A grass-roots group, "4 Virginia Beach Hens," has found the state depredation law a major stumbling block in getting the ordinances changed in its community. The Virginia Beach group feels that raising the depredation law is a form of emotionalism and an excuse. It has asked its own Council why this law is such a concern in Virginia Beach when it has not stopped changes in ordinances elsewhere.

Furthermore, the Virginia Beach and Norfolk groups have  brought to our attention that a Virginia Beach City Council Member, James L. Wood, has allegedly been contacting City Council members in Norfolk and possibly other communities, raising the hue and cry about this depredation law. We are not sure of his reasons for doing this, but I can assure you that, if this is true, residents of these communities resent Councilman Wood's efforts to interfere with our rights and to meddle in our local affairs. Councilman Wood neither lives nor votes nor pays taxes in Chesapeake; we residents do! Let's hope that, if his alleged efforts have reached Chesapeake, our Council Members see his machinations in this light.

Finally, the depredation law has become a concern because it is out of date. It was developed to protect farmers in agricultural areas. But it has not kept up with the modern sustainability movement, where gardening and backyard hens have become highly welcome and desirable in residential areas. It is my understanding that cities have a process where they can ask the State Legislature to modernize outdated ordinances. We also realize that citizens have the power to contact our delegates directly and ask for changes in the state law. It is our understanding that "4 Virginia Beach Hens" plans to take this concern to the state level in January or February, and our group has pledged to help. If the depredation law as it currently stands is an issue, which we doubt, we invite Chesapeake to address this concern to the state rather than undo the progress we have made. There must be a way to adjust the law's wording in a way that protects farmers' livelihoods while allowing backyard flock-keepers their property rights.


Mary Lou Burke

Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

Update: Both the Virginia House and Senate voted to modify the state law to give animal control officers the option to seize a dog caught in the act of preying on poultry. The previous mandated been to kill it outright. Votes occurred in February of 2014.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

City Council Work Session and the Hen Ordinance

I started a group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, that successfully lobbied City Council to allow up to six hens on all single-family residential lots with certain restrictions. But Council passed the ordinance with a sunset clause. This means that Council must vote by December 20, 2013, to continue the law, or our rights to keep the hens will lapse.

Tonight Chesapeake City Council had a work session, and part of that work session pertained to the hen ordinance. Video of the work session is available online, and the discussion of hens starts at about 57 minutes into the meeting.To summarize:

John King, the Zoning Administrator, said that during the past year his office has received 19 general calls in opposition to the ordinance, and 18 "service requests" or complaints about chickens at a particular address. Complaints regarded an excess of chickens over the limit of six birds, roosters, noise, and loose chickens. He also mentioned that 34 chickens have been taken in by Animal Control in the 1-year period. He expressed concerns that the city had no means of tracking the number of residents that are keeping chickens, and he feared that over time the number of residents keeping chickens, and thus the number of complaints, will increase. He mentioned that investigating these calls is "time-consuming" for his department.

He referenced a recent memo from his department that outlines three potential courses of action that City Council could take on November 26, when the hen ordinance is on the City Council agenda. The City could:
1. Vote to continue the ordinance with its current wording,
2. Vote to extend the time for study and possible revision of the ordinance, or
3. Let the ordinance lapse, so that chickens would once again be illegal in most residential areas. He mentioned that those who already have chickens would then be able to continue to keep them on their property as a legal, non-conforming use.

Councilman Robert Ike, the City Council member who proposed the hen ordinance and secured the votes to pass it last November, asked questions about the 34 chickens that were picked up by Animal Control. It turns out that 27 of those chickens came from one address and were part of an ongoing problem from before the time when the hen ordinance was enacted.

Councilman Lonnie Craig asked for numbers of complaints and problems this year compared to the previous year. He did not get this data, but he did get an admission that the complaints have been "time-consuming but fairly low," in response. Craig concluded that it seems there have been "no major outbreak of chicken problems or chicken terrorism" in Chesapeake over the last year, a comment that drew chuckles from the audience.

Council member Suzy Kelly asked if there had been any complaints about the coops themselves or about the confinement of the chickens. The answer was that there have been no complaints about the coops other than one complaint about its location. An investigation showed that this coop was legal and the requisite distance from the property line.

Councilman Rick West raised questions about a state ordinance that mandates the killing of dogs that have attacked chickens. West explained that a conversation with a Council Member of a nearby community raised this concern in conversation. Jan L. Proctor, the City Attorney, explained that there is a state ordinance that mandates that an Animal Control Officer who witnesses a dog in the act of killing a chicken has a "duty" to kill the dog, and that other bystanders have a right (but not an obligation) to do so.There are also state ordinances, she said, regarding the number of times a dog attacks a chicken before it is deemed a confirmed poultry-killer and subject to being put down. West said that this consideration is important to him.

This concern has been addressed in a previous blog post, if readers wish to see our group's position on this issue. Our group more recently sent a detailed email addressing this issue as well.

Council Member Debbie Ritter asked if any of the City Departments had suggestions for the refinement of the ordinance, but got a negative response. She was told that people either are OK with having chickens next to them, or they are not, and changes in the regulation of the chickens are unlikely to change that. Most of the chicken-owners so far have been good neighbors and have caused no problems. She was told that the problem is the possibility of this changing over time and with enforcement, since the City has limited access to people's backyards. Ritter also asked if the animal shelter must take in fowl under state law. She was told the shelter must, since chickens are domestic animals, but she asked that this be checked on. She also had questions about the clarity of the ordinance on the issue of containment, and that a judge had raised questions about the clarity of the ordinance in regard to the chickens' housing. Ritter also said that at the meeting on the 26th she expected speakers from the Animal Services Board and the Agriculture Commission to address Council.

My own conclusion from all this is that we must not be complacent about the hen ordinance. The vote on the 26th is important. There are those within the City government and on City Council who are against the ordinance,  and there will probably be some speakers against the ordinance. We need to get our ducks (hens?) in a row and line up some positive speakers on various topics for the 26th. We also need to contact our Council Members, thank them for the opportunity to have hens, and keep reminding them in positive ways that this issue is important to us. We need to get as many supporters as we can at the City Council meeting on November 26, dressed in green, to support our speakers and our cause.

The meeting will start on Tuesday, November 26, at 6:30 PM in the Council Chambers at Chesapeake City Hall at 306 Cedar Rd. Those who wish to speak must sign up before the meeting begins. There are speaker cards that can be filled out at City Hall before 6:30, or speakers can call to register by calling the City Clerk's office at 382-6151 during office hours of 8 AM through 5 PM weekdays.

 Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

Update: In February of 2014 the Virginia legislature modified the law to give Animal Control Officers the option to seize a dog caught preying on poultry.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Let's Thank City Council This Thanksgiving!

4 Chesapeake Hens is launching a thank-you note campaign! As Thanksgiving approaches, let's write our City Council members short, heartfelt notes in gratitude for our freedom to have laying hens in our residential backyards. Personalized, handwritten notes are OK and even encouraged. Keep messages short but positive.

Printed note cards can be purchased inexpensively at discount stores or dollar stores. Send them individually to the Council members at their home addresses as printed on the City's website. Put cute pictures of your hens, your coop, your garden that is thriving with your chickens' help, your kids enjoying your chickens, etc., in the notes. Even better, enlist the family's help, and get the kids to write some of the notes, too. Be sure to put your return address on the note cards so Council can contact you if they have questions or want to follow up. I used the same return address stickers I put on the envelopes inside the note cards to save space, and then I wrote my phone number at the bottom of the sticker.

Act now! Remember, the "hen ordinance" will be on the City Council agenda on Tuesday, November 26. There is a sunset clause on the original ordinance, so Council must vote to keep the law so we can continue to keep our hens legally. Mark your calendars and plan to be there to support the cause. Numbers and visibility make a difference. The meeting starts at 6:30, but you will need to sign up in advance of the meeting if you plan to speak.

In case you're curious, I already wrote my notes to Council. They are ready to go in the mail tomorrow, along with pictures of my favorite pullet, Blue the Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte. It is a joy to be part of a movement that is preserving beautiful heritage breeds like hers.

Blue the Blue-Laced Red Wyandotte LOVES her home and wants to keep it!
Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Chesapeake Chickens vs. Sunset: Soon Resolved?

Almost two years ago I started a Facebook Page, 4 Chesapeake Hens. Through this page I successfully organized a group that convinced our City Council to allow up to six laying hens on all single-family lots with certain restrictions. Chesapeake, Virginia, thus became a regional leader in the local foods, sustainability, and backyard chicken movement, with cities such as Portsmouth, Norfolk, Hampton, and Richmond later following suit by loosening up the legal restrictions that had prevented backyard micro-flocks. Of these, Chesapeake probably allows residents the most freedom. We have the shortest setbacks for the coop from the property line and no need for a license or inspection to have a flock. Coops must, however, comply with laws regarding accessory structures, so a permit for the coop is a definite possibility, depending on its size and structure.

Council put a one-year sunset clause on the new ordinance. This means that City Council must vote by December 20, 2013, to make the new law permanent, or Chesapeake's residential chickens will once again become illegal. Many people think this is highly unlikely unless backyard hens cause massive problems in the city, which they have not. This report, based on statistics acquired from the City under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act, shows that complaints about chickens in residential areas have actually decreased since the change in the law. And our group's contacts inside local government tell us that there have been few or no problems with chickens in residential areas since our group published this report.

Nevertheless, our group does not want to be complacent about our rights. During the late summer months we ran a "City Council Member of the Week" campaign, but with residential hens coming up on the agenda, we need to take further action. During a recent meeting of our leadership, here is what we have decided to do. This plan was revised on 11/4, when we were informed that hens will be on the agenda on November 26, NOT in December like we were originally (but tentatively) informed:

1. TJ "The DJ" Thompson will speak for our group as a "non-agenda" speaker on November 12. He will politely let Council know to expect contact from residents in favor of backyard hens.

2.  We will run a "thank-you note" letter-writing campaign from November 12 up to the vote on November 26, with brief but positive expressions of appreciation for the opportunity to keep hens. We recommend that these be very short and contain pictures for Council to view. These should be sent to the City Council members' home addresses as posted on the City's website. City Council has always appreciated how polite, well-informed, and positive our group is, and this occasion should be no different.

3. Members of our group are collecting letters of support from local businesses, neighbors, and civic groups. We hope to have these collected by the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 22, with an eye to having these copied and collated to present to Council by one of our speakers on the 26th. Or, better yet, send these directly to City Council in order to give members time to read them before the actual vote.

4. Council will have a work session on November 19 at 4:30 PM (subject to change). It would be great if one of our group could sit in on the meeting and report back on what was presented. I will go if I can, but I will not know until I know what time they meet. The public is not permitted to speak at work sessions, but they are open to the public. Council will also notice our presence there.

5. On the day of the vote, November 26, we will come to the City Council meeting with all the forces we can muster. We will wear the color green, the color of sustainability, so Council can see our numbers in the chambers. "Green means go!" in respect to continuing to allow us to keep our hens. We will make sure several of us sign up to speak that day, all with different, positive things to say about hens and our rights to keep them. Hopefully, Council will then vote to allow us to have them on a long-term basis.

Council meetings take place at City Hall at 306 Cedar Rd. They start at 6:30 PM, and anyone who wishes to speak must sign up in advance of the meeting. This can either be done at City Hall or by calling the City Clerk's office at 382-6151 during office hours of 8 AM through 5 PM weekdays.

 Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

4 Chesapeake Hens Friends and Neighbors Campaign

As regular readers know, I belong to a grass-roots movement that worked to get Chesapeake, Virginia, to allow laying hens on all single-family residential lots. City Council voted a 1-year sunset clause on the law, which  means that our right to keep up to six laying hens in our backyards, with certain restrictions, will disappear next year unless City Council votes by December 20 to keep the law . Our group is waiting to hear from Robert Ike, the City Councilman who is most in our corner, about the date when this vote will take place.

In the meantime we are asking Chesapeake's legal, residential chicken-keepers to collect letters from local friends and neighbors in support of making the "hen law" permanent. Letters should focus on the fact that the hens are having a positive impact in the neighborhood. And they should explain how or why this is so. To have any impact on Council, the letters must be signed and dated and include contact information in the letterhead. At a minimum, the letters should contain the Chesapeake address where the neighbor lives, but email and phone numbers are welcome, too, in case Council members want to follow up with questions.  Supportive letters from Chesapeake businesses, churches, civic leagues, neighborhood watches, or other groups are also welcome.

Residential hen-keepers: we need you to ask for and collect these letters  of support and to deliver them to either Wendy Camacho or Mary Lou Burke by the Friday before Thanksgiving, Friday, November 22, 2013. We will copy them, collate them, and make sure they are delivered to City Council sometime before the actual vote. Let's be like the "Little Red Hen" in the famous children's story, and all work together to make this fantastic new law a permanent one!

Mail letters to:
     Mary Lou Burke
     945 Hollywood Dr
     Chesapeake, VA 23320

 If you have questions, post them under "comments" here or, even better, post them on our Facebook fan page, 4 Chesapeake Hens.

And thanks!

Update on 11/4: hens are on the agenda for November 26, 2013. Hopefully we'll get the vote we need then.

 Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

City Council Member of the Week

Our grass-roots community group, "4 Chesapeake Hens," found the following approach very useful when we worked to get backyard hens legalized in Chesapeake, Virginia, with certain restrictions. Instead of asking members to contact everyone on City Council all at once, we asked them to contact one Council Member at a time, so that our efforts were more focused and hopefully noticed.

We are not done working for the right to keep our hens, however. City Council voted a sunset clause into the ordinance, which means that if Council does not vote to keep the law by December 20, 2013, our right to keep our hens will lapse. Therefore it is time to contact our elected leadership and share our expectations.

Remember to keep all contact with our elected leadership concise, informed, and polite. This is how our group earned the right to keep hens, and this is how we will continue to keep them. Also remember that most Council Members voted *for* the hen ordinance. We will inform  you which ones did or did not, and we will inform you *why* a Council Member voted against us if we know the reasons. If you email, be sure to include contact information such as your name, address, email address, and telephone number.


Our final "City Council Member of the Week" is Vice Mayor John de Triquet, who voted *against* backyard hens along with Debbie Ritter and Rick West. Dr. de Triquet has been very open and honest about his opposition to backyard hens since the beginning of our group's efforts in Chesapeake. He has been willing to communicate and very polite. He also seems to appreciate the respectful, well-informed way our group has approached hims. Nevertheless, his mind has seemed to be made up. Video is available on YouTube that explains Vice Mayor de Triquet's "no" vote back in November. It's interesting to note that he cites the opinions of health officials in Richmond, yet Richmond has legalized backyard microflocks since last November. If anyone discovers any specifics about his concerns for public health or safety, please let us know! We would like to address them if we can.

Here is his contact information:

Vice Mayor John de Triquet

Council Member
3020 Princess Anne Crescent
Chesapeake, VA 23321

Contact Numbers:

Business: 757-312-9220
Home: 757-484-0542
Fax: 757-484-0014
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6951


This week's "City Council Member of the Week" is Debbie Ritter, who voted *against* backyard hens last November. She has been consistently willing to talk to her constituents and to listen to them, but she has consistently opposed the hens. Her main reason seems to be her perception of residents' "expectations." Be sure to share your own expectations politely when you contact her. Explain that voters' expectations might be different from what she suspects. Video of her explanation when she voted against the hens last November is available on YouTube through Saad Ringa. Thanks, Saad!

Here is her contact information:

S.Z. "Debbie" Ritter

Council Member
732 Schoolhouse Road
Chesapeake, VA 23322

Contact Numbers:

Home: 757-482-4242
Fax: 757-482-6356
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6948


This week's "City Council Member of the Week" is Scott W. Matheson.  He also voted for allowing backyard hens. Be sure to thank Mr. Matheson and ask him to renew the ordinance. Here is his contact information:

Scott W. Matheson

Council Member
725 Watch Island Reach
Chesapeake, VA 23320

Contact Numbers:

Phone: 757-548-3296
Fax: 757-410-9409
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6947


Lonnie E. Craig is this week's "City Council Member of the Week." He voted *for* backyard hens last November. Please thank him for doing so and remind him that it is time to extend the law. Here is his contact information:

Lonnie E. Craig

Council Member
3613 S. Battlefield Blvd.
Chesapeake, VA 23322

Contact Numbers:

Home: 757-421-2322
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6946


This week's ""City Council Member of the Week" is Dr. Ella P. Ward. When she voted for the hen ordinance, she said the sunset clause was important to her. She  felt it important for Council to revisit the ordinance this fall in case backyard hens were causing the City or its residents any problems. It is time to remind her that the hens have been a blessing, not a problem, to residents of Chesapeake. We need to make this ordinance permanent so we can continue to enjoy our hens. Here is her contact information:

Dr. Ella P. Ward

Council Member
1517 Pine Grove Lane
Chesapeake, VA 23321

Contact Numbers:

Home: 757-488-6843
Fax: 757-488-4713
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6950


This week's "City Council Member of the Week" is our Mayor, Alan P. Krasnoff. He voted *for* backyard hens back in November. Please thank him and ask him to do the same the next time the issue is up for a vote. The mayor is interested in helping people from all walks of life, especially those who face challenging circumstances. If chickens have helped you or your family overcome adversity in any way, please be sure to share your story. Here is his contact information according to the City's website:

Dr. Alan P. Krasnoff

1006 Cuervo Court
Chesapeake, VA 23322

Contact Numbers:

Business: 757-547-9266
Home: 757-547-8446
Fax: 757-547-9268
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6974


Our third "City Council Member of the Week" is  Susan H. "Suzy" Kelly. She voted *for* backyard hens back in November and has told me she "hopes to be able to" vote for them again this fall. She has been one of the more responsive council members to our questions and requests. She has strong interests in environmental concerns, especially water quality. She also has told me that she hoped that backyard hens would not become a divisive issue in our community. Please send her messages reassuring her on both counts. Thank her for her support. Here is her contact information from the City's website:

Susan H. "Suzy" Kelly

Council Member
1716 Lambert Court
Chesapeake, VA 23320

Contact Numbers:

Phone: 757-523-2900
Fax: 757-523-0903
Ph. Mail: 757-213-5115


Our second "City Council Member of the Week" is Dr. Rick West, who has degrees in education. He voted against backyard hens in November, but we are still not sure what his reasons were. In a recent article in the Clipper, West claims he has not changed his opinion but is trying to keep an open mind, particularly since there have been few complaints. Let's thank him for trying to keep an open mind and see if we can find out exactly what his concerns are. If you learn of his reasons, please keep us posted in comments either here or on 4 Chesapeake Hens' Facebook page. Perhaps we can find ways to assuage whatever concerns he may still have.

Dr. Richard W. "Rick" West

Council Member
1144 Fairway Drive
Chesapeake, Va  23320

Contact Numbers:

Home: 757-436-1915
Fax: 757-390-3598
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6952

Our first "City Council Member of the Week" is Robert Ike, who is the City Council Member who worked very hard to bring this law to pass. He has always been completely in our corner. Let's start by thanking him for what he has done, and offering to help him as he works toward making this change permanent. Here is his contact information as provided by the City.


Robert C. Ike, Jr.

Council Member
908 Executive Court, #104
Chesapeake, VA 23320

Contact Numbers:

Home: 757-842-4819
Fax: 757-482-6654
Ph. Mail: 757-382-6956

Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chickens vs. The Sunset Law, First Efforts

Our grass-roots community group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, succeeded in convincing City Council to allow up to six "female chickens" with certain restrictions on all single-family residential lots in Chesapeake, Virginia. There was a one-year sunset clause on the ordinance, which passed in November of 2012. This means that City Council must vote to make the law permanent by December 20, 2013, or we will lose our right to keep our chickens legally.

Last night at City Council I made a speech and presented the results of our group's Freedom of Information Act request for data on violations and complaints regarding residential chickens. Here is the text of my speech:

"My name is Mary Lou Burke, and I live at 945 Hollywood Drive.

"As a resident of Chesapeake, I am proud of you, our Mayor and City Council. You made a decision to allow micro-flocks of laying hens in all single-family residential backyards. By legalizing hens, you made a decision based on facts, not on myths and misinformation. By legalizing hens, you also led the way toward a more family-friendly, healthier, and more sustainable community. You protected personal property rights by restoring to us our historic right to keep a few hens on our own property and for our own use. And you led the way not only locally, but regionally as well. In the time since Chesapeake legalized residential hens last November, both Richmond and Portsmouth have legalized them, and Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach are taking another look at their own 'hen laws.' Well done!

"The next step is to make this change permanent. We are all aware that there is a sunset clause on this ordinance, which means that Council must vote to keep the law by December 20, or our rights will lapse. We cannot allow that to happen and to lose the progress that we have already made.To that end, our group presents to you a report based on data that we obtained under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act. The City’s own data shows that violations and even complaints regarding chickens in residential areas have actually decreased since the 'hen law' was enacted. It also proves that there were over 7,000 complaints about dogs and cats in a time period where there were less than 50 complaints about residential chickens. Your city’s own data proves that the 'hen law' should be made permanent.

"Finally, our group asks the City what the time frame and process will be for making the decision about keeping the hen ordinance. We would like to be informed regarding the points in the process where there will be opportunities for public comment. We residents are enjoying our hens tremendously, and we want to be sure that we can continue to enjoy them."

The speech is also available on video but viewers will need to scroll to about 2:12. Our group is proud of our City Council for returning to us an important property right, but our community deserves to see this change made permanent.

Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chesapeake Chickens and FOIA Request, Parts 1 and 2

I made a request for information under Virginia's Freedom of Information Act to the City of Chesapeake, Virginia, back in June. I asked for information regarding the number of complaints pertaining to chickens, the nature of the complaints, the location of the complaints, and whether they were found valid or not. I asked for information for the past two years through May.

Our group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, convinced Chesapeake's City Council to change local ordinances to allow up to six hens in backyards in single-family residential lots on November 20, 2012. The law was passed with a "sunset clause," which means that City Council will revisit the "hen issue" this fall and make a final decision whether to keep the law the same, to change it, or let it revert to its draconian past, where hens were only allowed in agricultural areas or on a few residential estates. Our group obviously wants to be allowed to keep our hens, so we requested data that we hoped would bolster our cause.

We also asked for data on dog and cat complaints during the same time period as a point of comparison. That data will not be available until August 7. For the convenience of having all the paperwork in one spot, we will publish our FOIA-related discoveries here on this page.

Page 1 original letter with our group's request and estimated costs

Page 2 of this letter explains the total cost of the information is over $500.00. We paid it.
The City sends chicken information and will send information on dogs and cats when available

This chart shows chicken and related complaints for the past two years

This chart attempts to summarize the information on the previous page
Our group is looking forward to studying this data in greater depth to see how we can best use it to our advantage in the coming months. So far it does NOT look like there have been a huge number of complaints or a huge increase in complaints regarding chickens, which is good news!

Part 2, Updated on 8/9/13:

Our group has received the second part of our request, which is information on complaints regarding dogs and cats within the same time period we are studying chickens. There were many more complaints, of course. We have had a chance to analyze the initial data, and the analysis is very favorable to the chickens. We plan to present it to City Council; it is available here. Here is the additional information which supports our analysis. All this information has cost our group a total of $467.32.

$526.40 minus $59.08 means all our FOIA documents cost us $467.32.

The estimate was higher, so our group got a $59.08 refund of our deposit for the info.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

What I learned from Pat Foreman's Two-Day Intensive Chicken Workshop

I confess, this blog post is late! I participated in a two-day intensive chicken workshop with Pat Foreman, the author of City Chicks, back in early March. I meant to write about the experience months ago, but better late than never. We met at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach.

Pat Foreman, Chicken Whisperer and Workshop Presenter Extraordinaire!
Pat Foreman's Sidekick, a Rare Chantecler Hen Named Oprah Henfry

 Pat gave us lots of handouts and advice. Much of it I had read in some of her books, but the refresher was useful. I came away realizing that our society and our world need to do more to conserve our soil and our sources of fresh water, which we are rapidly and suicidally depleting. Chicken-keepers can help by employing chickens and their manure in organic gardening.

The chicken-handling portions of the workshop were the parts that were most useful to me. I am much more confident handling my hens and much less likely to accidentally harm them as a result of this experience. I am glad that local chicken-keepers are giving free workshops through 4 Chesapeake Hens and other groups, but I wish that everyone who raises chickens could get to spend the time with Pat that we did.

Here I Am, Talking to My Buff Orpington, Minerva (photo courtesy of Craig Mills)

Oprah and and this participant seem to have hit it off!

Lisa Dearden was Pat's Co-Presenter
My Friend, Lanette, Handles a Gentle Dominique Rooster, a Colonial-Era Breed from Williamsburg
Pat Brought In Some Day-Old Chicks. How FAST They Grow!
Can You Spot the Chick?
This Chick is Hard to Miss!

Some random tidbits that I found useful: avoid the use of particle board in coops because they harbor mites. Pat prefers plastic or metal nest boxes to wood ones, and plastic nest-box liners, for the same reason. Never use cedar shavings in coops because they off-gas and can cause the birds respiratory and other health issues. Aspen shavings are preferred. Sprouting grains improves the nutritional availability to the chicken; they *love* sprouted wheat berries! Heritage breeds of chicken need higher levels of protein than the factory-farm birds, up to 28% of their diet. The shells of chicken eggs, crushed up and fed back to them as a source of calcium, are much more nutritious than crushed oyster shells. NEVER grab and squeeze a laying hen; it can kill hens if you break an egg inside them.

Speaking of eggs, Lisa Dearden demonstrated the differences between pastured eggs and supermarket eggs. She scrambled some of each up, and it's easy to tell the difference. The richer color of the pastured eggs is evidence of superior flavor and nutrition.

Can YOU Tell Which Part of These Scrambled Eggs Came From the Supermarket?
The color of the eggshells, however, has nothing to do with freshness or nutritional content, despite popular belief to the contrary. Still, the variety of colors and sizes is fun and nothing like what you find in stores:

Different Breeds of Chickens Produce Eggs with Different Colors of Shell

Pat recommended Countryside Organics feed. A friend keeps reminding me that it is available at New Earth Farm in Virginia Beach. Maybe next time I need to buy feed I will hunt this down.

For more pictures and another perspective on this workshop, check out this blog post by my good friend and urban homesteader, Lanette Lepper. Unlike me, she managed to post her thoughts in a timely manner. For more about Pat Foreman's workshops, visit Chickens and You.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

North Carolina State University on Climate Change and Sustainability

Tuesday my family and I visited the Nansemond River Golf Club in nearby Suffolk, VA. As the family of a recent NC State graduate, we had been invited to attend a regional alumni event.

The topic of the guest speaker, "NC State's Role in Protecting Our Global Food Supply," interested us, so we went. The speaker was Richard H. Linton, NC State's new Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He had recently been hired away from Ohio State.

Richard H. Linton, Dean of NC State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Linton was told to keep his remarks limited to about 20 minutes because State had a big baseball game coming up, the alumni were fans and wanted to watch it, and the administration was in a hurry to head back to Raleigh. This disappointed me. Soil and water are the two most important resources for any civilization to thrive, or even to survive, and with the environmental and population pressures the world is facing, Linton's talk was far more important than a baseball game. But he did well with the limited time he was given.

The Agricultural Challenges that the U.S. faces in the 21st Century

I learned that North Carolina is in the top ten agricultural crop-producing states in the United States (Linton ranked it at #3). I also learned that NC State plays an important role in crop production through its research and through its very active Cooperative Extension network.  NC State is active in developing new plants and in adapting plants so they will grow in North Carolina. He said that clean water will be an increasingly important national and global concern. He also emphasized the urgent necessity of growing enough food for a rapidly increasing word population. Unfortunately, the audience was not given an opportunity to ask questions at the end of his presentation.

I emailed Dr. Linton for an article he promised to forward about the backyard chicken movement (it was excellent). But I was disappointed that he didn't answer my inquiry regarding NC State's plant development practices and to what extent they were focusing on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Ohio State has the reputation for being the epitome of "Big Ag," and so I remain curious what role organic and small-scale farms have in NC State's vision for the future.

In a world where 20-minute presentations on questions of world importance take a back seat to college athletics, we may never know.

Hampton Roads Regional Backyard Chicken Groups

Re-posted with permission from Danielle Rawls to help regional folks who are not on Facebook find fellow chicken enthusiasts:

Local Chicken Advocate Groups

4 Chesapeake Hens:

Hampton Roads Regional

James City County, Virginia:

Newport News
Newport News Backyard Chickens:

Backyard Hens 4 Norfolk

Peninsula Chicken Keepers (PeCK):

Portsmouth Hen Keepers:

Suffolk Hen Keepers:

Pet Chickens of Virginia (PCOV):

Virginia Beach:
4 Virginia Beach Hens:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Should I Start My Backyard Flock With Hens or Chicks?

Mary Lou Burke, thank you for asking me to contribute to your blog page.

A number of folks have asked us, “Where do we get our hens?”  They are also asking, “Are chicks or grown hens better?”

 It is my opinion that to start out, you are better off purchasing pullets, young hens that are just beginning to lay eggs. This way you will be sure that you are getting a hen not a rooster. You will be getting eggs shortly after your purchase resulting in an immediate return from your investment.  You also have at least 5 years of egg production ahead of you.  If you choose 1-2 year old hens it is the similar to purchasing pullets. Remember, hens drop in egg production each year, so I don't suggest starting out with older hens.

A lot of you would like to have chicks. Keep in mind that with chicks you cannot be 100% sure you are getting hens even if you ask the seller for hens only.  In a purchase of 25 straight pullets I recently received 3 roosters.  By the time you can positively tell your chicks are roosters, your family is attached to them, and you have to try to get rid of them. (Most city ordinances do not allow roosters). Chicks require time, food and steady care for several months, at least 5, before they begin to lay, hence delaying an immediate return on your purchase and care costs. In addition, several hatching businesses have a minimum amount you have to buy. The minimum is often 25, so you will need to find some other folks to order chicks with.  Remember, when ordering from a hatchery to specify you only want hens; a straight run is a mix of roosters and hens. 

*If you feel you must have chicks I would suggest you purchase ½ of the amount of hens you can have as pullets and ½ as chicks; that way, while you are waiting for the chicks to mature and lay, the pullets are laying for you.

 As to how to purchase your pullets or chicks, I would like to recommend a few words of caution. With the enthusiasm over backyard hens, sadly, comes a few unscrupulous sellers. Make sure you are buying from a reputable person/business. Take someone that is familiar with hens along with you when you buy your hens, do your research, and  KNOW  the difference between hens and roosters (when buying pullets it is easy to tell), ask for references and guarantees  IN WRITING.  If the seller REFUSES to give you a written guarantee that you are getting hens NOT roosters, and if they will not trade any roosters you get from them for hens, once they grow up and you can tell for sure, I suggest you purchase from someone else. Verbal guarantees do NOT hold.

 As to where to purchase your pullets or chicks, there are chicken swaps held at most feed stores, which are often posted on local Facebook chicken sites. Craigslist usually has hens listed; do not buy without seeing them. Other chicken folks may know someone with hens for sale, and the various chicken Facebook pages always have hens and chicks for sale. There are several commercial hatcheries online. Local feed stores are a great resource for finding chicks or hens.  

Contact a local Facebook Chicken group for assistance.

Some, but not all, local Hampton Roads Facebook chicken groups are:

1.   4 Chesapeake Hens

2.   Hampton Roads Hens

3.   Portsmouth Hen Keepers 

I hope this helps you; please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. We definitely want to know about the good news, but we also need to know about the bad so we can help others avoid it.

 Happy chicken-keeping, folks!

Portsmouth Hen Keepers founder, Sharon Jackson

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chicks at the Beach? Why Not?

These children gave us a warm welcome!

Virginia Beach residents have been involved in an ongoing struggle to get backyard laying hens legalized in residential areas. 4 Virginia Beach Hens has organized this effort. Our grassroots community group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, got up to six laying hens legalized on all single-family lots in our community. The Virginia Beach group asked me to speak in front of its city council regarding my personal experiences since our laws here were changed. Here is the text of my speech:

Mayor Sessoms and Members of Council:

My name is Mary Lou Burke. I live at on about ⅓ of an acre in the Greenbrier section of Chesapeake. Backyard chickens have been legal in my neighborhood since November 20.  I am speaking here today at the invitation of Virginia Beach residents who wish me to share with you some first-person experiences with *legal* residential laying hens.

I am an avid gardener. We have a secure yet portable chicken tractor for our flock, rather like a rabbit hutch. We move it to a new location every other day. This gives our hens fresh pasture to graze. Our lawn gets the benefit of their valuable manure. Between seasons, the hens clear out unwanted vegetation from our garden beds, and they weed, till, and fertilize for us, all without the use of chemicals or noisy machines. We compost the manure from their coop year round. Our hens convert organic layer pellets, kitchen scraps, caterpillars and other pests, yard and garden waste, weeds, and weed seeds, into valuable fertilizer and the tastiest, freshest, most nutritious eggs we have ever eaten. None of it goes to the landfill. I repeat: the city has to *pay* for none of this to go to the landfill. And if the city loses power due to a natural disaster, our hens’ daily eggs will still be available to us. We will never go hungry so long as our hens are alive and laying.

I cannot express how much pleasure or satisfaction we have derived from our new pets. Our birds are quiet, clean, and inconspicuous. My husband built our chicken tractor in our front driveway. We have a chain-link fence for our backyard but no privacy fence. Despite this, we had to point out our new flock to the neighbors on either side of us. They were shocked. They said they had noticed the building project out front, but they had no idea we had chickens until we actually pointed them out. And they are thrilled with the fresh eggs we share with them. We even entered our chickens in a local coop tour in April. We had a steady stream of families come visit us, including many who had never seen an urban micro-flock. Visitors consistently told us our birds were odorless, extremely quiet, and beautiful animals. Everyone told us that they would have no objections to hens next door even if they didn’t currently want a flock for themselves.

Backyard hens are a growing movement both nationally and regionally. Besides Chesapeake, Portsmouth is extremely close to legalizing them. My friend, Wendy Camacho, recently made a presentation about backyard chickens for the Hampton Roads Realtors’ Association. Her presentation was very well received by the Realtors, who seem to understand hens will do no harm to our region’s  property values. The motto of “4 Virginia Beach Hens” is, “chicks at the beach,” and our response to that slogan is, “why not?”

**Update 8/25/13: After this original post, Portsmouth legalized backyard laying hens with a permit and certain restrictions. So did Hampton, Virginia.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dogs vs. Chickens in Chesapeake? A Rational Answer...

Catherine M. White on April 28, 2013, stated on the Pilot Online: "There is a VA state law that states that any dog who chases a chicken must be put to death. Does that mean that their dog that killed one of their chickens should be put to death? We can't pick & choose the areas of the law that we like." Mrs. White has been posting similar posts on other media-related websites. Forgive me for paraphrasing "Chicken Little," but her theme from these and other comments seems to be that if Chesapeake's City Council does not rescind a new ordinance allowing up to six laying hens on single-family residential lots, the sky will somehow fall.

But is any there truth to what Mrs. White is claiming? The issue has certainly been in the news, particularly in regard to efforts by Virginia Beach residents to get backyard hens legalized there. The law has come up both on television and in the newspaper.

I am the founder and one of the leaders of 4 Chesapeake Hens, the community group that has convinced Chesapeake City Council to allow up to six "female chickens" in single-family residential backyards with certain restrictions. Here is my response to Mrs. White's post, posted Thursday, May 2:

"Most urban chicken keepers also love other animals. Many of us keep dogs. There are leash laws and chickens must be kept in a pen on the owners' own property.

"There is some wording in the Virginia State codes that it is a 'duty' of animal control or other officers to kill a dog that they catch *in the act of* killing livestock or poultry. The same law allows the owners of the livestock to kill the dog if they catch it in the act on their property. The intent of the law is to protect the rights of farmers in agricultural areas. The livestock are, after all, farmers' livelihood. Unless the dog is caught in the act, the 'duty' clause does not apply. There are similar laws in other states in other areas of the country.
Despite that, our group has not been able to find a single instance in Virginia or anywhere else in the country where a dog has been killed by an officer of the law or by a property owner because it was attacking an urban micro-flock. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the discharge of firearms is illegal in residential areas, perhaps due to the use of fences and to leash laws, or perhaps due to plain old common sense on the part of officers and of people in general."

Readers may actually scrutinize the wording of the state law for themselves by clicking here. It is clear that, except for dogs caught in the actual act of killing the livestock or poultry, there is plenty of opportunity for careful investigation and for protecting dogs through the courts. A dog is not a confirmed poultry killer until its third act of killing poultry. Even then, the owner can save the dog's life by moving it out of state. 4 Virginia Beach Hens believes the concerns about dogs' lives is an excuse or a stalling tactic by their City Council, and we suspect they might be right. Despite this, the law does cause some concern among animal control officers who have contacted us, and it has been a real roadblock to chickens in Virginia Beach. Our group intends to address this law at the state level to try to amend the language to accommodate the needs of both urban and rural flock-keepers. In the meantime, we ask the public to keep concerns about danger to dogs in perspective.

Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. The meeting may be viewed online:  fast forward to 1:19 to see some great pro-chicken speeches and the City Council's reaction.

Update: in February of 2014 the Virginia legislature voted to amend this law to allow Animal Control Officers the option to seize the predatory dog instead of killing it outright. The amendment had broad support.