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.

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