Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sexing Chickens: Some Sound Advice

Those who mail order pullets in the cold winter months might be in for a surprise. Many companies pack unwanted rooster chicks around the pullets to keep them warm. Ask about this potential practice before you buy.

The following was written by Carol Bartram. I posted it here with her permission. Her words are both well written and wise. Thanks, Carol!

Hi, Chicken People,

The Chicken Chick has brought together a wealth of information about sexing chickens in this post:

The references at the end are also worth checking out! One of my faves that I didn't see listed is an article from Backyard Poultry Magazine (June/July 2011), also dispelling many of the myths you may come across in feed stores or elsewhere (thanks to Kathy for sending me this article):

In my opinion, one of the most important take-homes is that even professional vent-sexers are not 100% accurate, so please think ahead of time about what you will do if you do end up with a rooster and can't keep him. Unfortunately, you can't assume it will be easy to find him a good home where he will eat off of China plates, or that someone will pay you big bucks to purchase him. Ideally, you will have scoped out some options ahead of time, but if not, the LAST thing to do is to release him somewhere for him to become someone else's problem and give us backyard chicken-keepers a bad name. The SECOND TO LAST thing is to take him to an animal shelter (where he will become someone else's problem, etc...). A MIDDLE thing is to ask me to send out an e-mail looking for a home, or for you to post him on the Hampton Roads Hens Facebook page, where you'll reach a wider number of folks on the Southside who have room for roos. (There are also people who can, relatively humanely, process roos for you, if you choose to go that route. Old Dominion Hay in Smithfield has hosted classes to teach this skill.)

Hopefully, someday residential areas will get rid of their anti-rooster inclinations so that a bit of crowing won't be such a big deal, but I guess we have to get hens accepted first, and I think our efforts at being good neighbors will help a lot. I recently had a good talk with our newest neighbors about our rooster, and to my great relief they said they used to hear him, but now the only time they notice the sound is when somebody new comes to visit and asks if someone has a rooster. Whew --Quercus' lovely crow has faded into the background for them! I can see how a lot of roos talking to each other throughout the day in close quarters might be a different story...

Cluck and cock-a-doodle-doo,
Carol Bartram
Peninsula Chicken Keepers (PeCK)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Chickens and Grubs

Don and I are avid composters; Don probably more than I am. He reminds me of that old nursery rhyme about "snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails." Sometimes the more disgusting a project is, the more he seems to enjoy it. He likes to take care of and feed our kitchen composting worms, for example.

Actually, a properly-managed compost pile is far from disgusting. When well managed, compost piles do not smell unpleasant at all. But they do harbor a variety of bugs, microorganisms, and other things that I am not enough of a scientist to explain. Don seems to revel in this, particularly in the grubs.

Honestly, I think he revels in the grubs for their own sake ("snakes and snails..."). But he also likes to spoil our pets, and our four laying hens love nothing better than insects, particularly goodies from the compost pile, and especially grubs.

We are lucky that our climate is in "Zone 7" on the climate maps, which means that we are in the northernmost range of the Black Soldier Fly. These flies are voracious at eating up kitchen scraps to the point of being scary in a B horror-movie sort of way. And they make fantastic nutrition for the chickens, converting the kitchen scraps to fat, protein, and calories, which our dear hens then convert to eggs for us and fertilizer for our compost piles and garden.

Then the garden waste and kitchen scraps go into the compost pile, which then grows new larvae right up until the weather gets too cold for the soldier flies in the fall. Don has discovered that if he puts a big pile of "green" type kitchen scraps in the compost bin when the weather is warm, then covers that with a good layer of sawdust so it doesn't smell, then puts some chunks of fresh pineapple with the moist side down on top of the pile and the hard shell of the pineapple up toward the sky, then he can harvest black soldier flies by the handful (I shudder) to feed to our "girls," as folks in the U.S. call their chooks (a British or Australian name for backyard hens).

Black Soldier Fly Larvae Wriggle in the Remains of a Pineapple

I jokingly call Don their "rooster," because he brings them the choicest (to them) morsels and tries to make sure all the girls get their fair share, despite their jockeying and pecking order. And, believe me, they watch him closely and follow him around the yard, especially during composting season.

The Hens Watch Don Carefully During Composting Season

Don Makes Sure All the Chickens Get Their Fair Share
 Disclaimer: There is some risk of botulism, or "Limberneck," to chickens that eat fly larvae, especially if the grubs have grown in anaerobic conditions, such as in carcasses. For more information in general on raising Black Soldier Fly Larvae, check out this blog.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dehydrating Herbs

I am having great fun with my Excalibur brand food dehydrator.

Have you ever grown something that looks and tastes so good, you want to preserve that goodness for the long term? My mint grows beautifully in the spring, for example, but I know it will look cruddy when the summer heat hits, or after it flowers. But right now it's gorgeous.

I took a great class on dehydrating taught by my friend Lanette Lepper through the Virginia Urban Homesteaders' League. Until then I had always thought of dehydrating most foods as a last resort. But her class, especially tasting the samples she brought, opened up a whole new world for me. I discovered that dehydrating is one of the oldest, safest, most economical, and most nutritious methods of food preservation known to humankind, and that many foods actually taste better after dehydration.

I had tried dehydrating a few years ago using a cheap dehydrator and discovered I didn't have the patience for it. What I learned in Lanette's class is that an Excalibur will save the time and trouble of swapping out trays to keep the drying even, it has a thermostat that you can set, and that certain models are big enough that you can use them to make yogurt or proof homemade bread in. I was hooked.

So far I have successfully dehydrated bananas, lots of stawberries, some strawberry and mulberry fruit rolls, vegetables like kale and arugula from my CSA from Farm Chicks Produce, and lots of fresh herbs. The herbs taste amazing and are 20 times better than anything you can buy in the store. Here are some pictures from my efforts at drying herbs, including sage, marjoram, oregano, thyme, mint, dill, and lemon balm, today.

Preserve your mint when it looks most inviting!
Lemon balm ready to dry on a tray of the dehydrator
The 9-tray Excalibur has so much room, you can even make yogurt in it!

The Excalibur comes with a great manual and a starter recipe book. But not everything is best dehydrated. Basil, for example, loses a lot of its flavor when dried. Some foods rehydrate better than others. But I am finding this process useful enough that I plan to keep it up. I can't wait to enjoy my own mint in the smoothies I make this summer and in the mint herb teas (tisanes) I will enjoy all winter long.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Berry-Picking: Backyard Fun, Life Lessons, or Both?

Picking Berries is Best in the Morning Shade

The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure; but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.  --Epicurus

Today I went berry-picking, right in my own back yard! In the summer I like to make smoothies from Stonyfield Farm non-fat organic yogurt, frozen berries, a little juice or almond milk, and various flavorings, especially mint from my garden.

Due to the antioxidant or flavonoid properties of the berries, and perhaps due to rising fuel prices, the price of the frozen berries I like has gotten high. I have therefore started planting blackberries, fig trees, huckleberries, paw paws, and other "easy" fruits and berries for my region. I am a teacher, so I will use some of my time in the summer to pick and preserve these backyard treasures. In the meantime I may find time to go to pick-your-own places at local farms, which is a terrific way to save money and support local farmers at the same time. I also get some local berries and fruits as part of my family's weekly farm share from Farm Chicks Produce.

But my most rewarding source of fresh berries comes from trees that have been growing on our property for years. We ignored them, almost as though they were a nuisance, until I finally realized the berries they produced were not only edible but truly delicious. The trees are, in fact, black mulberries, Morus nigra, as far as I can tell. Now that I realize how easy it is to pick and freeze these, I pick all I can during the few weeks of the year when the berries are available. Best of all, the purple-black berries are nutritious and a source of those sought-after antioxidants that make the price of blueberries, for example, so ridiculous these days. Besides smoothies, I also like them in muffins, plain, or mixed in yogurt. Their flavor is a little tart, but pleasantly so.

Berry picking is not just a way of saving money. It's a time for reflection and for communing with nature. I love the sound of the birds singing and of my backyard hens softly clucking to each other, or the sight of a native bee among the leaves, seeking pollen from the mulberry flowers. Today I was reflecting about the myriad life lessons I have gathered along with the mulberry fruit:

  • Be gentle. Bruise the fruit or break a tree limb, and you wll regret your haste.
  • Be persistent. Berries that aren't ripe yet need a revisit in a couple of days, or sometimes even a few hours. Frequent sessions will fill your freezers, but neglect the job, and you will find your potential harvest lying all over the ground.
  • Plan ahead.  It is easy to make cuttings or grow more trees from cuttings, and then you can share them with your neighbors.
  • The grass isn't always greener elsewhere. Why pay the supermarket for something like berries, when fresher ones are growing on your own property?
  • Be thankful for what you have.
  • Use the right tools for the job. The right ladder can make a trip to the backyard even more productive, and the right pail (see picture below) can keep you from spilling your berries all over the ground. I learned this the hard way.
  • Things go better when your foundation is firm. Plant your ladder securely before you start climbing.
  • Don't overextend yourself. One needs to keep a certain balance in life.
  • Look at things from different angles and perspectives. It's amazing how shifting your position a few inches in any direction--up, down, or sideways--can cause you to see opportunities you couldn't see before.
  • Waste not, want not. Backyard chickens are great for this. If too many berries have fallen to the ground, we can fence our laying hens with them for an afternoon. They will gobble them up, fertilize the trees a little with their manure, and gobble up any ticks or other bugs they can find in the understory. Then they turn all they found into nutritious eggs, all while having a grand time! It's a win-win.
  • There are pluses and minuses to everything. Besides getting a little dirty and sweaty, there are greenbriers, poison ivy, and occasional ticks to watch out for. Overall, though, the experience is more than worth it. 
  • Setting a little time aside to pick berries is really setting aside time for yourself.
  • The best things in life really ARE free!
I wish more people would unplug from their computers, video-games, and television for a while and go berry-picking, even in their own back yards. They would discover the beauty of the natural world around them and be healthier physically, mentally, and spiritually for it. I know I am.

A good ladders is helpful, but it's a long way down!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Waterbath Canning Class with the VUHL

The Virginia Urban Homesteaders' League hosted a great class on waterbath canning, hosted by a woman named Cat, her friend Courtney Reitzel, and Misty Townsley. I have enjoyed all the VaUHL events I have attended and highly recommend the group to anyone who aspires to grow and preserve food.

I have a confession to make. I have attended two VaUHL canning classes, namely waterbath canning and pressure canning, and loved them both. I was so impressed with the idea of preserving my own food that I bought the biggest canner available online.

The only problem was, when I got it, I found out it was too big for my stove. It is almost too big to store anywhere in my kitchen.

But now we have a new stove because the old one needed replacing, anyway. I enjoyed the referesher course and look forward to preserving foods this summer, especially tomatoes. I also got an Excalibur dehydrator after attending another class. I want to preserve all kinds of foods, but especially strawberries, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes. I've already started to preserve home-grown herbs and even brew my own herb teas.

But I digress.

I will post pictures and captions to describe today's event. I took about 30 minutes of videos, too, for my own use. If anyone wants them available to watch, leave a comment here, and I will post them online.

Misty, left, and Cat, right, prepare carrots and daikon radishes to pickle. VaUHL promotes seasonal eating.

Our teachers show off the different foods they have canned. They provide plenty of written materials.
The guide to the beginner that was most higly recommended was the Ball Blue Book, seen to the left in the picture above. We all got plenty of handouts and even the recipe for the pickled carrots and radishes that we made in class today.

Courtney Reitzel, left, and Misty prepare for their class at Pembroke Manor United Methodist Church

Sampling our instructors' home preserved foods was a major incentive to learn to can. Delicious!
Did I mention their food was delicious? There's NOTHING like it in stores!

Misty, Cat, and Courtney emphasized that people should use USDA-approved methods and tested recipes, like those found in the Ball books. Another recommendation was Preserving by the Pint for small batches. They reminded people that carelessness or the use of outdated methods can result in illness or even death. Botulism is a deadly bacteria that will grow in improperly stored and preserved goods.

But they said that anyone who can read and follow a recipe in a cookbook is able to can food safely. After today's class. I believe them. But I plant to be careful, just in case.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Minerva the Hen at Midway Veterinary Hospital

Minerva the Buff Orpington checks out her veterinarian's office

Minerva, one of two Buff Orpington hens in our mixed flock of five backyard layers, has developed redness on her feet and legs for a few weeks now. My husband Don and I tried to treat her ourselves, first using petroleum jelly, and when that seemed to make things worse, we tried Bag Balm. The latter seemed to help a little for a while, but it made her feathers around her legs very greasy and dirty looking, and I was afraid she would have trouble keeping her feet warm with the extremely cold weather we've been having. And she certainly wasn't healing up to my liking.

Minerva's red legs caused us concerned. The dirty feathers were caused by our attempts to treat her.

Nights have dropped into the teens for several nights in a row and remained freezing even during the day, a rarity for this corner of Virginia. Most recently we had about 8" of snow, also a rare event.

Don and I had reached the end of our limited ability to treat Minverva, so we took her to Dr. Tony Poutous at Midway Veterinary Hospital in Chesapeake, VA. We have had positive experiences bringing our hens to visit Dr. Poutous before as evidenced in my earlier post about our visit with Athena, our Delaware hen. Here are highlights from Minerva's visit:

Minerva was weighed in, of course!

Dr. Poutous gave Minerva a through physical--maybe more thorough than she liked at times! Say Aaah!

Other parts of the exam were less objectionable. Dr. Poutous listened to her heart and respiratory system.
Overall, Dr. Poutous found Minerva to be in good health, which was a relief. He took scrapings of her legs to check for bacteria or fungal infections or even signs of mites. But he found nothing significant. We decided it was best not to treat her further and to keep an eye on her legs. I will definitely give our vet a call if Minerva's signs change or worsen at all. He said if areas turn black, that could mean frostbite, and to bring her back in right away. He said he was willing to treat for mites, even though he hadn't found any, just in case, but I said it was probably best to wait.

I was so relieved she wasn't developing an infection, which had been my fear!

Don asked about continuing with the Bag Balm treatment. Dr. Poutous said that he was concerned the Bag Balm might continue to mess up Minerva's feathers. Considering the cold weather, she might have trouble regulating her body temperature with dirty feathers. She needs clean feathers to keep her legs and feet warm. Without them, she has the potential of coming down with frostbite on her feet. It's not worth the risk.

Minerva the Buff Orpington looks ready to go back to the hen house!

Minerva had taken a much-needed break from laying this fall and early winter, but she already is back to laying an egg almost every day. She is a very reliable layer in spring and early summer, but she has a tendency to go broody after that. She very much would like to be a mother, I think! But that's not manageable under Chesapeake's backyard hen ordinance.

If there are any questions about the ordinance, my own understanding of it is listed here. You are also welcome to like our Facebook page, 4 Chesapeake Hens.

Update: Minerva's legs improved with the spring weather for no apparent reason. In the late spring she went broody again, so I sold her to a local farmer that needed a broody hen to hatch chicks. I get occasional reports that she is loved and doing well.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hallway Remodel: The Beginnings

Don and I are in the midst of remodeling our 50-year-old house. Right now Don is painting our kitchen. While he is working on that, I have been working on a way to cover an old hole in our hall ceiling. A fan used to be there to draw air up into the attic, but it's long gone. We now have a central air conditioning system, so this particular hole is no longer needed. Don has done his best to close off the space and insulate it to keep the house warmer, but I want something pretty.

Here is our ugly hole in the ceiling

Here is a view of the hallway

Don is good at wiring, so he will put some lights up in this space when he is done with the kitchen. In the meantime, I have contracted with Decorative Glass Solutions in Ashland, Virginia, to make a stained-glass piece of art to cover the hole. Instead of an ugly spot, we will have something light and pretty there. The design we have in mind will be a "Cotswold Design," which will look something like this, but with perhaps a bit more color:

Design by Decorative Glass Solutions in Ashland, Virginia

Worm Composting Update

Don purchased a Worm Factory worm composting system with five trays for me a few  years ago. Over time, the system has become more Don's hobby than mine. He says it's because I am tender-hearted, and if I think of them as his worms, not mine, then I will be more comfortable feeding the occasional excess to our hens.

I suspect it's more because the worms like dark and decay, and they are wriggly and messy. Don is such a boy at heart that he finds true joy in messing with them. I enjoy watching him work with them and talk about them. But I must say that I am much happier now that we've found a spot for them on our porch and not in our kitchen or bathroom where they have resided previously.

He might also be the one in charge of them because he is a scientist at heart and likes to experiment more. Like him, I carefully read the valuable instructions that came with our Worm Factory. Unlike him, I feel compelled to stick pretty closely to the written instructions.

But I can't complain, since the worms have thrived--and then some!--under Don's care.

The worms are obviously thriving in the second bin down. This is before feeding time.

One of the things Don does differently is he puts mostly carbonaceous matter in the top bin. When that has been in the composter a while, he moves the tray down to the second one down. He then puts a new carbonaceous tray on top. He feels that this top tray discourages vinegar flies that sometimes compete with the worms for food, and he no longer has to dig through the carbon to put the food in underneath the carbon on the top tray, which the manufacturer suggests. He also thinks his system gives the worms more options regarding moisture, temperature, etc., as they move around the bins to keep themselves comfortable.

Don just dumps their food in the second tray down and then replaces the top tray with the carbon. He thinks the worms like the added moisture, and he finds the whole process less work than using the manufacturer's instructions. He leaves the bottom trays underneath these two  for quite a while for the worms to pass through and re-digest. The bottom trays are former top and second trays that are waiting for us to need some compost around the yard and gardens.

Here is a view of the top, carbon-laden, tray, where fewer worms visit.

The instructions say to either grind up the worms' food scraps or freeze them before feeding them to the worms. This hastens the decomposition process and makes it easier for the worms to feed. Freezing kills any fruit-fly larvae (really vinegar flies) that might be already in the scraps. But Don grinds the food in a specially-dedicated food processor--

--Yes! The worms in our house have their own food processor!--

And then he puts in the a mason jar in the freezer for at least a few days. Finally, he thaws it out and feeds it to the worms.

Here are Don's worms with some new food dumped in the second tray.

Don is adding a second helping of food from a mason jar. The worms digest it quickly!

Needless to say, we have very little food waste in our household. I belong to a wonderful CSA through Farm Chicks Produce, so I cook a lot from scratch, and we have certain vegetable peels and tops that our hens won't eat. We also pick up scraps from a local restaurant, and whatever our hens won't or shouldn't eat usually goes to the worms.

Both the worm tea from the composting system and the compost itself is fantastic for our own vegetables and herbs. Any extra worms are great protein for feeding the hens, and the hens love to spread the compost around our lawn and garden beds when they get the chance. While they scratch through the compost, they like to hunt through it for tasty treats.

Overall, the worm bin is a huge success despite the fact (or because?) Don does not manage the system according to the manufacturer's directions.

By the way, vermicomposting does not require a fancy store-bought system to work. Here is general advice from Cornell. Perhaps you will start your own worm composting system? If so, let us know what works for you!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Beginning Thoughts for the Hampton Roads Coop Tour

This Little Red Hen is Ready to Step out in Style!

4 Chesapeake Hens and other chicken groups in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia are in the beginning stages of planning a coop tour. A coop tour is like an open house, but it's for visitors of chickens and their coops rather than the owners' homes. Our group hosted a local tour in Chesapeake last year and had a lot of fun. This year we would like to make it more regional. We also plan to make it a benefit fundraiser for a great regional group that is in need of financial support right now: Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Hampton Roads.

Our first meeting, on January 9, hosted dynamic leadership from both Portsmouth and Chesapeake. Sharon Jackson represented Portsmouth Hen Keepers, Wendy Camacho and Danielle Rawls represented Hampton Roads Hens, and my husband, Don, and I represented 4 Chesapeake Hens along with Saad Ringa, our groups' highly esteemed computer guru. Saad is also the regional documentary-keeper for all things chicken when it comes to City Council meetings, as can be seen by the various speeches preserved on his YouTube Channel.

This is what we decided at our meeting.
  1. The name of the event will be the "Hampton Roads Coop Tour." We will encourage the use of a chicken on all flyers and other publicity about the event, so the public realizes we are touring chicken coops and not a type of car.
  2. Our intention is to host the event from 11 AM to 4 PM on Saturday, May 24th, with Saturday, May 31st as a rain date.
  3. Our group intends to charge a $5.00 per carload non-refundable minimum donation to "Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Hampton Roads" for tickets to attend the event. We are hoping that BFBLHR will sell the tickets directly to the public online, perhaps through Eventbrite, as well as help us spread the word about the event online and through news releases. The use of Eventbrite should allow BFBLHR to post a couple of reminders about the event in the week(s) and day(s) leading up to the tour, as well as to message ticket-holders regarding inclement weather, if needed. They should also be able to send out a link to all ticket-holders with the exact locations and addresses of all the coops on the tour (see below).
  4. There was a little confusion on last year's tour with people showing up at someone's house on the wrong date. Furthermore, if this event goes as regional as we would like, there may be more coops available, and more spread-out coops, than what is possible to see in the space of five hours. To address those issues, we will post descriptions of the coops on the tour and the general location or region, but the exact addresses will only be available to paid ticket-holders through a link sent on the Monday before the event, i.e., Monday, May 19. Ticket-holders should have enough information to plan out their tours in advance regarding region(s) to visit, or types of coops they desire to see, so they can use their time efficiently on the day of the tour and see the coops that most interest them.
  5. So far chicken-keepers in Portsmouth and Chesapeake have committed to this event. Sharon will take the lead in organizing the Portsmouth portion, and Wendy and Mary Lou will lead the Chesapeake efforts. But the tour can expand into other regions of Hampton Roads if leaders come forward to take charge of surrounding regions. Such leadership should be familiar with backyard chickens and will be in charge of being a general contact person, generating local publicity, answering questions, being familiar with local ordinances regarding chicken-keeping, seeing that materials are distributed to coop owners as needed, bringing potential problems to Mary Lou or Wendy, and helping Saad gather the data he needs to put together the coop descriptions, related map, addresses, etc. This sounds like a lot but can be done as part of a regional effort.
  6. The issue of illegal coop-owners possibly wanting to be on the tour was raised. Mary Lou said that several people who committed to the Chesapeake Tour last year backed out close to the tour date, which was confusing and unfair to those who wanted to go on the tour plus frustrating for the event's organizers. Part of reason was cold feet on the part of homeowners when the reality hit that strangers, including potentially influential people, such as members of the media or area City Council, would be showing up on the tour. But many who backed out stated that they suddenly realized their coops were not 100% legal: the coop was too close to the property line, they had more hens than the legal limit, etc. This year, we plan to emphasize that signing up for the coop tour is a commitment, including for the rain date if necessary, and that participants are responsible for ensuring they have the dates set aside and are in compliance with local ordinances before signing their coops up for the tour.
  7. Some coop owners had asked about a separate tour for coop owners to view each others' coops. The consensus at the meeting is that we would not do so this year. It is complicated enough to organize one event without organizing two. Most coop-owners in the region can contact each other through social media and arrange private tours of coops they are interested in seeing.
  8. Some have raised the issue of Biosecurity for the flocks participating on the tour. We felt we should take precautions just in case. Wendy said she has a contact that can recommend good shoe coverings at a reasonable price and will get us the details. The idea is to require visitors to each property to put on the shoe coverings before visiting the flock and then to leave the shoe coverings for the next group of visitors to re-use. This way, each flock's poop will stay on that flock's property and greatly reduce the chance of spreading disease from flock to flock. Coop owners will also be required to have hand sanitizer at each location and to encourage visitors to use it.
  9. Regarding publicity, Sharon said she would make up a flyer for the event as soon as the details are finalized with BFBLHR. Wendy said she would help distribute them at "Chicken 101" educational events and possibly at the Chesapeake Jubilee if she can get a table.
  10. Saad Ringa will help organize the computer end of the event for our groups, particularly managing the maps, contact information, etc., for those who decide to sign up their coops for the tour. Saad will probably use online forms for this purpose.
  11. If BFBLHR is interested, our coop owners will probably be willing to distribute materials for them to help raise awareness about the organization and about all the great local foods available in our region. All we would need is to receive those materials well enough in advance of the tour.
We are still waiting on a final decision from BFBLHR's Board of Directors about this event, but initial signs are that they are interested in partnering with us.

Update on 1/27/14: We got the go-ahead from the Board of Directors. If you live in the area and wish to sign your coop  up for the tour, check out this post.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Backyard Hens vs. the State Depredation Law

4 Chesapeake Hens and other regional chicken groups are calling for action on the state level to change the  state depredation law. The reasons will be clear when you read below. Click this link to find the name of your state delegate or senator.

Dear (State Senator and/or Delegate):

I am contacting you because I support backyard hens in residential areas of Virginia. Please amend Virginia Code 3.2-6552 to exclude residential areas. The code was written to protect farmers and their livestock, but it is written in a way that is causing concern among Animal Control Officers in my own community and elsewhere. It is also preventing communities like nearby Virginia Beach from changing their laws to allow residential hens. As the state law is currently written, it is the "duty of" an Animal Control Officer who witnesses a dog killing a chicken to kill the dog immediately. Also, property owners or other witnesses who see a dog killing chickens also have the right to kill the dog. While this law makes sense in areas zoned agricultural, it makes little sense in residential areas where the use of firearms is prohibited. The state law also conflicts with animal cruelty laws. The law has become outdated; many urban areas, including Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Richmond, and many others, allow backyard hens.

Delegate DeSteph is the delegate who is most familiar with this issue. Please, act immediately to change this outdated ordinance in a way that protects the interests of our farmers while protecting dogs and their owners in residential areas. By doing this, you will open the door to allowing backyard hens in residential areas of Virginia Beach and elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

**Update on 1/15/14: Here is a response I just received from our district's state senator. Unfortunately, we do not have a delegate at the moment because of recent elections (ours got elected for another office and the spot has not yet been filled).

Dear Mrs. Burke,

Thank you for contacting me to express support for legislation that would allow backyard hens in residential areas.  Your feedback is greatly appreciated. If presented with the opportunity to vote on amendments to Virginia Code 3.2-6552 during the 2014 General Assembly, I will most certainly keep your views and recommendations in mind.

Again, thank you for your correspondence. For additional legislative information or to follow the progress of legislation, you may visit the Virginia General Assembly website at If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kenneth Cooper Alexander
Member, Senate of Virginia

Update: in February of 2014, both the Virginia House and Senate voted to give ACOs the option to seize the dog instead of killing it.