Berlin Sets Hen Limit At Six

BERLIN – No more than six hens per house can be kept under a proposed new law regulating poultry keeping within Berlin municipal limits.

As many as six hens can be kept per single-family home under the ordinance presented for first reading at Monday night’s Berlin Mayor and Council meeting.

A public hearing on the new chicken guidelines will be held at the Jan. 11 town council meeting. The town council will then vote on the measure.

Backyard chickens have been a contentious subject since Berlin homeowner Elizabeth Fisher was brought to the attention of the town this fall for keeping chickens, geese, and a rooster at her house which neighbors said were noisy and attracted rats.

A public hearing in November on a proposed Berlin ordinance to ban poultry keeping within town limits drew a large crowd, with a two-to-one majority in favor of allowing chickens in town. Chicken supporters agreed at the time that the town should regulate poultry keeping in Berlin.

Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward, consulting with backyard chicken supporters and in line with many existing municipal chicken keeping ordinances, then created an ordinance with seven rules: residents may keep no more than six female chickens; the hens must be kept confined at all times in a pen at least 25 feet away from all nearby houses; chickens must be registered with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), by filling out forms available through the town; the chickens must have proper shelter which protects them from bad weather; each chicken pen must be odor free, with excess or spilled feed cleaned up so as not to attract rats, and must also minimize grass destruction; no roosters, waterfowl or game birds may be kept; and chickens may only be kept on single-family home properties.

“That makes a lot of sense, much more than we had before,” said Councilwoman Paula Lynch.

Under the proposed ordinance, chicken owners would fill out an MDA form, and hand it in to the planning and zoning department, which then would forward the form to MDA.

MDA wants chickens registered in case poultry diseases emerge in the area, although the department’s concern centers on local commercial flocks.

“The department of agriculture wants to know where birds are in case of an outbreak,” said Ward.

Registering the chickens with the state also gives the town access to experts who could be called on to assess any problem chicken facilities, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said.

Councilwoman Lisa Hall wondered why the ordinance specifies six as a hen limit.

The number is a compromise reached by looking at existing municipal chicken regulations from other jurisdictions and consultation with local backyard chicken supporters and interested parties, Ward said.

All agreed that a family of four could consume four to six eggs per day, or reasonably use those eggs for cooking or baking or to give away, he said.

“Six seemed to be an average across the board of other ordinances,” said Ward.       

Hall also asked about the minimizing turf destruction clause.

“I don’t care where you put a chicken, they’re going to scrape the yard bare,” Hall said.

Portable pens, some with wheels, can be moved around the yard to different areas of grass, Ward said.

The key to the proposed guidelines is the humane treatment of the chickens, Williams said.