Salisbury Council’s 3-2 Vote Legalizes Urban Chickens

SALISBURY – Backyard chickens are now legal in the City of Salisbury with the City Council passing regulations this week.

On Monday evening, the Salisbury City Council considered an ordinance on its final reading that would authorize and regulate the keeping of backyard chickens to ensure the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of Salisbury.

The City of Salisbury currently prohibits the keeping of chickens within the corporate limits, however according to the ordinance city officials recognize the benefits of locally produced food, and now finds it in the best interest to allow residents to keep a limited number of chickens for providing eggs for the residents’ personal consumption.

The ordinance would allow residents to keep a maximum of six chickens per occupied single-family dwelling by registering with the State Department of Agriculture, Domestic Poultry and Exotic Bird Registration Division before chickens are housed on a property. Roosters are not permitted as well as raising chickens for fighting.

“The city recognizes that adverse neighborhood impacts may result from the keeping of domesticated chickens due to noise, odor, unsanitary animal living conditions, unsanitary waste storage and removal, the attraction of predators, rodents, insects, or parasites, and unconfined animals leaving the owner’s property,” the ordinance states. “This article is intended to create standards and requirements that ensure that domesticated chickens do not adversely impact the neighborhood surrounding the property on which the chickens are kept.”

The proposed regulations include, among other htings, chickens are to be kept in an enclosure or fenced area no closer than five feet to a neighboring property at all times; during the day chickens can be allowed outside of their pen in a securely fenced yard if supervised; the enclosure must be clean, dry, and odor free; the henhouse and chicken pen must provide adequate ventilation; perceptible noise from the chickens must not be loud enough to disturb; and an Animal Control Officer or Neighborhood Services & Code Compliance officer may issue violations and fines.

If found in violation of the code, a corrective action letter, notice of violation or a municipal infraction will be issued.

With the current outbreak of avian flu, Council Vice President Laura Mitchell recommended adding a requirement for regular testing of the chickens.

“In Iowa, they recently experienced a pandemic that is moving its way in our direction that is expected to be pretty significant, or one of the worst ever for avian flu,” Mitchell said. “Ten percent of the avian flu is in backyard flocks. I am very concerned for anyone who endeavors to do walking from their backyard to the aviary downtown or to the zoo, or even into the grocery store where someone who works on a farm will follow behind you. It is so easily transmitted.”

Mitchell stated she will not be voting in favor of the ordinance.

“Passing this city-wide it could be anybody’s back yard, and they [those in opposition] are just not excited about it,” she said. “Where we live you can drive 15 minutes anywhere to get fresh eggs and I just don’t think the reward is worth the risk.”

Councilwoman Shanie Shields agreed.

“I do not support anything that could be hazardous to neighbors,” she said. “I am hoping it [ordinance] will encourage people to do the right thing. I don’t want to have added work for our Animal Control Officers. For the people who do want these urban chickens, do the right thing and follow the ordinance as you are supposed to do, so I don’t have to say I told you so.”

It is all about good husbandry, Councilman Tim Spies said.

“If you don’t have chickens, and have never had chickens then you shouldn’t have chickens until you know something about chickens. If it is a matter of getting a few chicks at Easter and keeping them in your backyard, then you are ill advised to do that. You need to learn about husbandry, and how to keep all animals healthy and the environment healthy,” he said. “We can make laws up and down … but still people are going to have chickens in their backyard whether we authorize it or not.”

Spies pointed out backyard chickens are already illegally kept within the city.

“Let’s put regulations behind it so we have a good monitoring as far as immunizations and illnesses,” he said.

According to Council President Jake Day, there are now an estimated 1.1 million households in cities across the United States that have backyard chickens. There are over 20,000 municipalities that allow chickens with 25 of them on the Eastern Shore.

“This is Chicken City, USA and we are late to the party. This is not an area where we are leading. We are not on the cutting edge. It is being done everywhere, so let’s get it done,” Day said.

The council voted 3-2 to approve the ordinance with Heath, Spies and Day in favor and Shields and Mitchell opposed.