Hens make practical pets

Sara Bloom


The growing number of cities welcoming hens to the backyard is proof that hens make great city pets. These friendly fowl are being invited to cities because they are quiet, gentle, affordable, educational, and entertaining. Hens are extremely practical too! They make breakfast, eat pests, reduce food waste, fertilize gardens, and teach their owners how to be self-sufficent. Out of the 100 largest populated U.S. cities, 93 allow hens. These girls are welcome in most of the cities listed in Forbe’s 2016 America’s Best Cities to Raise a Family, Forbe’s 2017 Best Cities for Millennials, and Forbe’s 2017 Best Cities for Young Professionals. Certainly, the future of urban living in America includes backyard hens.

In the spring of 2017, the state of Texas passed a bill prohibiting any municipality in Texas from banning backyard hens for single-family housing. This bill granted Texans the right to six hens per single-family backyard. Taking it a step further, Austin, Texas, encouraged their residents to own hens by offering them a $75 coop rebate, in effort to reach their zero waste goal. Tragically, Americans throw away $165 billion of food a year and, according to the National Resource Defense Council, one-fourth of all purchased food and beverages in the U.S. end up in the garbage. Inviting hens into the urban environs reduces food waste because hens eat table scraps, resulting in fresher, healthier and tastier eggs.

In the Minot discussion surrounding urban hens, there has been some concern about salmonella. Salmonella, according to The Center for Disease Control, causes one million foodborne illnesses a year in the U.S. As of September, there had been fewer than 1,000 reported cases of salmonella from backyard hens in 2017. A surprise to some, backyard hens are credited for only 1 percent of the reported cases. The factory chicken has obvious vulnerabilities (lacking diverse diet, exercise, space and fresh air) causing salmonella outbreaks, but the benefit of having backyard hens is that the owner is aware of each hen’s behavior, so identifying certain illnesses is easier. Thankfully, salmonella is preventable by washing hands after handling hens. It was anticipated that some Minot residents would inquire on the health issues regarding chickens, so last fall I spoke to Jim Heckman, Ward County director of environmental health. Confidently, he had no health or safety concerns about backyard hens in Minot.

Another potential concern for Minot citizens is the increased burden on our animal control officers. Officer Tanya Mendelson said, “We are going to get so many calls. I can just picture it already.” Based on phone conversations with five other animal control officers in the Midwest, I learned that the complaint calls on chickens would be few. I spoke to community service officer Kari Waller from Fargo, and since the passing of their hen ordinance, about six months ago, Fargo had received no hen complaints. I interviewed animal control officers in Omaha, Neb.; Billings, Mont.; Lincoln, Neb.; and Sioux Falls, S.D. Here are some comments these officers made to me about hens: “calls are few and far between,” “I can’t remember the last time we had a call,” “no big deal,” “not many calls,” “hens are the least of our worries.” Tom Stinchfield, animal control supervisor from Billings, with a population three times bigger than Minot, receives 2-3 calls a year. The other officers I spoke with gave similar statistics. I asked Officer Mendelson of Minot if she had spoken to other officers from cities allowing hens and she had not.

A decision on urban hens needs to be based on facts, not on the number of comments from concerned residents that have witnessed chickens on a farm. Many Minot residents come from farming communities where they may have only experienced large groups of chickens in an open farmyard or on factory farms. This impression of chickens is different than the reality of a few backyard hens cared for like pets. Here’s a helpful comparison:

If Minot residents have the freedom to own four dogs, why not four hens? Some have voiced concerns about noise, and the facts reveal that the occasional cackling of a hen measures at 60 decibles versus the bark of a dog at 100 decibles. A chicken roosts quietly from sundown till sun up, unlike its canine counterpart that sounds off at unpredictable intervals. Additionally, a 40-pound dog makes as much poop in a day as 12-15 chickens. Interestingly, chicken poop can be purchased by gardeners for $2 a pound on Amazon, but dog poop . . . Lastly, 4.5 million dog bites are reported each year in the U.S., but the hens? . . if feeling threatened, they run from people. Similarly hens and dogs provide companionship to humans . . . but only hens provide food for their caretakers.

Welcoming hens to the city is truthfully welcoming them back to the city. Many may have forgotten, but our local history buffs will remember that “Victory Flocks” were encouraged by the U.S. government during both World Wars. War time posters encouraged every family to have two hens for each person living in a household. One poster read, “Even the smallest backyard has room for a flock large enough to supply the house with eggs.” Apparently, owning backyard hens is an old-fashioned idea. Whether you personally want hens or not, consider your vote for hens a gift to Minot residents to regain their freedom to have backyard hens.