Saturday, February 29, 2020

Chickens Coming Back to Roost

At the Legal Committee meeting on Wednesday night, after discussion of sidewalk legislation, short-term rental regulations, and extending the term of office for the mayor, audience member Adam Weinert rose to make the case for keeping backyard chickens in Hudson. Weinert spoke of the benefits of chickens--pest control, soil fertilization, not to mention more nutritious eggs. A woman from Kite's Nest seconded Weinert's request, talking about environmental and food justice. John Rosenthal, who chairs the Legal Committee, said he thought allowing chickens was "a great idea."

The notion of making it legal to keep backyard chickens is nothing new. Up until 2004, when Section 70.16 of the city code was adopted, it was legal to keep chickens in Hudson. The law prohibiting chickens was a response to a specific incident that occurred in the city. A dog got into a chicken yard and killed some chickens. The owner of the chickens took his revenge by shooting the offending dog with a gun. To avoid such problems in the future, chickens were banned from the city.

In 2013, a law permitting people to keep backyard chickens was proposed by the Legal Committee. The legislation was crafted by John Friedman, then chair of the Legal Committee, whose wife wanted to raise chickens in their backyard. The law passed in the Common Council by the skin of its teeth. Back then, with the weighted vote, a simple majority required 1,011 aye votes. The chicken law got 1,020 ayes and 1,008 nays. Seven members of the Council--the Council president, both First Ward aldermen, both Third Ward aldermen, one of the two Second Ward aldermen, and one of the two Fourth Ward aldermen--voted in favor of the law. Four members of the Council--one Second Ward alderman, one Fourth Ward alderman, and both Fifth Ward alderman--voted against. (That's how the weighted voted used to work.)  

Although it passed in the Council, the chicken law met its swan song when it was vetoed by Mayor William Hallenbeck. In a veto message that was five pages long, Hallenbeck cited seven reasons why, in his opinion, the legislation as proposed was a bad idea.
  1. The law was not equitable. People who did not own their own homes with backyards would not benefit.
  2. Chickens attract rodents and such predators as raccoons and hawks, which can problematic in an urban setting.
  3. The law did not specify how far the chicken coop should be from a property owner's dwelling.
  4. There was nothing in the proposed ordinance to ensure the humane treatment of chickens.
  5. The law prohibited slaughtering chickens but made no mention of killing chickens.
  6. The law did not require banding chickens so they could be identified if they wandered out of their yard.
  7. There were questions about how the law regulating backyard chickens would be enforced.
There was no attempt by the Council to override the mayor's veto.

In his argument for raising backyard chickens, Weinert claimed that 93 percent of cities in the United States permitted raising backyard chickens. I set out to confirm this statistic, but the first thing my search yielded was this article, published last year in CityLab: "Have Backyard Chickens Gone Too Free-Range?" It suggested that chickens may have become "the new status symbol for Silicon Valley elites," but its thesis was that "urban poultry laws need to be stricter about public health and animal welfare." The article posits that "the majority of the municipalities that allowed backyard fowl were missing standards around permits, veterinary care or vaccines, or animal abuse protections."

On the issue of public health, the article states:
Although urban poultry-keepers often believe that their birds, and eggs, are safer and more nutritious than products of commercial farms, many municipal regulations do not address sanitation, vaccination, or disease control. Indeed, urban poultry is linked to hundreds of salmonella cases each year in the United States. In Egypt, 70 percent of the people who came down with H5N1 bird flu in a 2015 outbreak reported exposure to backyard poultry.
The article concludes: 
If we're going to have chickens in our cities, it's common sense to make sure we have the right system in place to protect the birds as well as their owners, neighbors, and the city as a whole.
The law proposed in 2013 can be found here, following the minutes from the mayor's public hearing on the law, which took place on June 28, 2013.


  1. Are the Aldermen and Mayor aware that flu and coronavirus are bred and then transferred to humans from domestic farm animals and birds? Thats why they should be on farms with open space and few people, not in urban settings in close proximity to them. There used to be a lot of rats in Hudson also, not many lately, remember bubonic plague, spread by rats? Chickens attract rats.

  2. I have to echo P. Winslow's comments as well as those in the articles you cite. Backyard chickens are likely a bad idea in an urban environment. I am actually relieved the bill I authored was vetoed by Mr. Hallenbeck whose antipathy to cidiot" ideas made his decision a fait accompli. There are any number of vital, under-utilized farms in this and neighboring counties any one or more of which can likely be negotiated with to raise and "process" chickens at a fair price if food security/equality are concerns (as they properly are). Beyond that, chickens attract more nuisances than they abate.

  3. I don't have a strong opinion on urban chickens. But I do find it interesting that when a man uses a gun to shoot a dog that kills some chickens, all the surviving chickens are banned.

    1. Historically speaking ... once a dog tasted the blood of a chicken it had to be shot. Said dog was now and forever more a chicken killer.

  4. I won't comment on this latest development as I haven't studied the issue. Though I will say the comments above giving reasons not to have chickens definitely should be addressed. I know people have been trying for years in Philmont to change the law (to no avail) about having chickens in the village environs.

    However, I am interested in this issue because there are historic ordinances of Hudson that are about animals that may still be on the books if they haven't been rescinded. I seem to remember one about geese needing to be on a lease in the city limits. I thought someone may want to research some of these. Some years are digitized on this website: And the Hudson Area Library History Room has the 1859, 1929 and two other years not delineated in the catalog. I'll check the years at the library and we'll add that information to the catalogued items.

  5. Dog feces also can contain ringworm and other parasites, once in your blood, you would mot even know it but the cysts are forming in your brain leading to future serious health problems. Lazy anti social people, who leave their dog feces on the street and alleys, are also less inclined to take their dog to the vet and maintain their pets health to prevent the transmission of these parasites. There should be a limit on the number of dogs a household can have, also more serious efforts on controlling dog feces left in the street. If you can not clean up after your dog, you should not be allowed to own one, in my opinion.

    I hear lots of talk about building more apartments, chickens, b&bs and anything else that would put the brakes the changes taking place in Hudson - nothing about actually improving the quality of life for people living here. How about cleaning up dog feces? How about having a city where your kids can play in a park or backyard or walk in an alley without contracting parasites in their brain or cutting themselves on glass from broken liquor bottles?

  6. FOWL LANGUAGE. Have you all forgotten about KINDERHOOK. (The home of the $500.00 chicken.)

  7. Any distinction made between noisy roosters and the more pacific hens?

    1. The chicken law, as drafted in 2013, banned roosters.

  8. My partner and I just got back from a few days in Key West, FL, where chickens are prevalent. More significantly, roosters are prevalent. They scream 24 hours of the day, not just at dawn. I woke up every night at about 3 AM. It's not clear to me how one can allow chickens and ban roosters.