Amnesty May Be Coming for Queen City Chicken Owners | Off Message

Amnesty May Be Coming for Queen City Chicken Owners


  • Sean Metcalf
Urban chicken keepers who’ve been exceeding Burlington’s four-bird limit may soon get a chance to come clean.

Burlington’s ordinance committee signed off Thursday on rules to govern the raising and slaughtering of livestock within city limits. The full city council is scheduled to vote on the regulations at its next meeting, in early October.

For years, Queen City chicken owners have complained about a city ordinance, created to regulate kennels, that prevents residents from owning more than four of any type of animal without a license. In 2010, after a man was busted for raising 10 chickens at his Old North End residence, city leaders agreed to take up the issue. Burlington didn’t have any rules governing urban livestock, so councilors asked a task force of urban-agriculture experts to come up with some. 

Based on the task force's report, and after more than a year of deliberation, the ordinance committee is proposing the  city's first-ever urban-agriculture regulations. 

Most notably, the four-chicken limit would be lifted. Residents could own unlimited chickens, as long as they provide proper pens and meet minimum space requirements — three square feet per bird. People with five or more birds would need to register their flock with the city.

The number of sheep, rabbits and goats are similarly unrestricted — again, provided that owners meet minimum space requirements, which vary by animal, and that they register with the city once their herds reach a designated size. 

While the chicken population may increase, crowing should decrease, if the ordinance is passed. That's because it would prohibit raising roosters within city limits. As well as ostrich, emu, cattle, swine and camels. Those restrictions would not apply, however, to zoning districts where agriculture is permitted. 

The ordinance specifies what types of enclosures livestock must have to ensure animals are protected and don't escape and how to "humanely" care for different types of livestock. For example, plucking rabbit hair is prohibited; goats should have access to salt blocks; and chickens are entitled to a daily dosage of crushed oyster shells or another source of calcium.

Violators are subject to fines and can have their livestock impounded. 

Before approving the rules, councilors on the ordinance committee got some last-minute feedback from former councilor and current chicken owner, Rachel Siegel. Siegel thanked them for addressing the situation and reiterated problems with the four-chicken limit, which, she noted, has been widely flouted.

Case in point: Her family has a flock of nine that collectively is only laying two eggs a day on average. 

In a city where development is getting more dense, Siegel is also cognizant of the need to respect neighbors. On Wednesday, she preemptively apologized on Front Porch Forum for two cockerels (adolescent roosters) that recently started crowing and assured people that they would be relocated to a "country home" this weekend. 

The proposed ordinance also addresses the potential health and nuisance issues associated with raising livestock in close quarters. Among other requirements, it requires that owners contain their livestock and take precautions to prevent predators, rodents, parasites and insects from becoming a problem. Slaughtering must be done "out of sight and sound."