Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rooster news you can use

I seldom blog anything noteworthy from the real world. OK, I seldom blog anything noteworthy PERIOD. But here is an article from the hometown rag, about chickens and roosters in neighborhood backyards. It is a pretty long article, but I wanted to share it, since our family has really enjoyed having our backyard flock of hens.

Full disclosure, I don't really see enough benefit to keeping a rooster in a small flock of 2 - 6 hens to annoy the neighbors so much. But if I lived on 5 acres, you bet I would have some big, studly roos running the show.

Here is the direct link to the article, but I think you have to register, so I am including the full text below.

As backyard coops abound, neighbors seek remedy for rooster noise

Rooster advocates say the fowl are integral to local food movement

By Marty Toohey


On Gillis Street, a two-lane South Austin road that meanders from Ben White Boulevard into an otherwise quiet neighborhood, the roosters begin their crowing a little before sunrise. It's a scene repeated throughout fowl-friendly Austin but one that Helen Rockenbaugh says has been allowed to go too far.

"It's not just early in the morning; the roosters are so loud that sometimes when you stand in the backyard, you can't hear yourselves talk," said Rockenbaugh, whose Gillis Street house sits next to a neighbor who keeps up to 20 roosters at a time. "The city needs to make a change."

City officials are considering a change. But banning roosters, as Rockenbaugh is urging City Hall, would run counter to Austin's long-held pride in its unconventional thinking. Long before a national backyard-chicken movement began spreading its wings, coops were a fixture in Austin neighborhoods both modest and chic. Austin even has the Funky Chicken Coop Tour, an April event at which homeowners show off artsy or unusual pens.

But the movement has ruffled the feathers of folks such as Rockenbaugh. Now anti-rooster residents are telling City Hall that the birds are an unnecessary nuisance, while rooster supporters contend that the males are as important to their flocks as the hens and can, in fact, be kept quiet by responsible owners.

"Dogs can also make a lot of noise," said Dagmar Grieder , a Bouldin Creek neighborhood resident who owns a dozen chickens and a red-and-gold Brabanter rooster named Hansel. "In fairness, if we allow dogs, we should allow roosters."

City officials say the dispute touches on bigger questions that cities must confront as more people live in closer proximity. What behavior should a neighbor be expected to tolerate? How should the city define a nuisance? And what role should the city play in resolving relatively minor disagreements that nonetheless matter a great deal to some residents?

Austin is considered at the forefront of a national movement to produce food — particularly vegetables and dairy products — in backyards. (The city government includes a Sustainable Food Policy Board.) As roosters and chickens have popped up in suburban backyards in Austin and elsewhere, with the promise of fresh eggs and meat, their cause is being championed by personalities such as Andy Schneider ("The Chicken Whisperer"), who hosts a popular radio show in Atlanta. Advocates say chickens should be raised locally, as opposed to in industrial poultry operations criticized by animal rights activists.

But the movement is being opposed by groups such as Farm Sanctuaries, a consortium of animal shelters that says roosters are unsuited for an urban environment.

The fowl question has been answered differently across the country. Dallas has few rules that speak to chickens, but Plano has banned them. Portland, Ore., and Madison, Wis., recently decided to allow chickens but not roosters. Los Angeles and Miami allow one rooster per household; San Antonio allows two. Waco allows roosters, but only if they are kept 100 feet from the property line, effectively banning ownership in most cases.

Austin allows an unlimited number of roosters and chickens per household.

"In general, the trend nationwide seems to be to allow chickens in the backyard," said Robert Heil, a senior planner with the City of Austin. "But different cities have different policies."

Austin has historically considered roosters, hens and other fowl to be pets. They've been fairly common in more rural pockets. But the organic food movement has led more people across the city to raise chickens on modest-size city lots surrounded by homes.

Michelle Hernandez is among the chicken owners. Last year she and a few others formed the Austin Backyard Poultry Meetup, which now has 485 members. Dallas and Atlanta also have chapters.

"There's huge interest in Austin," Hernandez said. "People are getting really interested in where they get their food."

Grieder, the Bouldin Creek resident, said that in the spring she brings eggs, rather than wine, over to friends' houses.

"I know what went into the eggs," she said, "because I know what goes into my chickens."

Grieder said her rooster, Hansel, is vital to the flock's health because he herds them and protects the hens from animals such as hawks and dogs. Someone who owns a rooster can ensure that the genes of a rare breed aren't diluted, Hernandez said.

"You need to know where your stock comes from," she said, "so it's not as simple as renting out a stud."

Rooster critics dismiss those arguments.

"You take in the male, he does the deed at breeding time, and you take him away," Rockenbaugh said, seconds before one of the dozen or so neighboring birds pierced the late afternoon quiet of Gillis Street. "The rooster doesn't exactly need much time to finish the business, and he definitely doesn't need to live there."

Others have complained about the noise.

"They have woken me up as early as 2:30 in the morning," South Austinite Vicki Salazar wrote to the city recently. "The point is that it is highly rude and irresponsible to have a pet, and as a city allow a pet, that is known for its loud noises during the calm of night and early morning."

Late last year, Rockenbaugh's complaints found their way to Austin's Planning Commission, which advises the City Council on many policy matters. Planning Commission Chairman Dave Sullivan said he volunteered to mediate the dispute because he spent time living next to a farm while growing up.

"The birds are remarkably loud," Sullivan said. But, he said, the city already prohibits pets that disturb neighbors. He said owners can minimize roosters' noise by keeping them in opaque enclosures, which block the ultraviolet light that comes at dawn and triggers a rooster's crowing.

Sullivan's recommendation: Instruct the Police Department to more vigorously enforce the noise rules. The matter will probably go to the City Council this spring.

But Sullivan acknowledges that the recommendation would take time away from other policing duties.

"The police always have a quandary in a city where serious crime and even murders take place," he said. "They have to be judicious about how much attention is paid to things like quality-of-life issues."

Police rarely issue citations to the owners of roosters or other pets that bother neighbors. The Police Department does not track rooster-related complaints.

Grieder said she does not think a household needs more than one or two roosters but said the city's existing rules are sufficient to ensure that they don't become a nuisance.

"I can't hear Hansel in the morning unless I really listen," she said. "He's in his coop; I'm in mine."

Rockenbaugh called the police out to her new Gillis Street property twice late last year. Both times, the officer said there was nothing to be done except have the Municipal Court sort out the dispute. Attempts to seek comment from the owner of the roosters next door were unsuccessful.

Cpl. Scott Perry, a police spokesman, said the department's district representatives sometimes try to mediate disputes such as pet noise, but patrol officers must focus on higher-priority calls.

"It's not unusual on a Saturday night for a low-priority call not to be responded to for a couple hours," Perry said. "Obviously crimes against people, where somebody is being attacked, are going to be a high priority. Rooster complaints are going to be pretty low on the priority list."; 445-3673

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