Sustainable?

The Arlington Urban Agriculture Task Force is committed to promoting sustainability. But would backyard hens truly be a sustainable practice? Consider the following evidence.

  • The Urban Agriculture Task Force explicitly speaks of "reducing transportation costs" in an effort to build a better local food system. But according to the EPA, it takes 2 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of eggs. What happens when hen owners decide to start buying designer feeds?
  • Poultry waste is not a balanced fertilizer. It can produce excessive buildups of Potassium and Phosphorus, which can have adverse effects of water quality.
  • According to David Luther of the George Mason University Biology Department, chicken waste doesn't go through the same sewage treatment as human waste, which "can be a real problem for the local watershed."
  • Arlington already has a vibrant network of Farmers Markets where one can get fresh eggs. Such markets already provide local, sustainably produced eggs. What problem is the Arlington Egg Project trying to solve?

Healthy?

Good local agriculture is not only about sustainability, but about promoting healthy and nutritious foods that are easily accessible. The Urban Agriculture Task Force's initiative clearly states that health is one of its primary concerns. So how healthy are backyard hens?

  • According to the CDC, Salmonella is present in chicken waste and feathers pick up the bacteria easily.
  • Baby chicks are especially prone to spreading disease. The CDC warns that children should have limited contact with them. Think backyard hens would be good for your family? Think again.
  • Uncollected eggs, spilled chicken feed, and droppings can all attract pests, which aren't merely a nuisance, but another disease vector.

Who Regulates?

Do you and your neighbors want to be the chicken police? Arlington Egg Project advocates claim that many of these sustainability and health issues are a matter of proper hygiene. But that suggestion, along with the very possibility of proliferating backyard hens, necessitates new forms of regulation and enforcement. Consider these as-yet unanswered questions:

  • How many hens would be allowed? Who would be in charge of counting them? Would there be a "Chicken Census"?
  • Would we need licenses? How much would it cost to get a license? Would there be special exception permits?
  • What stops people from raising poultry for slaughter?
  • What if neighbors don't properly clean up after themselves?
  • Who enforces? How many staff will be needed for enforcement? How much will such enforcement cost?
  • Will violators see criminal or civil charges?
  • What happens when owners realize egg production falls off as the chicken ages? What do we do with those hens?
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