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Hens in the Backyard – What Do You Think?

Recently I came across a resolution by our neighboring City Mount Ranier urging the Prince George’s County District Council to amend the County Code to permit the keeping of backyard hens on residentially-zoned lots.

Currently, the Prince George’s County Zoning Code currently prohibits residents from keeping hens on residentially-zoned lots.

Hens provide numerous benefits to their owners and communities, including personal enjoyment, nutritious eggs, insect control, soil enrichment, food waste disposal, and agricultural education; and,

Many jurisdictions across the country already allow backyard hens, including Baltimore, Annapolis, Gaithersburg, and Howard County; Petersburg, Danville, Norfolk, Charlottesville, Herndon, Warrenton, Roanoke, and Lynchburg (Virginia); Memphis; Atlanta; Augusta (Georgia); Baton Rouge; Cleveland; Newark (New Jersey); Rochester (New York); Oakland (California); New Haven (Connecticut); Seattle; Portland (Oregon); St. Louis; Chicago; and New York City, among many other cities.

Studies have shown that such cities have seen few, if any, new animal control, public health, or property value problems related to backyard hens since adopting them into their communities.

Mount Ranier’s resolution highlight’s the following points:

In September 2012, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (“MNCPPC”) released a report entitled “Urban Agriculture: A Tool for Creating Economic Development and Healthy Communities in Prince George’s County, MD,” in which MNCPPC called for the amendment of the County Zoning Code to permit backyard hens to be kept on residential lots smaller than half an acre.

Any nuisance concerns would be mitigated if the County were to prohibit roosters, which are not quiet like hens and not necessary for hens’ egg-laying or welfare, and if the County were to authorize the keeping of hens in residentially-zoned lots in conjunction with reasonable sanitation, shelter, and setback requirements, as recommended in the above-referenced MNCPPC report, provided that such guidelines and setbacks do not have the effect of proscribing residents’ ability to keep hens on small- sized residential lots.

Legalization of backyard hens would allow for greater control of sanitary conditions and potential nuisances than may be the case for hens currently kept illegally, including, in particular, the registration of such hens with the Maryland Department of Agriculture for public health purposes without fear of retaliation.

Legalization of backyard hens would allow Animal Control resources to be focused on instances of truly inhumane, unsanitary, or nuisance conditions, rather than on instances involving animals that may pose no real problem, as is the case for dogs, cats, and other pets currently allowed in residential zones.

Please let me know if College Park should take a similar resolution asking the County to change its position on hens in the backyard.

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4 Comments to “Hens in the Backyard – What Do You Think?”

  1. By PJ Brennan, June 6, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    I fully support backyard hens. We are a smart and progressive community that should embrace the opportunities presented by suburban agriculture

    I also would love to see some hens eating come Asian TIger Mosquitos in my backyard!!!

  2. By Bill Hohenshilt, June 10, 2013 @ 9:08 am

    I beleave we should have hens but of course no roosters that being said you should have to be trained to be able to have them, also a annual permit with inspection by anamal control.
    the other concern would be how they would get along with tree rats and other wildlife and the spread of virises (IE Bird flu)

  3. By anon, June 11, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    In principle, I’m not against this type of ordinance. But, I’m concerned that if we do allow hens in the backyard (or something like it), it will be just become another thing that the city does a poor job of enforcing. From drainage pipes that dump directly into sidewalks, empty houses with broken windows, unkempt lawns, trash everywhere, people playing loud music, cars speeding through residential neighborhoods. I would prefer we start doing these things well before adding yet another thing to enforce to our community and subsequently failing to enforce or monitor it adequately.

  4. By CMHsll, July 1, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

    I agree with Anon.