A Chicken in Every Pot?

A recent discussion of an ordinance on our city’s books regarding raising animals for food (and the banning thereof) sparked some debate on an animal husbandry list that I read… and I agree, it’s ridiculous, but can also on some level understand the sorts of situations it was written to protect against. That ordinance also bans keeping pigeons, I believe, which apparently has succeeded in eradicating the pigeon problem in the city *snark*. I would love to learn to keep and process a few meat birds and rabbits for our table, and to be free to write about and teach those experiences, but unfortunately, as it stands, if you want to do that, and to keep doing that, you can’t really talk about it lest some busybody with a bee in their bonnet rat you out, then you’re dealing with fines and the potential loss of your animals. Pretty lousy. So much for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”… but can understand to some degree the spirit of a law that was certainly written to protect close neighbors from having to live next door to a pigsty.

7-12-300 Ban of unlicensed possession of animals for slaughter.

No person shall own, keep or otherwise possess, or slaughter any sheep, goat, pig, cow or the young of such species, poultry, rabbit, dog, cat, or any other animal, intending to use such animal for food purposes.

This section is applicable to any cult that kills (sacrifices) animals for any type of ritual, regardless of whether or not the flesh or blood of the animal is to be consumed; except that Kosher slaughtering is exempted from this ordinance.

Nothing in this ordinance is to be interpreted as prohibiting any licensed establishment from slaughtering for food purposes any animals which are specifically raised for food purposes.

Agents of the Chicago commission on animal care and control, police
officers and humane investigators of any agency licensed by the City of Chicago and/or the Illinois Department of Agriculture for the prevention of cruelty to animals shall have the authority to confiscate any and all animals kept in violation of this ordinance. Enforcement personnel shall have the authority to enter any business premises during normal business hours where an animal or animals described in this ordinance are being housed or kept, but shall only enter domiciles or businesses during nonbusiness hours after obtaining a proper search warrant or permission to enter from the occupant or owner of such premises.

Any person found to have been in violation of this section shall be fined not less than $50.00 nor more than $1,000.00 for each offense. When a person keeps, owns or slaughters more than one animal in violation of this ordinance, the unlawful keeping, owning or slaughtering of each animal will be considered a separate offense for the purposes of this ordinance.

While I can conceive of the situations where this ordinance makes sense (no one wants to live next door to 150 chickens in a garage, or 4 pigs under a porch… both of which were true tales relayed by elderly neighbors to one city chickenkeeper), I still would like it overturned, but agree that trying to do so would make an issue out of what is still a non-issue here- micro-scale backyard food production. It is getting to be a pretty big deal in other cities though, especially Oakland, with strong opinions on both sides, including one noted vegan author who has taken the absurd position that it is better to factory farm animals than to allow people to humanely raise a few in their city yards, which I can’t wrap my mind around- how can someone who supposedly cares about animal welfare take the stance that the profound and prolonged suffering inflicted by a CAFO and industrial slaughterhouse is preferable to a comfortable existence followed by an unexpected and hopefully quick end? His argument is that people who can care for an animal and then kill it must be unbelievably callous and unfeeling, and that the practice cultivates an attitude of cruelty… that “Inexpertly killed animals suffer immensely. Better to keep this ugly process confined to slaughterhouses kept at a “graceful distance.” I sincerely hope that this douche has never been inside a commercial poultry operation or slaughterhouse- I have, and it’s neither graceful, nor to my rural upbringing, distant. And every day I am thankful that our city allows me to keep a few hens to provide us with eggs I can eat and not wonder if those birds were treated as well as ours… what worries me more than this guy’s article are the scores of people who take him seriously. He writes off the whole urban ag movement as an elitist fad that will eventually overburden animals shelters after their owners tire of their pets, or livestock. The article is here if you want to read it and get your hackles up as well: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/09/the-locavore-movements-mistake-deregulating-animal-slaughter/244897/

And here is a very reasonable response piece to all this brew-ha-ha: http://motherjones.com/environment/2012/02/urban-farming-slaughter-hobbyists

I’m not sure that taking birds to a “live poultry processor” is the best solution from a food safety standpoint (I’m talking *real* food safety here, not the false security of “usda-inspected” which does not actually guarantee that the meat won’t make you sick… degree of marbling and number of bathrooms in the processing facility, yes… “bad” bacteria counts and actual wholesomeness, not so much): the other birds in these operations are coming from conventional poultry farms, and most that I’ve seen look sick, half-dead, or stressed at best. I don’t think I’d want my clean and healthy birds exposed to that, and all the latent (and antibiotic-resistant) bacteria that are likely present… but I’m glad it’s an option, for those who don’t know how to do it properly, don’t want to learn, or are otherwise squeamish. And fortunately or unfortunately, I had to drop my Poultry Science elective in high school (where I would have learned from Mr. Mason, a retired Tyson fieldman, his technique for quickly and humanely dispatching a bird for examination) because of a scheduling conflict with Advanced English. Yes, I went to a fantastic public high school- where else can you take auto shop (I did not), AP American and European History, Literature and Language, etc (I did) and Equine Science (can’t believe I got credit for memorizing horse breeds, I’d been doing that since 5th grade for fun) and yes, Beef Science. I hear from folks I know of who’ve done it that YouTube is an amazingly helpful resource… and as long as you’re considerate of your neighbors, and either keep them blissfully ignorant of what’s going on, or are sure that they’d support or at least not care about what you’re doing, you probably won’t have a problem.

I am bugged by the ordinance in principle, but then, those who know me know that that’s probably not very surprising (me? cranky? no, never!). I’m also bugged by many parts of our new urban ag zoning ordinance, specifically the part that bans “commercial farming” in a residential neighborhood- if I want to grow extra vegetables, or even some fish or whatever, especially in the food desert where I live, and sell them, it’s beyond absurd for our city to say that’s not a “permitted use”- somehow I don’t think that laws or ordinances are stopping the guys on our corners from selling whatever they’re selling and it’s not vegetables- and I do understand that it’s much easier to ban something outright than to try to define what’s acceptable on some sort of finite spectrum. I know (albeit through hearsay) that at least one “higher up” in our zoning dept. returned from a trip to Growing Power in Wisconsin and was appalled at what he saw… dear lord, there were goats and chickens and compost and it was terrible… you can’t please everyone. The best we can do is try not to ruffle any feathers- use best practices, keep your head down, and carry on.

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