Man asks council to reconsider chicken ordinance

Published 7:00 am Thursday, June 11, 2020

VALLEY — The Valley City Council is considering revising an existing ordinance to permit residents to have small flocks of chickens in their backyards. The issue is being considered following a request made Monday night by Justin Broyles, who told the council that having backyard chickens is a growing thing and is being allowed by cities larger than Valley.

“There is a precedent in surrounding areas including Chambers, Lee and Troup counties,” he said. “There is a precedent in the city itself, with a proposal brought before the council in 2017, a meeting the majority of you presided over. Although the proposal at that time did not gain much traction, the world is a very different place now, and I implore all members of the council to hear my argument and reconsider their opinion.”

Broyles told the council he had grown up near Atlanta but despite being close to a big city loved the country life.

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“I have yearned all my life for the outdoors,” he said, “time in the woods behind my house, fishing in the pond next door and chasing the chickens in my neighbor’s yard after getting home from school were my favorite pastimes. As soon as I had the opportunity, I got my own birds. I spent more time than I care to admit building pens, touring the state for rare breeds and discussing my flock with customers at my first job at a feed store.”

After high school graduation, Broyles moved in with his grandfather, who lived just outside LaFayette. His flock of chickens continued to expand, and he started selling eggs to keep up with the feed bill.

“In the process of keeping birds I have partnered with small business, met people, heard their stories and found a sort of therapy in taking care of my girls,” Broyles said.

Broyles said those who have chickens (and not roosters) see their girls as much of the family as cats and dogs.

Raising chickens is a family thing. Fathers can teach their children chores such as washing and packing eggs, something that can be as essential as mowing the yard. Broyles said he knew a woman from Sunday school who couldn’t eat store-bought eggs but loved the dozen eggs she got from him on Sundays.

“Valley began as an agricultural town,” he said, “and that part of its soul has never left.”

Broyles said that having backyard chickens is not new.

“It has been on the rise for decades, starting with World War II, when the federal government encouraged maintaining a flock to help with the war effort,” he said, adding that millions of dollars are being spent on maintaining flocks today “including chicks, hatching eggs, coops, feed and other supplies.”

He said that it’s a very active process in the region but that Valley is excluded because of its present ordinance.

Broyles said that LaGrange does not have an ordinance on backyard chickens and that Opelika and Auburn have limits on the size of flocks, prohibit roosters and have regulations on the size of the birds’ enclosures.

Broyles made the argument that COVID-19 should motivate people into being more self-sufficient. Maintaining a small flock of chickens could be an example of that.

“In the early days of uncertainty, empty grocery store shelves and a fear to even leave our homes will linger in our minds for years to come,” he said. “It’s my personal hope that more people will get into backyard chickens. I’m sure they will enjoy eggs that are infinitely better than anything you can find in a grocery store. Children will grow up remembering these days. I hope that many of them will turn to 4-H, FFA and other programs and see the benefit of raising their own flock and reaping the benefit of their hard work. The Extension system has expressed support for my proposal and would love to have the children of Valley involved in their annual chicken projects.”

Broyles said he was no stranger to complaints about chickens but felt that most concerns about them were unfounded. In terms of the noise they make, he said that it’s nothing compared to dogs.

“A properly cleaned coop will have very little odor at all outside the immediate vicinity,” he said. “The proper use of pine or cedar bedding will completely inhibit any odors left over. Pursuant to the proposal brought before the council in 2017, I would hope animal control and code enforcement can provide guidance on expectations for cleanliness as well as security.”

The costs of doing this, said Broyles, could be covered by a nominal licensing fee to have a small flock in the city. He suggested a limit of four hens per flock.

Broyles said there should be a straightforward path to a middle ground where citizens in the city could have the freedom to keep chickens without being a nuisance to neighbors and imposing an undue burden to taxpayers.

“I implore the council to consider my proposal,” he said. “I’m sure the city would benefit in so many ways, expected and otherwise. I believe in Valley and love it.”

Broyles told the council that he lives on 18th Avenue not far from EAMC-Lanier Hospital.

Council Member Jim Jones said that the proposal sounded good to him. He said he could remember a neighbor of his having chickens when Valley was incorporated as a city and that people in the neighborhood were okay with it. “Thank you for coming forward,” he told Broyles. “I think this is something we should consider.”

Jones asked Broyles what restrictions he’d recommend. He again brought up the four-bird limit with a coop no bigger than 15 square feet and that it had to be at least 50 feet from a property line.

Mayor Leonard Riley asked Broyles if he had a sample ordinance the city could study.  Jim Jones said he’d like to see a copy of Auburn’s ordinance.

City Attorney John Ben Jones said he’d follow up on that.