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Rules and Regulations Governing Food Producing Animals

August 11, 2011

The ordinance on "food producing animals" (chickens, ducks, and goats) in Denver was passed last June.  What follows below is the statement I submitted to the Board of Environmental Health on the proposed rules and regulations.  You can read the proposed rules here (PDF).

At this hearing, Holly Tarry of the Humane Society of the United States spoke in favor of the proposed rules, even though the standards do not meet the HSUS' own criteria on their web site, nor the standards which HSUS has endorsed for backyard chickens.

I will let the HSUS explain how they can defend standards which allow chickens to be overcrowded, kept in wire cages, deprived of food and water, deprived of veterinary care, kept without roosts, and kept without nest boxes.  At the hearing, Holly said that she "did not want to back Animal Control into the corner" by legislating humane standards, but just recommend humane standards.  My response was, "I don't want to back the chickens into the corner, and the neighbors into the corner," with bad standards.  "If you give us some decent standards, we'll back up Animal Control."  I went on to give an outline of the points which are contained in my written statement below.

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Statement on the Proposed Rules and Regulations Governing Food Producing Animals

To the Board of Environment Health, Denver, Colorado, August 11, 2011

Keith Akers

I am opposed to the proposed rules and regulations. These rules and regulations have been badly done from beginning to end. I urge rejection of these proposals until substantial changes are made.

These rules should state the obvious, and should err in the direction of animal welfare and the well-being of the neighbors in the case of conflicting evidence. These rules fail these and many other tests. Here are a few of the problems. Even one of them would constitute sufficient reason to reject the proposals; considered together, they constitute an overwhelming case for rejection.

1. The distinction between the daytime shelter and the nighttime shelter is specious. Chickens are native to the tropics, and they will need protection from the cold. The nighttime shelter has four walls, and protects at least against wind and precipitation. The daytime shelter may consist of just three walls and there is no reference to protection against predators. Three walls, no matter how thickly constructed, are not going to protect against the cold in the winter. Three walls cannot protect against the wind. In the winter, therefore, the nighttime shelter with four walls will become the daytime shelter as well.

2. The section on "overcrowding" will not prevent overcrowding. Most of the veterinary problems we will likely see with chickens will be due to overcrowding. This section has been written in a way that guarantees that it will be impossible to enforce. It states that overcrowded animals will show symptoms, and that in the absence of symptoms, Animal Control may assume that the shelter is adequate. This requires a veterinary judgment and in some cases close examination of the chickens. Can you spot mites on a chicken from a distance of 20 feet?

There needs to be an objective standard of 4 square feet per bird. This is something which requires nothing more than a count of the number of chickens and a measuring tape to enforce. Several studies of overcrowding and chicken behavior have been done. Bradshaw and Bubier found that birds preferred a space equal to a square about 3 feet, 10 inches on a side for wing-flapping. They concluded, "Hens have a perception of the space required to wing-flap that is larger than the length of the outstretched wings". (Bradshaw, R. H. and Bubier, N. E.: "The effect of spatial restriction on the duration and frequency of wing flapping behaviour in the laying hen." Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 28: 298, 1990.)

3. There is no reference to the need for food and water. Industrial agriculture, sometimes even organic agriculture, may utilize the process of "forced molting," in which chickens are deliberately starved in order to improve their egg productivity. In the context of backyard chickens, forced molting would be really silly, but if you don’t make it illegal, the odds are that someone will try it. There is also the likelihood that callous or ignorant owners will simply not feed their chickens in a timely manner. Will the city permit this sort of cruelty?

4. There is no reference to insulation for the chickens. Chickens are native to the tropics, and not to Denver, and they will need protection against the cold in Denver’s often brutal winters. This requirement is actually in the ordinance itself, which states that animals must be protected from the elements, which presumably includes temperature extremes. However, this should be repeated in the proposed rules. The only requirement in the proposed rules is that protection is required against "precipitation and wind."

5. Likewise, there is no reference to windows or ventilation; no reference to roosts, or nest boxes; and no reference to the need for sanitation. Perhaps these are considered so obvious as to be unnecessary, or to be part of the general restrictions on cruelty to animals. They need to be included in the rules anyway. We need to assume that we are dealing with people who are utterly unfamiliar with the basics of caring for chickens, ducks, and goats.

6. Some people will interpret Section 1.2.2 to mean that the birds can live on a wire floor. This would be a disaster. There will be broken toes and legs and bumble foot and cage fatigue. This section allows the flooring to be "securely attached hardware cloth or chicken wire, which forms a barrier to prevent predators from digging into the enclosure." It should say that the wire floor must have deep bedding 4-6 inches minimum over the wire.

7. Dwarf goats need predator protection. Section 1.3.2 states that goat owners may want to make their goat shelters predator proof in some parts of Denver that have problems with large mammals, but since not every area of Denver falls in this category, it is left simply as a "best practice" rather than a requirement. Dogs are large mammals and are endemic to every neighborhood in Denver. One web site on goats states: "Dogs are the worst predators of goats, attacking and killing more often than any wild animal and doing it for fun rather than because they’re hungry."

8. Chickens, ducks, and dwarf goats require adequate veterinary care. In the commercial livestock industry, it is very common for elementary veterinary care to be denied to livestock just because it is expensive. The animals are left to survive or die on their own. Denver can do better than this.

In summary, these rules and regulations constitute a license for cruelty in Denver. Dogs and cats are considered pets; chickens, ducks, and goats are not. Common sense and legal protections which public opinion and public policy would extend to pets will not extend to chickens, ducks, and goats unless we make it explicit.

It is arrogant to assume that animals are there just for us to exploit, and it is bad policy as well. In and of themselves, these rules will permit chickens being overcrowded, kept in wire cages, exposed to bitter cold temperatures, deprived of food and water, deprived of veterinary care, exposed to predators, in shelter without windows or ventilation, without roosts, without nest boxes, and in unsanitary conditions. We need to spell out not only what is obvious but also what is actually already in the original ordinance.

I urge rejection of these proposals until substantial changes are made.

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NOTE: the Board voted to postpone a decision until next month, so at least we've managed to create a bit of doubt in their mind about these standards.