What is the difference between the draft of the Denver livestock ordinance (oops, I mean the “food producing animals ordinance”) and the Portland, Maine ordinance, or the very similar Fort Collins ordinance? Let’s ignore the provision for goats, for the moment, and just look at chickens.The key difference is that the draft Denver ordinance allows the chickens to be slaughtered.
To be clear, all three ordinances prohibit onsite slaughter. However, Portland (Maine) and Fort Collins prohibit slaughter altogether. The Portland ordinance makes this very specific: “Chickens shall be kept as pets and for personal use only . . . The slaughtering of chickens is prohibited.” The Fort Collins ordinance has a similar provision. In other words, the Denver ordinance allows the owner to take the chickens out of the county, or to a processing plant, and have them slaughtered. (Where I live, “out of the county” is two blocks away.)
Does this matter? Obviously it matters. It’s the difference between chickens treated as pets and chickens treated as livestock. Do people want to allow chickens to be raised for slaughter next door? What kind of neighborhood does this imply? This is a completely different land use than either the Portland or the Fort Collins ordinances envision.
1. I don’t want animals raised for slaughter next door, and probably even most chicken enthusiasts (who regard chickens as beloved pets) would be turned off by the idea. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to see the problem here. I own a car and I need my car serviced, but that doesn’t mean that I want a car repair shop next door. Those who eat meat don’t necessarily want to live next door to a mini-barnyard.
2. A pet is going to be better treated than a livestock animal. This is common sense; look at the condition of most dogs and cats, compared to the condition of most livestock animals. Better treatment of chickens means a lessening of health and humane problems, as well as lessening predator problems, simply because pet owners are as a rule going to be more careful about these things. “Pet” status would not guarantee that the chicken will be well treated, and livestock owners sometimes treat their animals quite well; but in general, it’s better to be a pet than to be livestock.
3. The vast majority of chicken enthusiasts would consider their chickens to be pets anyway. Most people, that is, would be perfectly happy with the Portland-type wording that makes chickens pets and prohibits slaughter outright. This wording only benefits a small minority of people who would raise animals for slaughter in their back yards.
4. Allowing slaughter at all makes it much more difficult to enforce the prohibition on onsite slaughter. Under the Portland ordinance, if my neighbor gets 8 chicks, watches them grow into adults, and then suddenly they all disappear, this obviously creates a suspicious situation. (Especially if this is followed by the arrival of 8 new chicks.) It would probably not be possible to prove “beyond reasonable doubt,” but it would be an administrative matter to take away this person’s license. (I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know precisely what the remedy would be for a citizen complaining about chickens being slaughtered in Portland, so this may not be strictly correct; I’m just reading the ordinance and applying common sense.)
Under the draft Denver ordinance, though, such a situation would not even create suspicion. The proposed draft would make it completely legal for the hens to disappear and turn up on someone’s dinner table. Given this, it would be a fairly simple matter to bring the chickens inside and slaughter them there — and it would save the money of taking them out of county, too.
The draft Denver ordinance makes it easier to slaughter animals onsite and get away with it. Under the Portland ordinance, people could still probably figure a way to slaughter their chickens onsite and get away with it, but it would be quite a bit more difficult. Moreover, most chicken owners are going to behave like adults, obey the law, and treat their chickens well.
This also makes clear why we should simply eliminate the provision for goats altogether. Unlike hens laying eggs, you can’t get milk from goats unless you get the goats pregnant. This means that if you prohibit the slaughter of goats, by definition you have a goat overpopulation problem. Half of the baby goats will be males (prohibited by the ordinance when older than six months), and even the females will likely multiply to the point where supply will exceed demand.
If we are going to have a backyard chicken ordinance, let’s do it right the first time rather than creating a bone of contention for neighbors to fight over and city council to wrangle over. Let’s insist that backyard chickens, and indeed all backyard animals, be well treated — and that means that they be given the status of pets and prohibit their slaughter. This is what most chicken enthusiasts want anyway. Let’s follow the example of Portland, Maine and Fort Collins, Colorado and create an ordinance that balances the desires of responsible chicken enthusiasts with animal welfare and the need to keep an orderly neighborhood.
UPDATE March 24, 2011: the reference to Portland, Oregon was changed to Portland, Maine!