The main issue which both sides on the debate over the proposed Denver Food Producing Animals ordinance underestimate is the welfare issue. Simply put, how do we protect backyard chickens, ducks, and goats?
If you live in Denver, please come to the City Council meeting this coming Monday (June 13) to speak out for more protection for backyard livestock. The City Council meeting will be held at 5:30 p. m. on June 13, fourth floor of the City and County Building. Or write to your City Council representative, but do it NOW (the vote is less than a week away). You can find your City Council representative by going to Denvergov.org, scrolling down to the “Neighborhood maps” on the bottom right, and entering your address. The resulting report will tell you what district you are in (and a bunch of other things also).
Why should we care about backyard chickens, ducks, and goats? It’s true that conditions for livestock will usually (but not always!) be better in backyards than on factory farms. But such animals still need protection, and the inevitable cruelties that will result will be just as real, and much more visible. Since it will happen right in people’s backyards, we will be teaching our neighbors and children that cruelty to animals is acceptable.
Specifically, I would urge the following steps to modify the current proposal:
1. Allow keeping of chickens and ducks as pets only (as is done in other cities such as Chicago and Portland, Maine).
2. Mandate minimum standards for coop space for chickens and ducks of at least 4 square feet per animal. The current draft has NO minimum space requirement for coops at all, and one prominent Denver advocate of backyard chickens has suggested a standard of 1 square foot per animal (essentially a backyard factory farm)!
3. There is no reasonable way that goats can be humanely kept in the city; urge that goats be eliminated from the ordinance.
Many inexperienced backyard livestock owners get into this with the deluded notion that they are going to get better animal produce at a reasonable price. This just isn’t going to be possible once you add the cost of an adequate coop or shelter, vet bills, feed, and so forth. They will face a dilemma when any one of these things happens:
(a) The animal gets sick. If the owner takes it to the vet (as one would do with a pet), that will greatly increase the cost for those eggs! Many owners will opt for seeing whether the animal will recover on their own, and the animal will suffer terribly or die.
(b) The owner realizes that a decent chicken coop costs a lot of money, so they try to build one “on the cheap,” don’t do a good job, and leave the animals helpless against predators. Or they build one so small (like the 1 square foot per bird advocated by Sundari Kraft!) that the conditions in the coop could be little better than a factory farm.
(c) They get a rooster from the hatchery instead of a hen (roosters would be illegal under the ordinance). Or if they get dwarf goats for milk, the mother gives birth to male goats.
Dwarf goats will suffer even more under the ordinance. One person I talked to at an eastern farm sanctuary said that she would suggest 1/4 of an acre as an adequate space for a pair of dwarf goats. Even 1/16 of an acre would be 2700 square feet. The current ordinance allows a pair of goats to be kept on 260 square feet. I just don’t think that a pair of goats will be happy with 260 square feet. And a single goat in 130 square feet will be in goat hell (goats are very social animals). It may be better than a factory farm, but not by that much.
Moreover, keeping goats for milk implies baby goats — the mother goat will not give milk unless she gets pregnant. The ordinance guarantees an automatic goat overpopulation problem. Our clueless director of Denver Animal Care and Control, Doug Kelley, stated publicly that animal sanctuaries will be happy to take on surplus animals. This shows the mentality of the City and their complete ignorance of animal issues. It is precisely the animal sanctuaries (like Chicken Run Rescue) who are most concerned about the proliferation of livestock in urban areas.
So please, if you care about animals, do one of two things. Write to your City Council person NOW (the vote is less than a week away); see sample letter below. Or better yet, come to the City Council meeting on Monday, June 13, at 5:30 p. m. It will be in the City and County Building, fourth floor. Speak out to ensure that this ordinance protects the animals.
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Dear City Council Representative,
I urge rejection of the proposed “Food Producing Animals” ordinance unless it is modified to protect the animals. Please change the proposal so that chickens and ducks are only allowed as pets and so that there is a minimum space of 4 square feet per chicken or duck in their coop, in addition to the pen space.
I do not believe that dwarf goats will be happy in the city at all. A single goat confined to 130 square feet of space will not be a happy goat. They need a lot more space and a companion goat. Goats cannot give milk unless they become pregnant, so if a lot of people start keeping goats, Denver could easily have a goat overpopulation problem.
A Concerned Animal Lover
(slightly modified June 11)