Salem to Decide Fate of City Chickens

One of dozens of hens at issue in Salem

Reporter: David Tate

Salem, VA - Having chickens in the backyard is nothing new for many of you, unless you live in the city, where there might be some restrictions.

In the city of Salem though, many are "crying foul" over the clarity on restrictions there or really lack thereof.

The problem is that having hens in Salem is allowed by city code, but is restricted through the zoning code, which is forcing city officials to come up with a consistent solution that has been ruffling feathers for almost three years.

For the past year, Maggie Newman has been successful in getting her chickens to stimulate much needed grass growth in her backyard and that's not all.

"It's been a very educational experience for the children. Fresh eggs are nice every day. I mean it's really been a win-win situation," said Newman.

But because of complaints over the past few years, most of Salem's dozen or so chicken flocks may be heading to the proverbial chopping block.

"The problem is you can only have them in an area that is zoned agricultural and most of the chickens right now are in residential areas," said Mike Stevens, Salem's Public Information Officer.

Newman says she's on a petition with more than 350 other Salem residents asking officials to consider their position, and numbers, when making the changes.

"People who don't have hens are speaking out saying, 'It's a property rights issue and to leave us alone and let us do what we want as long as we're not bothering anyone. There's a little bit of clucking but it's no more than the crows that land in my yard... they're a lot worse. It's no worse than a barking dog. No worse than a cat fight that you hear at night."

And to clarify, roosters are not allowed at all. The issue is with egg-laying hens in a time when organic is a common word, and people are looking for ways to take more control over their lives.

"One way or another the zoning code has to be brought into step with the city.", said Stevens. "And make sure you can handle it enforcement-wise, animal control-wise and also so the residents and the citizens have a clear understanding of this."

City officials are at the Salem Civic Center Thursday night and next Tuesday (March 8) from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. to they take ideas and suggestions regarding any issues in Salem, including chickens.