When Suburban and Farm Life Collide


My city recently changed our Land Use Ordinance to remove some ambiguity concerning whether or not residents zones R1 or R2 can have chickens. I’ve written somewhat concerning Syracuse City’s Municipal Title X – Land Use, so I won’t go into that here.

First, a video to show you how natural and “at home” chickens and rabbits are on a quarter-acre suburban lot. This is my backyard with my chooks and a rabbit.

What I wanted to talk about was the inevitabilities of stereotypical suburbia and a “suburban farm” colliding. To illustrate I have two examples.

First Collision

Not long ago one of my black hens got over the back fence. My neighbors have a couple small “yippey” dogs that got into her. Another neighbor intervened and tried to call us. When they got our machine we suspect they called animal control (not wanting to have a bleeding, half-dead chicken in their yard).

Animal control called me on my mobile phone (my wife and I were on a date). She (the animal control officer) gave us the rundown and asked if we knew that we weren’t zoned for chickens.

“Yes, we are,” I replied.

“Yes, you know you’re not zoned for chickens?” she attempted to clarify.

“No,” I responded, “Syracuse City Municipal Title X clearly allows for up to six hens on residential lots. The City Council just passed the ordinance about two weeks ago.”

“Do you have any of that in writing?”

Wondering why I needed to have a copy of our city’s municipal code on hand I replied “It’s city code, I’m sure it can be found on their website or by calling the City Ordinance Department.”

“You said it passed two weeks ago? We wouldn’t know about it by now.”

Great, accuse someone of breaking the law, then make them feel like an idiot by asking them to provide it “in writing.”

She said she’d put the chicken back in the coop and that we’d want to doctor her up when we got home, but that we wouldn’t be fined. “There is a $120 ‘Domestic Foul at Large’ fine that I could write you for,” (I almost asked her if she “had that in writing”) “but since your bird was the one that got attacked I won’t fine you." I am fining the dogs’ owners for failing to keep them on a lease or in a fenced yard.”

So we got home later that night and cleaned out her wounds with iodine. She lost all her tail feathers in the match, and dropped an egg, and have several tears in her skin, but after keeping her separated from the others and cleaning her wounds each night, she made a full recovery. I re-introduced her to her sisters five days after the incident and didn’t have any pecking or re-integration problems.

Second Collision

Last night we were out of town for the evening. We got back to the house around 7pm and got the kids off to bed around 8:30. Our neighbors came knocking not long after, “Hey, we have a problem.”

It turns out that one of their two dogs (a white and black husky) had somehow gotten into our yard and had culled our entire flock and one of our rabbits (we haven’t seen the female rabbit for the last week or so and think she may be in a burrow with babies).

Our neighbors were heart-broken and worried about what our reaction would be.

I assured them that it wasn’t a problem, and asked for his help determining how she got into our yard so we could prevent it from happening next time, which he agreed to.

They were still hesitant to accept our assurance that “everything is okay” but I assured them, we knew the risks putting chickens and rabbits in our yard surrounded with neighbors who have dogs before we got started. We knew the risks by letting them “free roam” the yard.

I had been lax installing a lighting system into the coop, which (due to the shorter days) caused them to stop laying eggs. I purchased a solar yard light setup and installed it loosely in the chicken coop and started to get a couple eggs (one or two a day) within a couple weeks. But it wasn’t the 4-5 eggs/day that we were used to, and given the colder weather it wasn’t likely they’d start laying in earnest again until next spring.

So now I don’t have to feed my chickens all winter, and trudge through the snow to check for eggs, nor worry about if I got the coop tight enough to keep out the winter winds.

The children took the news surprisingly well. They’re sad that they won’t have the chickens or rabbit around to watch during the winter, but are (so far) satisfied to know that we’ll be getting new hens come spring time. I’ll detail my adventures then. 🙂

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