Hens in the backyard
A growing number people look to backyard chicken farming as a way to take control of part of their food production
David Gray Sr. talks about his chicken coop in the backyard of his Boonsboro home. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer)
But in the backyard of the quarter-acre lot, penned in next to a thriving garden, are three, white Leghorn hens.
Gray, who bought the house two years ago, said he became interested in raising chickens after reading a book about using backyard agriculture to become more self-sufficient.
"I started a garden, that was the first thing," he said. "And then I got some apple trees, and then the chickens."
He is one of a growing number of town- and city-dwellers who are looking to backyard chicken farming as a way to take control of part of their food production, raising a squawk from some neighbors and prompting local planning officials — including those in Boonsboro — to take another look at their regulations on backyard agriculture.
Currently, Boonsboro's zoning ordinance does not allow chickens in town — something Gray said he was unaware of when he bought his chickens six months ago.
But after Town Planner and Zoning Administrator Megan Clark heard from several residents who expressed interest in raising chickens, the town council introduced a resolution in July that would revise the ordinance to allow up to three hens per lot in rural, suburban and town residential districts.
The proposed change was the subject of a public hearing last month and is to be put to a vote Tuesday night.
Among the opponents of the chicken-raising amendment are Gray's neighbors, Pam and Roger Long.
"I'm just not used to it," Pam Long explained as they sat on their back porch, less than 100 feet from Gray's chicken coop. "I've been here 35 years and we've never had it and I'm totally against it."
She said she and her husband are "country people" who have lived with chickens in farm settings, but think they are inappropriate in a town.
The Longs said they can hear the chickens clucking and, in hot weather, can smell their waste.
Gray said if the measure passes and he is allowed to keep the chickens, he plans to move their pen farther from the property line and erect a privacy fence. If the measure fails, the Grays plan to give the chickens to a friend who has a small farm in Middletown, Md., or a cousin who keeps chickens.
They have been told they can keep the chickens until the vote, but after that, if the amendment doesn't pass, the fine will be $100 a day, David Gray Jr. said.
If the measure passes, Boonsboro would be the only town in Washington County to formally allow chickens — though not necessarily the only one to have them.
In Keedysville, the charter says no livestock is allowed in town, Mayor Matthew Hull said.
"Are there chickens in town? Why yes, there are," Hull said. "It's one of those things that is overlooked until there is a problem."
In the City of Hagerstown, chickens and other farm animals are permitted only in the Agricultural Transition zoning district, a placeholder zoning district for recently annexed properties that allows property owners to keep doing what they are doing until the property is proposed for development, Zoning Administrator Stephen Bockmiller said.
At this time, only one AT district exists in the city: on Jefferson Boulevard, he said.