Kevin Mercer talks about the family's pet chickens that live in the backyard of their home in Catonsville. Mercer applied for a variance to keep his hens on a less than one acre property. (Jen Rynda/Baltimore Sun Video)

On April 8, 2013, Kevin Mercer was issued a citation from Baltimore County for illegally housing two chickens in the backyard of his Catonsville home.

On Aug. 22, he was granted a variance from the county, giving him permission to keep them.

"[Almost] Six months of not knowing whether you're going to be able to keep your pets," Mercer said.

The county's action means he can keep Lotti, a barred Plymouth Rock chicken; and Harriet, an Easter egg chicken.

The Baltimore County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the county planning board to reconsider the current laws requiring residents to own at least one acre of land in order to own chickens as pets.

The request comes as a result of a council resolution requesting a review of zoning regulations on chickens.

That's good news for Halethorpe resident Alana Riches.

She said she has always wanted to own chickens, and when she lived in Baltimore City, even went through the process of obtaining the proper permits to do so.

Once she moved into her townhouse in Huntsmoor, she learned she was not allowed to pursue her dream of having a backyard flock of heirloom breed chickens.

According to county law, an individual must own at least an acre of land in order to house backyard chickens.

On Aug. 5, 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk co-sponsored a resolution asking the county to revisit that law.

"We've had numerous phone calls and emails from the constituents looking at the whole natural egg ... trend that's happening out there," said Quirk, whose district includes Catonsville and Halethorpe.

"It's just something that I think is definitely worthy of study," he said.

The council hosted a work session Aug. 27 in Towson on the issue, during which both Mercer and Riches spoke in favor of changing existing laws.

Mercer said the current law is unfair and that most of the common complaints about chickens are false.

"They think they smell," Mercer said of chickens. "If you have a house where you have 15 dogs in a small yard, it's going to stink.

"Their manure goes away very fast," he said, adding that the waste can be composted, unlike that of other family pets.

He said the perception that chickens are loud and attract rodents are also myths and spoke highly of his birds and the joy they have brought to his family.

Mercer said his daughter and son enjoy the birds' presence as pets, and he and his wife enjoy about a dozen fresh eggs during laying season — usually from about March to November.

"We haven't bought eggs in a store since 2010 [when we got the chickens]," said Mercer, who ordered his chickens online.