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Placer County gets cracking on new chicken-raising rules for homeowners

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A new urban chicken movement is all about the eggs. But Placer County is embarking on an effort to put revised chicken-raising rules in place that are more about dogs, fee structures, coops, raccoons, animal-rights activists, neighbors and coyotes. The county’s planning division is moving ahead with changes in zoning rules to allow up to three chickens on residential properties in unincorporated areas like North Auburn or Newcastle. Auburn has its own zoning regulations that allow homeowners with less than an acre to have up to five chickens within city limits after being issued a permit. In both instances, roosters are banned. Paul Thompson, the county’s top planner, is projecting the zoning ordinance modification will be ready for Planning Commission’s consideration in the spring. From there, the next step would be a hearing before the Board of Supervisors. Thompson reported that the zoning changes reflect local and national trends, a phenomenon that Auburn’s Echo Valley Ranch farm supply store has seen over the past year or so. “With the economy going down, people are moving toward being more self-sufficient,” Echo Valley owner Greg Kimler said Thursday. “People are putting in gardens and they’re buying chickens and baby chicks.” They’re also buying feed, with Echo Valley experiencing a sizeable spike in sales of organic chicken feed, Kimler noted. Egg lovers can now spend as little as 97 cents a dozen these days for store-bought eggs. Or they can invest in poultry, feed, coops and other necessities. From there, they’ll have to deal with all matter of critters trying to get at their chickens. Kimler said the threat comes from on high – from hawks – and from on the ground – where raccoons, foxes, bobcats and skunks are bound to make a try for fresh poultry and protein-rich egg yolks. Aside from the wild animals attempting to get at the birds, the Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills is speaking out about the potential impact on the domestic dog population from the growth in licensed chicken-raising residential properties. Rosemary Frieborn, a Human Society officer, said shooting of any animal is allowed under state law if it comes onto someone’s property to harass or worry their livestock. Dogs have a natural instinct to chase chickens, Frieborn noted. It could also mean a jump in county animal control division work at a time when financial cutbacks are making it difficult to handle all calls efficiently, she said. “It’s going to put neighbor against neighbor,” Frieborn said. Frieborn and her group are calling on the planning division to look more widely at impacts related to zoning changes that would allow the chickens in residential areas. Frieborn said her group is continuing to monitor the zoning amendment’s progress to ensure the welfare of chickens, particularly in regard to caging conditions, is also being taken into consideration. The Humane Society wants an examination of possible coop regulation to protect chickens from both air and ground attacks. Frieborn said concerns also lie with the trendiness of the urban chicken movement and what happens to the birds when people find out the costs and time involved. The initial planning proposal also included the possibility of a $55 permit fee. Thompson stated that Agricultural Commissioner Christine Turner has objected to any discretionary action that would mean permits being required. For an increasing number of people, the possibility of farm-fresh eggs is an irresistible lure into the world of poultry management. Kimler, who grew up on a ranch around 200 hens, said raising chickens can become a fun and educational part of a family’s lifestyle. The bonus is the eggs. Organic eggs sometimes fetch $6 a dozen. As well as the savings, farm-fresh eggs just seem to be a better product, he said. “The yolks are orange instead of the yellow you see in store-bought and the whites are more consistent, not runny,” Kimler said.