Push for backyard chicken bill could face familiar resistance

Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 10:05pm
(Eric England/SouthComm)

It’s neither his choice nor his preference, but Ian Hall has to eat his eggs fresh. His expiration date is three days old. For Hall, eggs must virtually come right out of the chicken.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Madison and works at a Nashville grocery store, is allergic to bacteria found on the embryo of eggs. Cooking eggs doesn’t eliminate the issue. And the older the egg, the more potent the bacteria. Frying a store-bought egg, and eating that meal, induces severe bodily reactions: diarrhea, high temperatures and throwing up.

“It’s like food poisoning,” Hall told The City Paper. “I can’t do what a lot of people do, and go out and order breakfast.”

But there is a solution to Hall’s situation. If eggs are fresh — as in, not older than 72 hours — Hall can eat eggs scrambled, poached or any other way without fear: The bacterium isn’t fully developed.

And so the answer for Hall was pretty simple. Hall, who grew up on a farm, had been raising six hens at his Madison home as a personal source for fresh eggs. Then, in September, Metro Codes effectively cracked down on the operation. Keeping chickens isn’t permitted at any residential properties smaller than five acres, and at urban-designated residences at all. The codes department, alerted to a nearby home housing upwards of 80 chickens, sniffed out the entire neighborhood. (As it turns out, contraband chickens aren’t uncommon.) After receiving a notice, Hall sold his hens and said goodbye to eggs. 

“For me, it’s a necessity to be able to have my own chickens to be able to eat eggs,” Hall said.

Thus, in the weeks ahead, Hall will be one of many Nashvillians closely tracking a Metro Council ordinance — sponsored by an animal advocate, Inglewood-area Councilwoman Karen Bennett — that would legalize the housing of hens in urban dwellings, provided a host of sanitation, henhouse and other conditions are met. Depending on the acreage of a home, individuals could house between two and six chickens. To house domesticated hens, Davidson County residents would need to apply for an annual $25 permit with the Metro Health Department. Roosters, as well as the process of breeding chickens, would be prohibited.

“I’ve done a lot of research looking at what other sister cities have done, and what has worked for them, and what has not,” Bennett said, adding she believes her urban chicken proposal works well for Nashville. “It’s a clean, healthy way to have eggs in your diet. It’s a great food source, a renewable food source, and it’s a responsible way for residents to produce their own food.”

For the 40-member council, remarkably quiet following elections in August and September, Bennett’s backyard chicken bill could mark this council term’s first tussle. The ordinance — as is customary for all legislation — cleared the council’s first reading last week. It’s now headed to committee before undergoing greater scrutiny during the full council’s crucial second of three votes on Jan. 3 following a public hearing.

Its emergence reignites an old council debate. Just over two years ago, the council voted 20-15 to defeat a similar, but not identical, backyard chicken bill sponsored by Councilman Jason Holleman and former Councilwoman Kristine LaLonde. If the past is a sign of things to come, pro-chicken arguments — that the measure allows for a sustainable, renewable food source and fosters a more “green” lifestyle — will face some familiar counter claims: noise, potential nuisance issues, and codes enforcement. 

“Don’t think my thoughts have changed much,” said At-large Councilman Tim Garrett, who opposed the proposal in 2009. “Having chickens, which are farm animals — I’m not sure there’s any difference between an urban chicken and a rural chicken — in a home, is just difficult for district council members to control. I could just see complaints coming when you have chickens in somebody’s backyard.

“Codes won’t be able to enforce it,” he added, referring to the bill’s litany of conditions, addressing things ranging from odor to henhouse setbacks.

Councilman Bruce Stanley also voted against the 2009 backyard chicken ordinance. It appears he’ll do so this time around, too.

“Our officials need to consider that of the 95 counties in Tennessee, there’s only four that are urban,” Stanley said. “As an urban county, we have an extreme population density. A number of people who have called me have informed me that these chickens would have an adverse impact on the surrounding environment — like the dogs and cats that live within a community, and the residential community itself.”

Stanley’s argument hits on what backyard chicken advocates say is a common stereotype — the perception such laws are relegated only to the countryside. In fact, they readily point out, cities far more urbanized than Nashville have laws allowing hens at homes. According to numbers posted on the local websitegreenerlivingnashville.com, 65 cities nationwide allow backyard chickens in some form or fashion, including New York, Chicago and Seattle as well as cities more comparable to Nashville, such as Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, N.C. 

“I find it ironic that Nashville still cannot find a way to get urban chickens passed through when New York City was one of the first cities to do it,” said Hall. “You have how many more people there?”

Under Metro’s existing code, chickens are not permitted in any homes within the Urban Services District — which consists of the oldest parts of Nashville, largely the urban core — or within the suburban General Services District in lots smaller than five acres. Bennett’s bill would authorize the keeping of chicken in both districts, but on a limited basis, according to council attorney Jon Cooper, with six hens the limit in parcels greater than 10,237 feet.

The proposal comes with a litany of conditions that would require efforts from the codes department to enforce: Hens must be kept in “predator-proof” covered henhouses requiring building permits. Henhouses must be at least 10 feet from property lines and 25 from other houses. There can be “no perceptible” odor from the hens. Feed must be stored in containers with metal lids. No slaughtering of hens can take place on properties. Dead chickens would have to be removed “as quickly as possible” via the Metro Public Works Department. Finally, to ease concerns about cockfighting, the bill prohibits the training of chickens for amusement, sport or financial gain.

In fact, the proposed backyard chicken law would add some parameters to something many in Nashvillians are already doing — even though know they’re not supposed to.

“Our family has four hens,” said Inglewood resident Megan, who declined to reveal her last name, not wanting Metro officials to write her up. She said there are many more families like hers, willing to take the risk. “They’re really quiet. I don’t even know how many of my neighbors know. My next-door neighbor is thrilled we have them.

“For us they’re part of our overall garden plan, and they’re our pets, too,” Megan said. Each chicken has a name. “They’re the perfect animal for recycling biomass. When you have weeds from your garden, vegetable scraps that you would normally throw in the compost pile, you can feed leftovers to your hens. They very quickly break it down.”

Megan is part of a grassroots group, Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville, which has rallied behind Bennett’s legislative efforts. UCAN’s Facebook page has 530 “likes.” The group has a catchy slogan: “Are you chicken? Now is the time to legalize urban laying hens.”

In this ongoing council battle — as opposed to 2009 — UCAN may have numbers on their side. Of the 20 council members who voted against the 2009 urban chicken bill, only eight remain on the council. Of the 15 who voted yes, 11 remain. Bennett recently picked up a co-sponsor in newly elected East Nashville Councilman Anthony Davis.

“A lot of folks over here in East Nashville are very pro-urban chickens,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about chickens in urban areas. People will talk about smell, and this and that, and a lot about what’s wrong with it. But there’s a lot of people who feel very strongly that it’s extremely sustainable to have these very small, low-impact animals in urban areas that provide sustainable eggs.”

Some who voted against the 2009 bill aren’t necessarily against it this year. Councilman Phil Claiborne, who pushed the no button back then, said he’s “ambivalent” about the urban chicken proposal: “I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other,” he said.

Forest Hills-area Councilman Carter Todd, another no-vote in the past, said his constituents seem “50-50.” He said he’s in an “information gathering” phase, but is leaning toward voting no.

“Some people have said it’s kind of a slippery slope,” Todd said. “Where do you stop? What other kind of animals could you have? ... If people do this, and they aren’t doing it correctly, it could be really difficult to enforce.”

Then there are 17 newly elected council members, folks like Councilman Steve Glover, diving into the chicken back-and-forth for the first time. His predecessor — former councilman and current state Rep. Jim Gotto — voted against the measure. Glover hasn’t “locked into a position.” As he put it, he still doesn’t understand the “full ramifications.”

“I want to know if it’s going to put another burden on the health department and on inspectors” Glover said. “If it’s going to cost more than it generates revenue-wise then that’s going to be a major concern for me.”    

43 Comments on this post:

By: american1974 on 11/7/11 at 8:44

I'm not going to address the metro law, but this man's issue and try to educate a few folks here.
For those who don't know. An egg has 5000 pores and is layed with a natrual bloom, that protects the egg from bacteria.
Of course the FDA which protects you of course, has laws that force the washing of eggs. (Washing off the bloom and if the preassure is to much forcing bacteria into the egg), then covering the egg with a oil based product to replace the bloom.
So why does the sutpid laws exists? The reason the FDA exists is becauase of the industrial revolution where farming was taken to a unatural, unrealistic, artifical way of doing things.
If you are buying your eggs from a farmer who does not wash his eggs, you are a million times better off. Of course with the invention of machines and big industry looking to make big profits, you have mass production egg facilities, for which the FDA had to be created to control the "wrong way of doing things".
I personally am not out to STOP they way things are done today with industry. However the FDA and these laws should not apply to the small local farmer who sells direct to his clients/customers.
FDA (Industrail) laws have been forced on the small farmer and forced him out of exisistance. There is a need for a bill or law that says:
"If you go to a farm and agree with what you see and how it's run, then you should have the right to buy from the farm"
It's sad that America is the only place on earth where you don't have the right to buy anything you want from a farm. Actually it's pathetic and does not represent liberty or freedom.

By: bfra on 11/7/11 at 9:20

I agree that people should be able to buy from farmers, if that farmer meets safe regulations for selling their products. There has to be regulations to protect the health & safety of the buyers. However, for a very small portion of the public to decide they want to raise chickens, in an area where it is prohibited, the council has more important things to consider that "chickens".

If this narrow minded "new" council person, that ignores people already breaking the law in her area, wants these "few" to have "fresh" eggs, git on your pony and ride out in the Country and deliver them some . Plus, hope this is a 1 term council person!

Further, If she thinks the regulations she proposes will be followed, she is even more narrow minded than I originally thought!

By: tomba1 on 11/7/11 at 10:13

This matter has always been and continues to be totally biased and flagrantly discriminatory against a large segment of the population. The discussion centers only on hens and their right to exist and lay eggs within the city limits. But why are hens more special than roosters, ducks, geese, and all of the other barnyard animals who serve society in many valuable ways? Don't they have rights too? Where's the ACLU and why haven't they jumped in on this one on behalf of all barnyard animals?

Shame, shame.

By: bfra on 11/7/11 at 10:14

Karen Bennett need to get out of her little domain, without blinders and see how codes are not enforced now. Why does she think the codes or regulations she wants added, will be enforced? Is she also going to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for hiring more inspectors?

By: ladyday1 on 11/7/11 at 10:49

Ms. Bennett's comment that 65 CITIES NATIONWIDE allow chickens to raised in the city is hardly a sample; when we have thousands,thousands and thousands of cities in our country.

Responsible owners are what we are lacking here!! Mr. Hall and Megan?(who doesn't want to be written up per her own words) knew it was illegal to have chickens just like all the others who still have chickins today They are breaking the law should be fined. We can't pick and choose the laws we will follow and the ones we will not.
So far residents who have chickens have shown no regard for the law and their responsiblity to follow it. Why should anyone expect them to follow a new law ? Illegal means unauthorized, not permitted or allowed. Nothing could be any clearer.

The city is going deeper and deeper in debt every day with Karl Dean's pet projects especially buying everything in sight for millions of dollars. Councimen and women should concentrate on city business not on one groups pet project.

By: Stumped on 11/7/11 at 11:14

Maybe the council never should have made them illegal to begin with if "they have more important things to do". I pretty sure dogs are more of a concern than a chicken. Chickens don't bite. Also this is not "just for a few people" a lot of people would love to keep chickens.
Keeping chickens is the right thing to do. It's good for me, the environment, the chickens, ...everyone.

By: Stumped on 11/7/11 at 11:25

Also, this would be great for every hardware store in town. It would help the local economy. Anything that helps the economy is a good thing.

By: TNBear on 11/7/11 at 11:54


To start with Nashville IS NOT NewYork City & does not want to be.
Secondly, chickens are NOT pets.
Third, Codes can & does not enforce what's already on the books. Those complaining about barking & roaming dogs know this, yet they are the ones wanting chickens in their neighborhoods.They also need to remember it's not just their neighborhood.
Fourth, the people keeping backyard chickens already think they are above the law.So, breaking more laws to benefit their wishes won't stop them.
Fifth & MOST important, chickens are NASTY. They smell,they are LOUD(they cluck all the time),their feathers fly everywhere .Chicken wire does not contain any of these problems.
I live on the countryside & I am preparing to move back to Nashville(my hometown). My main reason for moving back to the city is to get away from the noise,smell & sound of the chickens here. There is no peace & quiet. You hear chickens clucking all day,everyday. And my neighbors chickens are not within fifty feet of the property line.
So, the council & everyone else needs to remember one simple fact...the CITY is the CITY & the COUNTRY is the COUNTRY,if you want to farm move to the country.
Vote NO & vote out Karen Bennett & other council members who have admitted to breaking the law by helping others to break them& now wants to change those laws for the benefit of a few. The law should be upheld & law breakers should pay. But not little fees allowing them to be a city nuisance.

By: TNBear on 11/7/11 at 12:05

It's not good for the city enviroment, it's not good for chickens & it is not good for city dwellers. It's going to cost taxpayers more, because more codespersonnel will have to be hired. It is just to benefit a few & the little money raised will not be enough to pay for the needs that will follow. And chickens pluck & scratch, they will keep the dogs & cats riled.
Your anguments for keeping chickens in the city does not make any sense. You need fresh eggs buy fresh eggs. You need to own chickens, move to the country.As far as moving to the counryside being inconvient, then you don't need those fresh eggs bad enough.

By: bfra on 11/7/11 at 12:32

Stumped has got to be joking! "Hardware Store"? If this thing passes, you will see every shape, form & unsightly hen place, imaginable. Have you never been to a third world country? Nashville is already, in many areas, starting to look like one. Their MO, don't need no fricking chicken wire or enclosed areas, them chickens have to be free to roam or they won't lay good, if they aren't happy!

By: NashvilleChicke... on 11/7/11 at 12:56

We are just happy this council person is interested in saving us law breaking citizens from an unruly and oppressive government. It's the conservative way or bust for us. We are tired of the tyranny of gov't. We can thank Bennett for removing this layer of regulation from our lives. Dadgummit, if we want to have chickens in the city then who is the gov't to tell us these crazy regulations are to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens. We can do that ourselves, thank you very much.

By: Stumped on 11/7/11 at 1:04

This is the first time i've ever heard of anyone moving to the city for the peace and quiet.
It's good for the environment because my food waste isn't going into the water treatment plant or the landfill, I don't have to drive my car to get eggs, I'm not supporting huge egg farms that have huge waste issues, ect. ect.
My dog is WAY louder than the chickens I've been around. His stuff stinks worse too.

By: Hunts4Food on 11/7/11 at 1:39

So let me get this straight NashvilleChicke- Metro is an "unruly and oppressive government" because Codes doesn't allow farm animals in an urban area and that its regulations are crazy - wow, what a narrow-minded and self-serving statement. You are breaking the law- pure and simple. You have the choice to live where you want, but you do not have the right to break the law to live how you want. Don't like it, move somewhere that allows chickens.

By: bfra on 11/7/11 at 2:10

Stumped - If you put a gas pump in your backyard, you won't have to drive to get gas, either.

By: Stumped on 11/7/11 at 3:40

That's probably a codes violation too. :)

By: bfra on 11/7/11 at 4:04

Stumped - Why wouldn't it be? Can you even visualize what this place would look like without codes & regulations?

By: NashvilleChicke... on 11/7/11 at 5:08

@Hunts4Food: that was sarcasm. Your inability to pick that up should trouble you. The rest of this comment is not sarcasm: it is beyond absurd this council person would try to enact a law to make something legal because of the few breaking the law. Absurd.

By: Blip on 11/7/11 at 10:51

Nashville has been methodically obliterating its country roots for the last 40 years. It's not surprising to me it's trying to outlaw chickens. City growth on steroids, pave everything, build in flood zones, one of these days you'll wake up and find you're just another suburb of somewhere north, and they never liked you anyway.

By: dargent7 on 11/8/11 at 6:29

This is SO ridiculous.
This guy can only eat eggs 4 hours old or he'll die?
Take Biology 101 and Cooking School 1....fry the eggs at 160 deg. and ALL bacteria is killed. Just like in homoginized milk.
The noise these hens/ roosters make at 3:00am is astounding.
You think a dog barking at 4 in the morning is a drag?

By: dargent7 on 11/8/11 at 6:32

bfra: And don't forget the polling station.
Half the people in this state can't "get out" to the grocery, gas station, polling station.
They're all invalids like Norman Bates.

By: Loner on 11/8/11 at 7:08

This is absurd, the council is wasting time on lunacy like this? It's about time that somebody cried, "FOWL"

By: bfra on 11/8/11 at 7:12

Lunacy is a council woman, knowing people in her district are breaking the law, by having chickens and introducing a bill to make it legal & dumb enough to admit it publicly.

By: BenDover on 11/8/11 at 8:21

A 1500 word essay on Nashville Chickens?

By: dogmrb on 11/8/11 at 8:38

These are hilarious comments. Don't move back to Nashville to escape chickens, they are in every neighborhood -- even Belle Meade. The bigger problem, not unlike many of these posters, is the Rooster. Up to six chickens would be fine but no Roosters - too noisy and aggressive ! BTW: Karen Bennett was re-elected and even though she was not my candidate, I applaud her reintroducing this bill.

By: bfra on 11/8/11 at 8:46

Bennett needs to uphold our laws or resign!

By: Funditto on 11/8/11 at 9:17

Personally, I'd rather have a goat than a chicken. Anyone?

By: dogmrb on 11/8/11 at 12:47

An old goat?

By: gardenmama on 11/8/11 at 1:01

Come on folks. It's time for Nashville to get with the program. Here's just a sample of other cities that allow hens: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Hartford, Indianapolis, Los Angelos, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Those who think it's lunacy for our council to be debating this, need to look around at the rest of the country. Nashville is behind the times. Allowing homeowners to have backyard hens makes sense on so many levels. Our current industrialized food system is unsustainable. Our health as a nation is suffering terribly and costing taxpayers billions of dollars. If folks want to raise their own hens so they can have fresh healthy eggs to feed their families, LET THEM!

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 11/8/11 at 2:18

Is this April 1st.? No, then this is the funniest post that I've read in a long time.It was even funnier until Nashville Chicken told us he/she was being sarcastic. When I was young we had a chicken coop in our back yard. We had black chickens and white chickens (Dad was a closet liberal), and I remember we had glass eggs to trick them into laying. We also burned our trash. Life was good in Green Hills in those days! Now for the egg sucking dog jokes.......

By: san r on 11/9/11 at 8:26

parkwood should not have to worry about stray chickens. parkwood has an over abundance of stray dogs, besides picking up the trash that the terrorists leave, i'll add chicken feathers to the list.
these are some of the dumbest politicians nashville has seen in a very long, long time.
is it their prescription that needs to be changed or a lower percentage of alcohol by volume in what they are drinking? i dunno. it is weird.

By: bfra on 11/9/11 at 8:32


Turn volumn ON before playing!

By: frodo on 11/9/11 at 9:19

Then give this one a try:

I'll take the chicken noise.

Stumped was right. If this debate is a waste of time, then why outlaw chickens in the first place.

By: bfra on 11/9/11 at 9:24

I'll take the dog! Animal control will stop the barking dog or the owner will pay dearly. You can't stop a clucking hen X ever how many.

By: frodo on 11/9/11 at 10:06

Do you hear other birds in your neighborhood?

By: T-BONE on 11/9/11 at 10:08

BOTTOM LINE..."SCREW-EM"...You can't get a job that's pays a living wage anymore...so, "screw-um"! Raise chickens for eggs and "screw-um"! Grow a garden in your front yard,(COMMUNITY, NEIGHBORHOOD ARE BETTER ) and "screw-um"! Or run for office then you can become wealthy and really "screw-um"...(the people that is") Put solar panels on your house and screw-um" NES "HONCHO" MAKES..$315,000 a year and God only knows what his "staff" of merry LIARS make!! They party with your money! They are "screwing you!...So "SCREW-UM"! STOP WASTING RESOURCES AND STOP USING SO MUCH ELECTRICITY and GAS! Conserve, conserve, conserve! Stop being a "mindless brainwashed" CONSUMER (FOOL) ! Does that make you happy? Every wonder why diabetes, cancer,OBESITY, brain dieses are shooting thru the roof...look a what you are eating, can you pronounce those chemical names on food labels? UNJUST LAWS WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN... POLITICIANS and the OLIGARCHIES VIOLATE LAWS EVERY DAY...AND GET AWAY WITH IT! ...and laugh at you all the way to their corrupt bank!! (BOA..."bend over America)!...SO SCREW-UM!...PAY ATTENTION!..WAKE UP!...It's YOUR COUNTRY!...Make it a better one! DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC!

By: frodo on 11/9/11 at 10:47

T-Bone needs to cut back on the "steak" sauce.

By: bfra on 11/9/11 at 11:09

Don't know what T-Bones problem is, but the few that want chickens seem to be saying, screw the law, screw the neighbors, I want what I want NOW, regardless.

By: frodo on 11/9/11 at 11:14

No. I want chickens, but I'm not in favor of "screw the law."

By: bfra on 11/9/11 at 11:19

If you have chickens, it is against the law, so that is the same as "screw the law". Bennett pretty much said the same, when admitting people in her district have chickens and she knows about it & has done nothing. Are council members just supposed to set laws, but not uphold them?

By: frodo on 11/9/11 at 1:30

I don't have chickens. How many people, like me, might get chickens if it were legal? Don't smear all chicken eggthusiasts with the "screw the law" brush. But no wonder people are starting to say screw the law on minor issues. Illegal immigration enthusiasts have preached screw-the-law for decades and are applauded. So, come to think of it, maybe T-Bone has it right. Screw the law, I'm gettin' chickens!

By: bfra on 11/9/11 at 3:09

fredo - So you only respect and abide by laws YOU agree with! Figures!

By: frodo on 11/9/11 at 4:57

My "screw the law, I'm gettin' chickens" was not serious. I'm just saying it is difficult in our screw-the-law climate to take laws and enforcement seriously. It is little wonder people feel justified ignoring the law.

By: shef2 on 11/9/11 at 6:20

I think I was the only "Commenter" during the "Great Fairgrounds Debate" that actually got a laugh...
I spoke about the Fairgrounds having a "Natural Equestrian Center", as they always bring those abused horses (as well as other animals...) there.

My comment was, "If I can't have a chicken in my back yard, maybe I could board a horse @ the Fairgrounds-!"

& gardenmama, you forgot Madison, WI.
Check this out-!
http://madcitychickens.com/faq.htm for some good info-!

I have a nicely kept, fenced-in yard. Hey-! Maybe, I really COULD have chickens-!
(But I'd wait about 2 & 1/2 years, 'til I can RETIRE-!)
I would like 2 chickens, please... (& 2 Mini-Donkeys @ the NEW Equestrian Center-!)