Unfortunately, city officials are only concerned with the city’s definition of livestock, not mine – or anyone else’s for that matter. For example, it makes no difference that the Oregon Department of Agriculture doesn’t include chickens in its definition of livestock. It doesn’t matter, because Salem’s definition of this word currently includes poultry – and therein lies the problem. Semantics, that’s what all this fuss boils down to.
Most logical people would agree that the definition of livestock should be based on the intended purpose of the animal and the number of animals in question, rather than strictly the type of animal. Local politicians must understand this on some level because in Salem, residents can keep bees in their backyards as long as the insects are not raised with the intention of making a profit. The city considers a small number of hives a food-producing hobby, like gardening, rather than a commercial venture. This makes sense. But it helps that insects and tomato plants are not considered livestock.
You may be surprised to learn that Salem residents can also raise potbellied pigs, which (like chickens) are considered livestock according to the city’s definition. An exception written in the city code, written for reasons nobody can remember or explain, allows city residents to keep a pig weighing up to 100 pounds (although I doubt anyone has ever bothered to enforce this portion of the ordinance, rounding up overweight pigs). I have nothing against pigs, but it strikes me as not even remotely logical that I could have a 100-pound pig, but not a 3-pound bird that provides food.
You might think, “If they can make an exception for potbellied pigs, then why not just make an exception for hens and avoid the definition problem altogether?” Good question, but apparently there is no answer. For reasons I cannot explain, our elected officials prefer to go a different route. If I spend too much time anguishing over this I will get upset and start biting my fingernails again. So let’s move on.
What makes a chicken a pet? Most people would say the fact that we only have a few, all with names and unique personalities. Some would say they are pets because we play with them, care for them, and teach them tricks. If raised as chicks and handled frequently, adult chickens will eat out of our hands, let us hold them, and come running when called, even jump into our laps (as mine do). In other words, they behave like pets. All these things are true, but I can do better than that. I can prove chickens are, in fact, pets. Read the true story below and you’ll understand.
I noticed that one of my hens, Siena, acted strange whenever I picked her up. She would stretch her neck, shake her head and open her mouth wide as if she was gasping. As soon as I put her down, she would return to normal, though, so I wasn’t concerned.
One day Siena prolapsed slightly when laying an egg, so I took her to the kitchen sink to wash off her behind. When I tilted her nearly upside down to rinse her off, she began gasping for air and then went completely limp in my hands. I laid her down on her side and watched as she lied there, motionless, unable to breathe – dying right in front of me. Her bright red comb turned dark blue, almost black. She closed her eyes, took one last breath, and froze with her beak still open wide. My husband said “She can’t breathe, blow into her mouth!” I began blowing hard puffs of air into her mouth while he held her limp head. “This isn’t going to work,” I thought, tears rolling down my face. My heart was breaking. I was about to give up when my husband shouted “Don’t stop, its working! Her comb is starting to turn red again!” I kept blowing and blowing. Finally, Siena opened her eyes, regained color, and sat up looking a little dazed. We were so happy.
After researching her symptoms online, I surmised it was probably gapeworm. I treated her, and my other hens, with pour-on Ivermectin and now she is a happy, healthy, egg-laying hen again.
I doubt any farmer or commercial poultry operator would have bothered to resuscitate a chicken that cost $1.50. This is what people do for pets that they love.
For more information about how to convince elected officials that chickens are pets, not livestock, and to learn how to adopt a chicken-keeping ordinance, go to http://www.chicken-revolution.com/.