The debate should have been settled long ago. Backyard hens are surprisingly well suited to urban and suburban environments. They are quiet and unobtrusive, pose little more of a health risk than a house cat, and are a prolific source of high-quality, sustainably produced eggs. There was a time when I would have argued differently, but then my wife went out one day and (surprise!) came home with a handful of chicks. Pretty quickly, my resentment melted into grudging affection.
For the most part, North Texas cities that banned residential chicken-keeping have reached the same conclusion and reversed themselves in the face of the current backyard-chicken boom. But not Plano.
Chickens are banned in the city for a variety of reasons, said Animal Services Manager Jamey Cantrell.
"Just having the chickens is a major attractant to other wildlife who want to eat the chickens, like bobcats, raccoons, possums and coyotes," Cantrel told the Plano Star-Courier. "We work very hard to try and educate people on how not to attract wildlife to their neighborhoods, and by putting chickens back there you are basically opening up a buffet."
He listed other concerns as well: noise, mice and rats, a lack of chicken equipment at the animal shelter.
Cantrell was responding to a new push to legalize backyard chickens in Plano. It's being headed by a resident named Jay Gardner, as CBS 11's Susy Solis reports while literally holding a chicken. There's a Facebook page and there will soon be a petition.
It might take more than that.
"It's gonna be tough sledding for them," says Dan Probst, the proprietor of Bageniece Farms and a backyard-chicken evangelist who's lobbied several cities to lift chicken bans. His first stab at Plano came seven or eight years ago, but city staff "just dismissed me very politely." Then, three or four years later, a petition he and others delivered to City Hall "got swallowed up in some city office" and disappeared.
A year ago, he says the city published a list on its website (it appears to have since been taken down) explaining why keeping chickens in residential areas is a bad idea.
"Then if you go into analyzing that rant ... all the reasons why not are generally viral or bacterial," Probst says. "If you go to the CDC website and cross-reference what they're saying, it doesn't hold water."
He sees some signs that the city's opposition has thawed somewhat since he first approached them. He points to the newly established farmers market as a positive sign. "Maybe the light bulb is starting to turn on up there that knowing what you eat isn't such a bad idea after all."