Kaitlyn McCarthy, a 30-year-old nursing assistant, has started a petition on change.org called “Reduce the Backyard Chicken restrictions in Manchester NH.” The Queen City resident hopes she can collect enough signatures to demonstrate strong support for a change to the city zoning ordinance that would allow more properties to raise chicken hens for personal use.
Right now, residents who own their own property can have up to six backyard hens of any breed if they have at least half an acre of land and the chickens are kept 20 feet from the property line, according to Dave Albin, code enforcement supervisor for the city.
McCarthy wants to change the land size requirement to one tenth of an acre or 5,000 square feet to allow smaller properties to adopt chickens.
“Most lots in the city are 5,000 square feet,” McCarthy said.
She also wants to change the setback to five feet.
“[The current rule] is a little silly. You’d have to have chickens in the middle of your yard,” McCarthy said.
While the petition doesn’t expressly say it, McCarthy would also like to do away with the land ownership requirement, which she thinks is “classist.”
About four years ago, McCarthy had her own chickens at her apartment property after getting permission from her landlord. Her neighbors enjoyed them, McCarthy said. But after the landlord was told by a code inspector that they had to go, McCarthy was forced to hand them over to someone else.
She worked closely with a local group of residents who organized to change the city rules in 2014. Prior to that, chickens were governed by the same rules as other livestock animals. Under that regime, one would need to have 1 acre for the first animal and 1/4 acre for each additional animal.
The new rules allowed a lot more residents to get chickens of their own, but McCarthy still can’t have any at her apartment.
At press time, the petition had obtained 175 signatures, most of those in the span of just a couple days after McCarthy shared the link on more social media groups.
After she’s obtained at least a few hundred more signatures, McCarthy hopes to start the conversation with aldermen about how to change the ordinance.
Albin said there’s no way to know how many chickens there are in the city since chicken owners are not required to have a permit. But he has noted an uptick in chicken-related complaints, which might be an indication of their growing prevalence.
Albin said he’s worked in code enforcement for Manchester since 2008 and in the first five or six years he received about two or three chicken-related complaints each year. Last year, he estimates he responded to about 10 or 12 chicken-related complaints.
“This year I’ve done six complaints for chickens,” Albin said.
The vast majority of his complaints are related to roosters, which are not allowed, and escaped and free-roaming chickens. But, once he responds to these cases, Albin almost always finds that the owners don’t have the required full acre of land. So Albin has to inform them the chickens aren’t allowed there.
“Chickens are chickens. They make noise. Whether you like the noise or not, they make noise,” Albin said.
And while the animals themselves are generally odorless, their feces could become problematic if it’s not managed properly, both due to its odor and potential diseases.
According to the city ordinance, there are two things people can do with the animal waste; either compost it in a full-enclosed container with no more than three cubic feet of manure, or remove it from the property.