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Connellsville Health Board cries foul to chicken farms in city

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 7:21 a.m.

Chickens will not be flying the coop in Connellsville backyards if the city's health board has anything to say about it.

After city Health Officer Tom Currey presented documented information on the dangers and health risks of free-range backyard chicken farms, the health board cried foul, recommending the city not take action to change zoning ordinances that would allow it to happen.

“We do not recommend pursuing chicken farms in the city of Connellsville,” board member Johanna Harden said.

Under the city's current zoning ordinance, backyard chicken farming is only permitted by special exception in highway commercial “C2” areas or industrial “M1” areas, Currey said.

Currey presented information he received from Internet sources, including food safety magazines and articles written about “the dangers of urban chicken farming.”

“You would need to have a lot of space just to have three or four chickens in your backyard,” Currey said. “Chickens require large coops and plenty of space to live. You cannot crowd a lot of chickens in a small space without experiencing health risks.”

A chicken coop needs to measure 6 by 12-feet and stand 6 feet high to accommodate three or four chickens, Currey said.

Chickens begin producing eggs at 6 months of age, reaching the peak of their production at about 18 months, he said.

“What would people do with the chickens after they are no longer producing eggs?” Currey asked. “How would they dispose of the chickens?

“You couldn't just let them rot in your backyard. I guess you could eat them, but you would have to cut their heads off,” he added. “They would be running around your yard with blood squirting out of their necks. Young children would be traumatized.”

Currey said chicken feces could become a health and safety issue.

“You can't just let the feces lay around in your yard where your children play. It wouldn't be safe,” Currey said. “Chickens are huge carriers of salmonella. It could make a lot of people sick if the backyard chicken farmers don't know what they are doing.”

Internet articles that Currey read indicated that chicken feed mixed with chicken feces produces arsenic poison that has sickened many people, including children.

“Some people know how to do right, but you really need to do your homework if you want to be a successful backyard chicken farmer who follows safety guidelines,” he said.

Instead of allowing city residents to operate backyard chicken farms, Harden suggested that anyone who wants to purchase fresh eggs visit a chicken farm outside the city limits.

“It's not like we live in a big city where we don't have access to chicken farms,” Harden said. “We can go to Martin's grocery store and buy farm-fresh eggs for $2 if that's what we want to do.”

Cindy Ekas is a freelance writer.

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