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Rockville says ‘yes’ to keeping chickens

WASHINGTON — Chickens will be able to roost in Rockville starting July 1. The Rockville City Council voted 3-2 to allow homeowners to keep up to five hens — no roosters allowed — within city…

WASHINGTON — Chickens will be able to roost in Rockville starting July 1.

The Rockville City Council voted 3-2 to allow homeowners to keep up to five hens — no roosters allowed — within city limits. The vote came after reconsideration of a number of animal control regulations. As a result of the move, Rockville residents could keep chickens once they obtain a permit. Under the city’s provisions, any chicken coops would have to be 40 feet from the homeowner’s house and at least 5 feet from the property line.

Opponents to the change cited concerns about noise and possible odor from chicken litter. 

Cheryl Corson, a landscape architect with Cheryl Corson Designs is a chicken enthusiast and has written about urban chicken keeping. Corson says the noise issue should not be a problem, since Rockville bans roosters from homeowner’s properties. Corson says the rooster’s crowing behavior is what most people think about when they think about chickens. Hens, she says, aren’t nearly as vocal.

“In fact they make these sweet little cooing sounds,” Corson says.

As far as cleanliness, Corson says, “chickens are really as clean as cats are — they pretty much groom themselves all day long.”

But what about what hens produce — other than eggs: are the droppings a source of odors? Corson says not as long as chicken owners keep on top of the “production.”

Corson says there’s not a lot of volume and the droppings can provide a great source of garden fertilizer.

“In fact, you could even sell it — you could probably get a pretty penny for it from people who don’t have chickens.”

That however, is not addressed in the Rockville animal control regulations.

Corson offers some tips on keeping chickens for anyone thinking of taking the plunge into animal husbandry;

  • Find somebody who already has hens and visit them so you can consider just what you’re getting into.
  • Subscribe to “Backyard Poultry” which, Corson says, “Is as about as entertaining as it gets.” Backyard Poultry is a quarterly magazine.
  • Find a place in your yard that’s a) compliant with the Rockville regulations and b) provides afternoon shade.

Corson says those who want “free range” chickens should brace themselves for the possibility of predation: hawks, raccoons and foxes may want to sample the chickens.

While opponents of the change in Rockville law say chickens should not be kept inside city limits, Corson says chickens can do well in suburban and even urban settings if they are cared for properly. And, she says, keepers may find pests like grubs are no longer a problem, since chickens will find them to be tasty treats.

Read the full ordinance here.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.