PORTLAND — Residents may soon be allowed to keep up to six live chickens per household, provided they have the right amount of space.
The City Council Public Safety Committee on Tuesday evening sent the full council an ordinance that will allow residents to keep up to six domesticated hens. Current law prohibits backyard chickens.
The committee first considered changing the law nearly a year ago, after a teenager from Great Diamond Island wrote to Councilor Kevin Donoghue asking that the city allow the domestic fowl. The issue was initially passed along to the Planning Board, but was never taken up because city staff decided the council should decide whether chickens should be allowed.
Payson Robinson, the 15-year-old from Great Diamond Island, said he wanted to be able to have chickens for their eggs and because keeping the animals is a good lesson in responsibility.
“Backyard chickens make wonderful pets,” he said.
The committee was presented with a proposed, staff-written ordinance that would have allowed up to three chickens per city lot, and up to six per condominium complex. The staff proposal did not call for chicken permits, but the committee – with input from the public and from the animal control officer – decided that residents should be required to get a chicken permit so the city could keep track of who has hens.
Animal Control Officer Debra Estrella told councilors she would feel more comfortable if the city imposed some way to keep records of who has chickens, so she has an easier time making sure owners are being responsible.
“My concern is for the health and well-being of the bird,” she said.
Estrella also said hens do best in the winter with a larger group, since the birds depend on each other for warmth at night. That, coupled with the knowledge that hens lay about an egg a day, led councilors to amend the original proposed ordinance to allow six hens per home instead of three. Members of the public suggested that three eggs a day were not enough for a family at breakfast.
The committee passed an amended version of the proposed ordinance that allows six hens per lot. The proposal also requires chicken owners to get permits from the city. The cost of the permit is expected to be in line with the cost of a dog permit for an animal that is not spayed/neutered. Those permits cost $11.
Roosters will not be allowed.
To qualify for having backyard hens, residents will have to have enclosed areas and an elevated chicken pen. Hen houses will not be allowed within 25 feet of a neighbor’s house and must be in backyards.
The committee vote was 2-1, with Councilor Dan Skolnik, the chairman, voting against sending the recommendation to the full council. During committee discussion he raised concerns that Estrella, the animal control officer, may become overwhelmed with chicken inspection responsibilities. He said he is also concerned that the chickens may attract coyotes and foxes.
Councilors Dory Waxman and Donoghue voted in favor of sending the ordinance to the full council. It is expected to be on a council agenda in the next month.
The city’s chicken proposal follows similar discussions in several surrounding communities.
In South Portland, city councilors discussed the merits of allowing backyard chickens for five months in 2007 before eventually allowing up to six hens per home, with a limit of 20 household permits per year throughout the city. Falmouth recently expanded its chicken ordinance to allow hens in additional residential neighborhoods and Cumberland recently expanded the areas where free-range chickens are allowed to roam.