Things you can learn from a chicken

CarolinaFireJournal - Ken Farmer
Ken Farmer
04/23/2012 -

Recently a friend made me aware of a major political discussion that was going on in the warm and wonderful town of Cary N.C. As I spent most of my adult life living next door to Cary, my interest was piqued! It turns out since late last year the town council has been struggling with an issue of significant importance. The issue was should the town allow Cary residents to have live chickens in their backyard.

To me this was a fascinating issue. We had free range chickens on our farm before it was environmentally cool and I even once managed to crash into our chicken house with a runaway tractor. I will save that story for another day. Suffice it to say, that I know a little bit about chickens and have picked up a few warm eggs in my time.

Cary has always been known as a quiet town that grew from its humble roots to be a surging metropolis. Cary was created in 1871 and in the period between the years of 2000 to 2010 the town had a population growth of over 143 percent. You can well imagine the challenges that brought to them. I remember Cary in the early 1960s when it was normal to have a corn field or tobacco field across the road from a housing development. With time and growth, the town had fewer open spaces except for parks, greenways and bike paths and the rural touch has mostly disappeared due to growth.


For the residents to be requesting of the city for permission to have chickens in their backyard was a positive sign. The town now has over 141,000 residents and is described on their web page as “a thriving community in the heart of the Triangle area of North Carolina, between Raleigh and renowned Research Triangle Park. The Triangle area repeatedly has ranked among the top regions in the country to live or work, to find a home or start a business, to raise a family or retire.” (

The effort ended earlier this year with the Town Council voting 5-2 to allow hens to be kept in back yard coops. For the record no roosters were allowed. They passed a set of criteria and rules including set back requirements, allowance of a maximum of eight hens, that a $10 annual fee be paid and the hens must be kept for personal use and must be kept in a fenced in yard. (These can be found on page 43 of the Town of Cary Council minutes, February 2012)

So what is the lesson of importance here? Well, to me the lesson is in the way that it happened and how politics and local decision are made every day. The first question of how do you decide that eight chickens (and not 10 or 12 or 20) is the “right number”? It turns out that the research shows that 10 chickens is the recommended number to provide enough nutrients for an average size yard. When asked why eight instead of 10, one council person simply responded “I thought that would be a good starting point and would allow us to increase it later.” You have to love that simple and direct approach! That approach allows flexibility and some room to change as more information is determined.

What else can be learned? Take a moment to look over the power point presentation at Look under the August 12 update and open the file titled “Cary Chickens CIRC Final2.ppt.” Some key points to learn are:

  1. It is well researched: The information is clear and from documented academic and agricultural resources that are above reproach.
  2. It is concise and to the point: They cover all their points in a few visuals.
  3. It deals with the key issues and concerns: They speak openly about the positive and negative issues.
  4. It compares their situation to comparable cities and towns: They show that 69 other places across the US have approved similar ordinances.
  5. It includes real data and a related case study: They don’t focus on opinions or their views and instead provide real data and facts.
  6. It provides citizen quotes of support: It is always good to show support from the people who will be impacted the most.
  7. It includes documented research and references: Eight different studies are referenced from academic and agricultural institutions as well as towns and cities.
  8. It is respectful and appropriate: The presentation is kept professional and at the right tone at all times.
  9. They relate to the community culture: The presentation relates to many issues that reflect the culture of the community such as being environmentally friendly, family oriented and positive health benefits.
  10. They take advantage of social media: The group established a web page, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

These 10 rules are good ones to follow when making a presentation to your town board, council, county commissioners or any decision making body! Study and learn from the chicken masters!

While doing my research for this article I quickly realized that there are lists of the “top 10 things” you learn from dogs, cats, geese and cows; but there was no such list for chickens. I had to create one and I just had to share it!

10 Things You Can Learn From a Chicken

  1. Avoid running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Chickens normally last about three minutes. You won’t do much better!
  2. Contented clucking is much better than squawking a lot. You may get more attention than you wish and it may involve a hatchet.
  3. Think real hard before you go around crowing loudly and early. Make sure your timing is right and your network will support you and if you can weather the storm if you are wrong.
  4. You have to break some eggs to make an omelet, bake a cake and many other good things. Don’t be afraid to challenge and change the system if things need improving.
  5. Every yard and organization has a rooster. Respect the rooster even if you don’t agree with it all the time.
  6. When trying to learn something new, you should scratch around some first in different places; peck into new sources and cackle about the people who help you with your work.
  7. Everyone lays a bad egg sometime. Don’t waste too much time clucking over it. Just move on and lay it behind you.
  8. Everything has a pecking order. Make sure you know where you fit in it and respect the system.
  9. Whatever happens, don’t get your feathers ruffled. It makes you look bad and you are more vulnerable.
  10. Just because you live in a chicken coop, don’t let it stifle your growth and learning. Get out some; see the rest of the yard and the world and crow about what you have learned.

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