Fad Accusation Was Foul

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MTT News Desk's picture
The author with one of his hens

Tim Roehl, a Middleton Town Board supervisor, recently referred to backyard chickens as a “fad.” (See “Town Cries Fowl,” our page 3 story in the August 9 edition.)

I have news for Mr. Roehl. The domesticated chicken has a genealogy stretching back between 7,000 and 10,000 years, according to Smithsonian magazine. Throughout 99.8 percent of that time, families, on a relatively small scale, have kept chickens in the backyard.

The actual fad is raising poultry on putrid, cramped, filthy factory farms, injecting them with drugs so copious they’d make even the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson cringe.

If keeping chickens on your property is a fad, then so too are things like the wheel, clothing, math and written language.

Some on the town board allege that backyard chicken owners might not keep their animals in clean conditions. This point made me chuckle, since even the most negligent, bumbling resident could easily keep chickens in better housing than they would experience at a factory farm.

A troglodyte – perhaps even a politician - would have the wherewithal to raise hens without ruining the neighborhood.

After all, I’m decidedly no genius. (I feel the need to point out that spellcheck autocorrected the final word of the preceding sentence.) Yet my chickens live cheerful lives of luxury.

They hang out in the yard with our dog. They eat spent grain from a local brewery. They follow me in a little, waddling conga line whenever I roam the modest property.

They also lay delicious eggs that are fresher and more nutritious than those bought from any store. They devour bothersome insects and eat my annual bumper crop of dandelion greens.

I doubt all my neighbors like me – especially after the unfortunate incident last year when I unknowingly wore gardening pants with an unfortunately situated rip in them. I do know, however, that they all love our chickens.

They get occasional free eggs, and they get to watch the birds amble around, moonwalking in the grass to expose their tiny prey. It’s not uncommon to come home from work and find a young girl from next door sitting on a bench with a chicken cooing in her lap as she feeds it cracked corn.

My neighbor on the other side is a retired farmer. He likes to take breaks from the ongoing restoration of his green and yellow John Deer tractor to walk over, expertly lean his weight on our wooden fence with his forearms as only an agricultural man can do, and observe poultry society.

We live on a main street, downtown, in a dually zoned neighborhood.

When reading about the Town of Middleton’s opposition to chickens, I was reminded of something Hank Hill, of the TV show King of the Hill, once said when dealing with government: “I didn’t realize it was possible to feel neglected and violated at the same time.”

The Town of Middleton is guilty of a troubling, growing trend in our society - depriving its citizens of the ability to be self-sufficient.

Government enacts ordinance after ordinance prohibiting us from caring for ourselves. They ignore the fact that producing your own food should be an inalienable right.

This isn’t a partisan thing: Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty. Yet both seem puzzled as to why there is such a high demand for government services.

What they don’t realize is that the more they work to prevent people from being self reliant, the more those same citizens will end up relying on them. Perhaps that’s secretly why they do it. Maybe it’s to justify their existence, even if they govern with extreme ineptitude.

Most on the Middleton Town Board paint an ugly picture of a community with chickens in it. A place where rats and coyotes roam. (Both already live in Middleton, and I’m thankful to both for offsetting the town’s dedication to banal subdivisions.)

I consulted with Abby Attoun, the City of Middleton’s Assistant Director of Community Development, to see if that’s the case in the neighboring City of Middleton, where chickens are explicitly allowed by an ordinance crafted by the Sustainability Committee.

She said no hen has ever caused a problem.

“Dozens - if not hundreds - of families are keeping chickens and enjoying fresh eggs in Middleton with no negative impacts on their neighborhood,” Attoun said.

This is no passing trend. The real fad here – the one in which people rely on faraway factories to provide their eggs - will hopefully go the way of the Macarena, leaving most chickens where they belong: in our yards.

It doesn’t surprise me that the Town of Middleton is resistant to backyard chickens. Unlike the City of Middleton, the town’s leadership has a long-held affection for carcinogens, preferring poisonous pesticides to harmless weeds on children’s playgrounds.

It’s only natural that these same people would oppose a healthy, natural food source clucking in their midst.

Luckily, the Town Board doesn’t really have a say in the matter. Dane County is on the verge of passing an ordinance allowing everyone, including those in the Town of Middleton, to keep chickens.

My advice is to get some. It’s easy, fun, healthy and inexpensive. Give some eggs to your neighbors if you do.

Unless you live next to anyone on the Middleton Town Board, of course.

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