Winston-Salem discusses changing backyard chicken policy

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Winston-Salem City Council may let homeowners raise up to four chickens in their backyard without a city permit.

The city has talked about ways to regulate chickens inside city limits since it annexed many rural homes with chickens in 2008. Since then, chickens have been allowed with a special permit.

However, in recent months, more than a dozen people like Zak Hayes have asked for permits because they want to raise chickens as a part of sustainable living.

"We do lot of urban gardening here. We have a vegetable garden and composting, and chickens seem to fit quite well," Hayes said.

Hayes also would like to see the city loosen its policies.

"People want to live sustainably, and chickens are a great way to do that. They reduce carbon footprints, and you have organic eggs for breakfast," Hayes said.

However, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said some residents have brought up some concerns.

"I think neighbors are concerned about noise, sanitation, odors and things of that nature," Joines said.

A committee is discussing those and other issues, as well as ways to regulate things like proper shelter and waste control.

Greensboro, Chapel Hill and Raleigh do not require permits for small numbers of chickens as long as they have proper shelter and other things, don't run free and are housed several feet from property lines.

Those are rules some Winston-Salem chicken owners said they could live with.

"Your dogs make twice as much noise as chickens, including the waste they make,"  Hayes said. "I guarantee you will never know I have them, you are never going to see them, you're not going to smell and will not hear them, and they make eggs for me.  Dogs and cats certainly can't do that."

Council could consider changing the rules later this month.