Response to Alex Berezow’s Backyard Chicken Article on the American Council on Science and Health

alex berezow backyard chickens hypocrite

Just finished writing to Alex Berezow of the American Council on Science and Health. He’s the guy that wrote this article:…/no-brian-williams-your-job-isnt-scar…
also wrote this article titled “Backyard Chickens Are Fun, Until The Vomiting And Diarrhea Begin…/backyard-chickens-are-fun-until-vomi…

For an organization with a mission to prevent alarmist garbage news, this doesn’t seem well aligned. And the guy writes like a thug, which is fine when you’re not trying to pass yourself off as a morally superior unbiased journalist. Below is my response, which I had to put on the Brian Williams fearmongering article since the other one doesn’t allow comments now:


Clearly the fear industry is profitable. It’s really a shame that journalists try to scare their readers, and editorialize and let emotion rule their articles just to get clicks and shares. Like this prime example:…/backyard-chickens-are-fun-until-vomi…

Backyard chickens = vomit & diarrhea. Right.

Because, like you said:

‘As part of the “natural is better” movement, many Americans — particularly those who live in the city and know absolutely nothing about agriculture — have decided that playing farmer is a fun pastime. It certainly can be a fun hobby… that is, until the vomiting and diarrhea begin.’

We’re all playing at being farmers. We know nothing about agriculture. We should absolutely leave it to professionals, because large farm operations never have outbreaks of salmonella that get back to the general population through purchases of eggs, chicken, alfalfa sprouts, etc. We’re pretty dumb people who really love spraying waste from both ends because we have an idyllic view of chickens, right?

‘This entire story illustrates the fallacy of the “back to nature” or “farm-to-table” movement. Just because you know where your food comes from doesn’t mean it’s any healthier. As it turns out, there’s a really good reason why we have “processed food”: It makes the food safer for us to consume.’

Again, I’m sure you have context for this. Eggs produced by pastured hens aren’t any more nutritious, right? (…/research-shows-eggs-pastured-chickens…) Maybe you have data on the percentage of the total chicken keeping population these ‘ambitious urban cowboys’ account for- I mean, that would be the responsible thing to consider when writing an article talking about backyard chicken keepers like they’re all getting sick from their hens.

I almost forgot to mention: you’re harping on ‘farm to table’ and people wanting ‘natural’ food because it’s healthier. And that’s totally debatable in so many cases, I agree. But that’s NOT what drives most people to have a backyard flock. There’s a human element there that makes us care about animal welfare, which is something that’s pretty appallingly done in a factory farm setting. I do it because I want kids in the area to know what chickens are, and how they produce eggs (nevermind the adults who don’t know how they produce eggs). And I do it to improve soil health and water retention in my backyard. Is all of that just as easy to mock?

I don’t know why you even talked about eggs in the article honestly. The CDC numbers you reported are from LIVE POULTRY interaction, and I quote:

‘The CDC reports that 10 separate Salmonella outbreaks, affecting 48 states and DC, has sickened 790 people and hospitalized at least 174. The outbreaks have been linked to hatcheries where people handled ducklings and chicks.’

Ref July 2017

You’re not wrong when you say a hen could be “plopping out little time bombs”. You’re not wrong, but you’re being alarmist. And if you weren’t headlining an organization dedicated to sound journalism and science, I’d be a lot more understanding. I’d be even more understanding if you said that in the context of a CDC report concerning salmonella from backyard chicken EGGS, rather than tossing it into your article like the eggs are part of the CDC outbreak report.

And one more quote from you I’d like to address: “And be on the lookout for predators. If you live in the wrong part of town, a hawk just might swoop in for a snack. Your precious little chickens might last a morning, but by afternoon, the survivors would be asking not to be free-range anymore.”

This non sequitur really shows you’re out of your element Alex. The chickens would TOTALLY be asking to free-range again. They’re not that smart, and they really like to roam.

Here’s a screenshot of the article in case it ever disappears:

That’s not alarmist or click-bait at all, right? Reference:

CDC Backyard Chickens & Salmonella ‘Outbreaks’: A Backyard Chicken Keeper Responds


It’s that time of year again: the yearly outbreak report on human Salmonella cases linked to live poultry.  Get ready to clutch your pearls and hide your kids!

2017 CDC Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Backyard Chickens: Multistate Outbreaks of Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Live Poultry in Backyard Flocks, 2017

When I started writing this the June 1, 2017 were the only numbers presented; as of publication, they’ve updated the numbers on July 13, 2017.

Here are the stats, straight from the CDC page:

  • Since the last update on June 1, 2017, 418 more ill people have been reported. The most recent illness began on June 20, 2017.
  • CDC, multiple states, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) are investigating 10 separate multistate outbreaks of Salmonella infections in people who had contact with live poultry in backyard flocks.
    • These outbreaks are caused by several DNA fingerprints of different Salmonella bacteria: Salmonella Braenderup, Salmonella Enteritidis, Salmonella Hadar, Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i-, Salmonella Indiana, Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Litchfield, Salmonella Mbandaka, Salmonella Muenchen, Salmonella Typhimurium.
  • The outbreak strains of Salmonella have infected a reported 790 people in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
    • Illnesses started on dates ranging from January 4, 2017 to June 20, 2017.
    • Of 580 people with available information, 174 ill people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
  • Epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory findings link the 10 outbreaks to contact with live poultry, such as chicks and ducklings, from multiple hatcheries.
    • In interviews, 409 (74%) of 553 ill people reported contact with live poultry in the week before illness started.

Sounds pretty scary, right?  10 outbreaks?! 790 cases?  No wonder news outlets hurried to write cutting-edge stories like:

Washington Post: Backyard chickens blamed for salmonella outbreaks. Do not snuggle with them, CDC says. – June 5 2017

CNN: Getting too friendly with fowl blamed in salmonella outbreaks –  June 2 2017

IndyStar: Don’t kiss the chickens. Here’s why. – June 14 2017

CBS News: Keeping backyard chickens comes with a human health risk, CDC warns  – June 2 2017

Fox News: Backyard chickens are getting people sick again – June 6 2017

Forbes: CDC Warns: Don’t Get Too Close To Your Chickens, Ducks And Geese – June 3 2017

Time: Why You Really Shouldn’t Hug Chickens – June 7 2017


So what does this all mean?  Just how much damage are these backyard chickens doing?  Why is everyone kissing chickens?  What’s WRONG with these chicken people??

Let’s put it into context.

What Does the CDC Consider an ‘Outbreak’?

From the Salmonella Outbreak page:

When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne disease outbreak. Similarly, when two or more people get the same illness from contact with the same animal or animal environment, the event is called a zoonotic outbreak.

Simple definition of an ‘outbreak’: any time 2+ people get sick with the same illness anywhere in the US.  I should’ve been going into my last corporate job in a biohazard suit every day, ‘cuz it was basically an ongoing outbreak of whatever sickness people picked up from their kids/spouse/etc.

So, what does the “10 outbreaks’ refer to at the CDC?  10 different strains of Salmonella. Two or more people got infected per strain, making it an outbreak.

The Backyard Chicken Salmonella Outbreak Numbers, Put Into Context

The CDC website is not fun to navigate, nor are their tables of data easy to just pull and analyze.  Some of the tables don’t even have the states in alphabetical order. Still, it was worth it to satisfy my curiosity and pull the data all into one table. I only pulled data up through 2013, because 2012 was the first year they seem to have Salmonella linked to live poultry and they broke down the reporting into each Salmonella strain, which would have taken me a little too long to merge into this table. Embedded table is scroll-able, or use the link below it to navigate to the Google Sheet showing the full table.

Full size data table is on Google docs, here.

When the numbers stand on their own, it’s easy to get nervous. For instance, I live in Michigan, and was shocked to see 55 cases of Salmonella attributed to interaction with live poultry in 2016.  But what percentage of the population is that?  How much of an issue are we facing?

Of course, nobody knows how many people keep backyard chickens (even in cities with backyard chicken municipal code & licensing, there are people who keep them without reporting them). So, for giggles, I did some lazy guesswork, just to see what sort of percentages we might be looking at.

Percentage of Chicken Keeping Population in Michigan Who Became Sick With Salmonella in 2017

Let’s make some assumptions:

1.) Let’s assume that all those reported sick from live poultry are actually poultry keepers, not just people who touched or were otherwise around chickens in the 2 weeks prior to getting sick.

4695 members in the Facebook group “Chickens For Sale in Michigan”

2.) Let’s assume that the number of people who keep chickens in Michigan corresponds to the number of members in the Chickens for Sale in Michigan Facebook group, which has 4695 members today.

2017 MI Salmonella Cases # Chicken Keepers in MI
18 4695

18 is what % of 4,695?  .38%

Of course, these are pretty big assumptions, and they’re assuming on the low side.  The CDC likes to point out that many people who become infected with Salmonella will never report it, because they might just get a stomach ache & diarrhea and then get over it. Likewise, I think there are far more than 4695 people in Michigan keeping chickens; as support of my theory, I look at forums like and their Michigan Backyard Chicken Keepers thread, which is currently 3964 pages long with a total of 39,635 messages.

Regardless, maybe this 4695 is a big part of our Michigan population, and we need to be worried about those 4695 people getting sick, crippling our economy and overrunning hospitals.  How big of a threat potential is there?? Let’s look at 2016 numbers, since I can pull Michigan census data for 2016.

2016 MI Cases # Chicken Keepers in MI 2016 Pop. of MI
55 4695 9,928,300

4,695 is what % of 9,928,300? .047%

In 2016, our % of sick is actually much higher than where we are right now in 2017. However, chicken keepers, as a whole, are a TINY percentage of the overall population of Michigan, and then only a TINY percentage of them have contracted Salmonella (again, making big assumptions in all cases).

How Are People Getting Sick With Salmonella From Backyard Chickens?

It’s a good question, since it’s so easy to NOT get sick if you practice basic hygiene and use common sense.  Basically, the rule is:

Don’t put stuff in your mouth that could be unclean.

It’s a pretty easy concept.  Your mom likely drilled it into your head when you were a kid.  “Wash your hands” she’d say. “Don’t stick that in your mouth!” She’d scream. Things like that.

Basically, with chickens, you have to assume they’ve gotten in or around poo.  I assume the same thing with my dog and cat, honestly, and they get the privilege of sleeping on furniture.  If you wash your hands before sticking them in your mouth, and if you don’t go around licking surfaces in your house/yard, you should be fine.

So how are people getting Salmonella from backyard chickens?  I have some theories.  Welcome to my…

Official Guide to Getting Salmonella from Backyard Chickens

  1. Lick everything.  Always.
  2. Clean the coop with your spoon, while you’re eating breakfast.
  3. Let your chicken nest in your salad bowl.HOW-TO-GET-SALMONELLA-FROM-BACKYARD-CHICKENS-CDC
  4. Share toothbrushes with your chickens, even though they don’t have teeth.
  6. Let your chickens soak their feet in your tea after a long day of pecking and scratchin’.
  7. Touch chickens then lick your hands.HOW-TO-GET-SALMONELLA-FROM-TOUCHING-CHICKENS
  8. Drink chicken-stomped wine.
  9. Tongue bathe your chickens.HOW-TO-GET-SALMONELLA-FROM-BACKYARD-CHICKENS-CDC-2017
  10. Keep your chickens toenails short by chewing them.

Important note on ‘Kissing Chickens Causes Salmonella’

All of the above are ludicrous examples, just like insinuating that backyard chicken keepers are all getting sick from getting too ‘intimate’ with their flock, kissing and snuggling them.  There are currently 568,000 results for the search “kissing chickens” on Google- all because some remarks from the CDC on ‘kissing, hugging, and snuggling chickens’ blew up into “OMG THESE CHICKEN WEIRDOS ARE BASICALLY MAKING OUT WITH THEIR BIRDS” because that sort of headline gets clicks.  It’s dumb, and it paints backyard chickens & their keepers as unsavory, odd people- certainly not the sort of people you want living in YOUR town.

As an example of why this is such a disingenuous tagline for all the stories, here’s a snippet from the 2015 Outbreak Summary:

Twenty-eight (41%) of 69 ill people with complete questionnaires reported keeping baby poultry indoors, 39 (57%) of 69 reported holding or snuggling baby poultry, and 4 (6%) of 69 reported kissing baby poultry. These behaviors increase a person’s risk of a Salmonella infection.

Yes, you read that right: 4 people reported kissing baby poultry in 2015.  That was enough to generate high profile articles en masse published in 2015 on Google.  Ridiculous headlines get shared, and journalism suffers because of it. Articles like  “Salmonella Is Raging Because People Keep Kissing Chickens“.  The article leaves out the context of how many people are kissing their chickens, and instead focuses on it like it’s the main issue- and it’s not.  The issue is simple hygienic practices, like washing hands, removing shoes when coming into the house, and not putting your mouth on things that have touched poo (I know, I sound like a broken record). Oh, and teaching your KIDS to do that too.


How The CDC Reports Cases of Salmonella Makes It Easy For Naysayers to Fight Against the Legalization of Backyard Chickens

Here’s the crux of why I’m irritated by these yearly reports, and why I think it’s important to change the narrative on salmonella and backyard chickens:  as more people strive to work with their city to create ordinances to allow backyard chickens, the alarmist nature of these articles is easy fodder for those who staunchly want to deny backyard chickens in their city.  The way the data is being presented, not just by the CDC but also news organizations, is irresponsible and fearmongering.

Don’t think it has any impact, or that I’m being overly sensitive?  The city of Eastpointe passed a municipal code in 2017 concerning backyard chickens, allowing them with written permission from each neighbor BUT all children must be supervised while interacting with chickens.  Why?  Because they could get sick, because apparently city council believes that the citizens of Eastpointe aren’t capable of teaching their kids how to handle chickens without somehow getting chicken poo in their mouth.

During the city council sessions in Berkley MI, several people cited concerns over disease and salmonella running wild if backyard chickens were allowed.  Luckily rational thought triumphed, but the city is still doing a limited scope ‘pilot program’, just in case- despite the blatant non-issue backyard chickens have been in Ferndale, Royal Oak, Hazel Park, Madison Heights, & Lathrup Village (all surrounding communities).

Every year, I wait for the numbers from the CDC to come out around early June.  Every year, I get emails and notes to the Ferndale Backyard Chickens Facebook page, asking about the validity of the articles. And every year I say the same thing:  no, I’m not worried about Salmonella.  Don’t put poo in your mouth, wash your hands.

When I approached Ferndale back in 2008, the CDC wasn’t pushing press releases out about Salmonella and backyard chickens.  I guess the argument can be made that it wasn’t as much of an issue, since fewer people had or were interested in urban chicken keeping.  The tides of public opinion have shifted a good deal, but not so much that I’d say your average city dweller thinks backyard chickens are acceptable- and with fearmongering, click-baity articles coming out every year like clockwork, I wonder how public opinion will shift back toward disallowing urban chicken keeping.  That’s why I think it’s so crucial to keep this in perspective:  only a fraction of a percent of people are getting sick every year, and that shouldn’t be used as ammunition to keep people from being allowed to have chickens.

We, as chicken keepers, NEED to make sure the narrative isn’t one-sided. Share this article with family and friends any time they tag you on another ‘kissing chickens’ outbreak article.  Make sure they know that Salmonella isn’t transferred via air, and that basic hygiene keeps people safe.  Most of all, let them know they’re safe- this isn’t something your average chicken keeper has to fear, and it isn’t something non chicken keepers need to be concerned about.


What Michigan Backyard Chicken Keepers Need to Know About the Bird Flu

michigan bird flu avian influenza prevention

Before anyone panics, let me start this out by saying this:

You’re not likely to get the bird flu.

That said, I felt the need to put together this post to remind fellow backyard chicken keepers & other fowl keepers (ducks, geese, etc) that it’s ALWAYS crucial to be mindful of the potential for disease to be spread in your flock.  Yesterday, Michigan saw it’s first case of bird flu, found in Canadian geese in Sterling Heights.  Although it’s being shown over and over again that backyard flocks are less prone to contracting bird flu, it’s wise to exercise caution.

From AOL:

“Michigan on Monday said Canadian geese in the state tested positive for a lethal strain of bird flu, bringing the worst outbreak of the disease in U.S. history to a 21st state.

Three young geese collected in Sterling Heights, Michigan, about 20 miles (30 km) north of Detroit, were infected with the highly pathogenic H5N2 flu strain, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The state is now focusing on preventing the spread of the disease to poultry, Director Keith Creagh said.

Nationwide, more than 46 million chickens and turkeys have been killed by the disease or culled to prevent its spread. Most are in Iowa, the top U.S. egg-producing state, and Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey-producing state.

Michigan is the 21st state to confirm a case of bird flu since late 2014 and the sixth to detect it only in wild or free-ranging bids, according to the department. Fifteen states have found the virus in poultry flocks.

The discovery of the disease in Michigan was “not unexpected given avian influenza has been found in a number of our neighboring states and Ontario,” said Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Wild birds are thought to be carriers of the virus, which also can be tracked onto poultry farms by people or trucks that come into contact with contaminated feces. It may also be carried into poultry barns by wind blowing in contaminated dirt or dust.”

What’s the takeaway from all of this:

  1. Keep your birds away from wild geese, ducks, and waterfowl and where they tend to congregate.Bird-Flu-02
  2. Don’t bring in new adult or juvenile birds into your flock without a lengthy quarantine. Read more about quarantine best practices.
  3. Do not show your chickens at live poultry fairs/exhibits.  Michigan has already enacted a statewide quarantine of chickens.
  4. Take care to use sensible biosecurity protocol after visiting farms or anywhere there are potentially infected birds or their droppings- meaning, before you visit your own chickens, remove shoes and clothing that was exposed to potential pathogens and wash your hands.
  5. Consider moving your bird feeder away from where your chickens live & roam.  It’s unlikely that wild songbirds are carriers or bird flu, but they can carry other pathogens and parasites.
  6. Learn the symptoms and facts about Avian Influenza and keep an eye on your birds

Unfortunately, this means that my grand plan of having Ferndale’s first chicken coop tour is out the window, even though the risk is minimal.  When in doubt, I side with caution.

To Our Chicken-less Neighbors:

Our backyard flocks aren’t going to make you sick.  In fact, right now we’re the ones being turned to for eggs, since the price of eggs is skyrocketing after countless factory farm birds have had to be culled due to infection.  It appears that factory farms are contracting bird flu much more readily than backyard flocks, despite our hens wandering in the yard where other birds might be located.  We’re trying to keep our food system healthy, and keep our lovely pet chickens healthy too.  Personally, most people I’ve met who keep a small flock are hyper vigilant about protecting them from the bugaboos and weird stuff that can kill a chicken.  We invest in these birds in a major way for a relatively meager ROI-  after all, in Ferndale we’re getting 3 eggs a day MAX, only in peak laying season when the birds are in their prime.

I’m hopeful that this epidemic is halted before it progresses further.  We’ve barely felt the effects here in Michigan, but with eggs & chicken being such a staple protein, I’m hoping that good biosecurity and prevention will keep us from seeing massive shortages and skyrocketing prices for those who purchase eggs/meat.

Garden City, MI: Man sentenced to jail time on the CRIMINAL charge of keeping chickens!

garden city mi man found guilty on criminal charge of keeping backyard chickens

Guys, you really can’t make this sort of stuff up.  Randy Zeilinger, a Garden City MI resident, has been found guilty on the CRIMINAL charge of keeping city mi man found guilty on criminal charge of keeping backyard chickens

Think about that for a minute.  A criminal charge follows you for your entire life.  A criminal charge must be reported on job applications. A criminal conviction is reported to state and federal agencies.

The sentence is:

  • 30 days in jail
  • 6 months of reporting to probation
  • $905 in fines
  • Pay for the court appointed attorney
  • Comply with all city ordinances

But the honorable Judge Hammer was “nice” and suspended the jail time. However, if Randy fails on any of the above details he will be thrown in jail. That was clearly stated.

A few days after conviction, Randy began receiving new ordinance violations in the mail. These include a violation for keeping a wild skunk, a vandalized porch and peeling paint on his garage. The Garden City Ordinance Officer has indicated that he will be visiting Randy often and writing violations for anything that he can. Randy will likely face another year of bi-monthly court appearances.

 Synopsis of Randy’s story (full story here):

From Randy: ‘I purchased my home in 2000. I started moving in around March of the same year. I moved my bee hives at the same time and was immediately confronted by a neighbor who called the police.  The attending officer said that bees were OK if I kept them in my own yard. In hind sight, I should have noted the complaint and resulting dialog. However, I thought that I was within my rights based on the Michigan state law, often referred to as the “Right to Farm Act”.  In fact, I was (am) covered by this law. Over the next ten years or so, this same neighbor lodged numerous complaints against me. City officials recognized that these complaints were baseless in nature and merely a case of “everyone has one of THOSE neighbors”. ‘

*A note on the Michigan Right to Farm Act: it supersedes local city/town ordinances.  While I (Laura) opted to work with my city to have an ordinance included in our muni code allowing for chickens, technically I didn’t need to.  Taken from MRTFA : (6) Beginning June 1, 2000, except as otherwise provided in this section, it is the express legislative intent that this act preempt any local ordinance, regulation, or resolution that purports to extend or revise in any manner the provisions of this act or generally accepted agricultural and management practices developed under this act. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a local unit of government shall not enact, maintain, or enforce an ordinance, regulation, or resolution that conflicts in any manner with this act or generally accepted agricultural and management practices developed under this act. This section affirms your Michigan right to continuation business farming operating within generally accepted agricultural and management practices (GAAMPS) guidelines and supersedes any city laws that may forbid said farming. For your reference, Shelby Township v. Papesh is a similar case and may assist in your legal determinations.

Here’s where things start falling apart for Randy:

  • In 2009 he acquires  some chickens and ducks. After a year of keeping chickens and ducks, he rehomed the ducks after a neighbor complained to him about them.
  • In 2012, the same neighbor that complained about the ducks complained to Randy about the chickens. This neighbor posits that “he never asked her permission to have them (the chickens)”.
  • The neighbor who complained to Randy about his chickens also complained to him about: his koi and frog pond & a tree growing in his front yard.  This neighbor called the city and demanded that they cut down Randy’s tree, which the city refused to do (thankfully).
  • The complaining neighbor, now incensed, files a legal complaint about Randy’s chickens.  The Garden City ordinance officer cites Randy with keeping chickens, despite not seeing any signs of chickens on Randy’s property. The ordinance officer visited Randy’s farm on March 21, 2012.  Several weeks later, Randy received a post card from 21st District Court to appear for a zoning violation dated March 23, 2012.

The ordinance violation was written against a 50 year-old ordinance.

     (A)     No person shall keep or house any animals or fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries, or animals commonly classified as pets, customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets.

     (B)     No person shall sell, or offer for sale, barter, or give away baby chicks, rabbits, ducklings, or other fowl as pets or novelties, whether or not dyed, colored, or otherwise artificially treated. This division shall not be construed to prohibit the display or sale of natural chicks or ducklings in proper brooder facilities by hatcheries or stores engaged in the business of selling the same to be raised for commercial purposes.

(Ord. 11-006, passed 4-25-11)

Now, here’s where things get surreal.

  • Mid-April, Randy appears in court before the Honorable Judge Richard L, Hammer, Jr. of the 21st. District Court.  The judge sent Randy back to meet with the city prosecutor, Timothy L. Cronin (P26417).
  • During this meeting, Mr. Cronin said that if Randy wanted a farm then he should move out of the city. When Randy replied that he was unable to move, he said that chickens were not allowed in the city and if Randy pursued the case that he would “make an example” of him. He went on to say that the mayor did not want farm animals in the city and that he took direction from the mayor. He further indicated that Randy was not welcome in this city and he would be foolish to continue the case. At no time did he indicate that a compromise could be reached.
  • Randy appears at city council meetings while his court dates are repeatedly postponed, speaking in favor of allowing backyard chickens in Garden City.  After one meeting, reporter Sue Buck runs a story in the June 24 2012 issue of the Garden City Observer on Randy and 2 others who spoke positively about keeping backyard chickens.  The other 2 individuals cited in the paper received chicken keeping code violation notices in the mail immediately after.
  • Randy’s complaining neighbor vandalizes his property and calls the city to lodge a complaint about it being in disarray.
  • An anonymous call is made complaining about a rooster crowing.  Randy has no rooster.
  • Randy’s complaining neighbor drives to Westland to visit his 80 year old mother, demanding that she force her son to do what they ask (remove chickens, cut down tree, etc).  The woman is fearful and traumatized.
  • By the end of July 2012, the police have been out to Randy’s house a half a dozen times. Each time was a response to an anonymous complaint called in. No charges were leveled.
  • In August 2012, police respond to a complaint about a skunk found in the complaining neighbors yard. Three police officers in two cars responded to the call. They insisted that Randy do something about the skunk in the neighbor’s yard. The neighbor had mentioned that the skunk had come from Randy and that he had sent it to spray them. The armed police officers force Randy from his house to go retrieve a wild skunk- which turned out to be a baby skunk with barely open eyes.  Randy retrieves the skunk from under the neighbors car, receives a ticket for having an unlicensed animal, and is left with the task of getting the baby skunk to a wildlife rehabilitator.

    armed police force citizen to retrieve skunk after neighbor complained that he had sent it to spray them "attack skunk"
    Skunk cops are on patrol!

In fall 2012 Randy finally gets closer to a court date, is allowed a court appointed attorney. Initially, the court told the defending attorney that the case was about the skunk but in reality, the case was about keeping chickens and the Michigan Right to Farm Act.

  • Randy’s appointed attorney, James M. Jernigan (P-57035) took the case even though he was somewhat skeptical at first. Randy explained the RTFA and how it applied to his case. Randy explained the GAAMPs, the history of the law and cited other cases that had been tried and eventually reached the Michigan Court of Appeals.
  • Randy’s case is repeatedly delayed due in part to another chicken keeper case being tried in the 21st District Court. That case was actually moved to the city of Wayne and presided by city of Wayne Judge Laura R. Mack, because Judge Hammer was recused.  That case is City of Garden City v. Pete Santeiu (Case No, 12 GC 1547 OM).  That case was dismissed by Judge Mack. Signed and dated: January 7, 2013.
  • In February 2013, the Garden City prosecution amended Randy’s case to be a criminal complaint rather than the original animal ordinance violation.
  • Randy’s jury trial is set for April 11 & 12th 2013.
  • Several points of law were disallowed based on the fact that this was a criminal charge and not merely a zoning violation. Case law, Court of Appeals decisions and opinions were discounted. The ruling of Judge Mack (representing the same court, and for the same sort of case) was disallowed.
  • Several individuals came to testify for Randy’s defense, stating he was a good neighbor and that the chickens were not a nuisance in any way.
  • Prosecution presented documents (not entered into evidence) that challenged Randy’s claim of GAAMP compliance. In a nutshell, it was argued that by Randy exceeding the GAAMP protocols, he was not “following” the GAAMPs. Thus if he wasn’t following GAAMPs then he was not compliant and not protected by MRTFA.

This case is disturbing on so many levels.  If you’d like to read about it in Randy’s own words, click here.

I urge you all to share this far and wide- it’s gotten NO media attention here in Michigan, and likely won’t without a grassroots effort.  Also, if you’d like to share your thoughts on this situation, please direct them to the Garden City mayor and councilmembers, as well as the senatorial representatives.  Follow us on Facebook for updates on Randy’s story as it continues to unfold.


Randy was interviewed on Fox 2 Detroit.  His neighbor chimed in as well, and showed just the sort of behavior you’d never want to see from a neighbor, even if you didn’t have chickens.

Downers Grove city council too scared to put chicken coop question on ballot

if it's in my hands, it might be food, right?
if it’s in my hands, it might be food, right?

Sounds awfully familiar to the situation we were in in Ferndale. Here’s hoping they examine how other cities have approached the issue and take another look at changing their ordinance.

The Downers Grove village council overwhelmingly rejected a measure Tuesday that would have let voters decide whether more homes in town should be allowed to keep backyard chicken coops.

Commissioner William Waldack offered two advisory questions, which were rejected by members of the Village Council. The deadline for adding a referendum to the April 9 ballot is Jan. 22.

Waldack argued that any change to the regulations for raising fowl on residentialproperty is a quality of life issue in which voters should have a say. Waldack previously cited smell, health hazards, attraction of predators and cost of enforcement as potential issues to be considered.

“It has the possibility of impacting just about every life in Downers Grove,” Waldack said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “Not that we’re going to have an influx or invasion of chickens, but if your neighbor goes out and gets a coop and starts raising chickens, suddenly that becomes a very local and personal issue.”

Commissioner Becky Rheintgen, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, first introduced the idea of expanding the village’s fowl ordinance in December, citing an increased demand for and focus upon sustainable living and local food sourcing. Rheintgen proposed decreasing setback requirements, increasing the maximum number of fowl allowed, banning roosters and requiring a license or permit to keep chickens.

Currently, the 25-year-old ordinance allows residents on lots at least 110 feet wide and deep to raise no more than 16 domesticated fowl within specific age ranges on their property. Rheintgen asserted that the property requirements are too restrictive, and fewer than 20 percent of residential lots fall into those parameters.

Waldack suggested two questions asking residents whether local laws should allow for an expansion of the number of homes permitted to keep chickens.

But most of the members said a referendum would be ineffective. Mayor Martin T. Tully said the language offered was too vague.

“We, as a council, don’t even have the information before us to intelligently discuss this issue, much less expect the public to have to vote on it,” Tully said. “What would be thevehicle be by which the residents and voters would get information necessary to responsibly and intelligently cast a vote on this topic? The results of that process wouldn’t provide me with any meaningful information in how to exercise my responsibility as an elected official.”

Commissioner Marilyn Schnell said putting the issue to voters, in this case, would be a “disservice to the residents.”

“We’re elected to try to gather all the information possible, both pro and con, listen to our residents and make a decision that would be in the best interest of our entire community,” Schnell said.

The council has a standing committee scheduled for Jan. 22 devoted to discussing the ordinance. The meeting is open to the public. Waldack countered that he doubted residents would turn out in big numbers for a discussion.

“We’ve had many important meetings. Very often very few people show up,” Waldack said. “If this were put on as a referendum, people will be looking at it, they will get educatedand they will be able to make an educated decision. I think it would actually enhance resident knowledge of the situation.”

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Coverage of Ferndale’s First Legal Coop- Ferndale 115


Ferndale’s First (Legal) Chicken Coop

(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, May 15th, 2012 edition)

Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl seem happy.  The six week old Buff Orpingtons strut around their sandy front yard, playing like sister chickens do: nudging, pecking, cuddling, running, rolling around in the sand and darting back up the wooden ramp to their luxury penthouse, aka Ferndale’s first legal chicken coop.

Laura Mikulski was the organizer of the Ferndale backyard chicken movement.  After meeting other suburban families that keep backyard chickens, Mikulski wanted to bring the option to Ferndale.  She researched backyard chickens and lobbied City Council to pass an ordinance allowing them.

After several months of research and consideration, theFerndale City Council approved an ordinance that allows individuals to have a chicken coop on their property as long as they follow certain rules.  Homeowners are limited to three hens. Roosters are not allowed.

The requirements of the ordinance are:

“As structured the ordinance would allow for the raising and keeping of three (3) hen chickens and no roosters. Residents would be required to receive an annual permit which would expire on December 31st of each year. Any applicant receiving a permit is required to schedule an inspection within 30 days of the permit issuance, if violations are noted at the inspection the applicant has 15 additional days to resolve the identified issues. Chickens are required to be kept in the rear yard, structures (coops) must be designed to prevent accessibility to vermin, feed must be secured in enclosed containers and compliance with the Michigan Department of Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals (GAMPS) must be maintained.”

Mikulski believes in following the law, so she waited until the process was complete. She and boyfriend Ben Wojdyla then made the plans.  With approximately $500 plus many reclaimed items, the chicken family’s new home took about two months to build

The entire coop area is surrounded with wire mesh that is tight enough to keep out rats and other predators.  The coop is topped with polycarbonate sheeting reclaimed from another project.  There is a door so people can enter, but there is also access to tend the chickens from the outside: a lever allows them to open and close the door at the top of the ramp to the chicken’s house, and a long top-opening door lets them access any eggs that may have been laid in the nesting area.  The door has a magnetic top so it will stay open while they harvest the eggs.  To best utilize the space and help provide a layer of shade to the roof of the coop, Mikulski and Wojdyla created a strawberry bed on top.

The doors to the chicks’ house are stained glass cabinet doors, and the siding is made of slats reclaimed from pallets.  Everything is decorated to match the home and garage, an aesthetic fit with the rest of the backyard’s landscaped splendor.

On May 15th the couple had their inspection.  “Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound,” Mikulski said in her blog  “He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

“The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.”

Her advice to people who want to build a coop: “Draw the plan first, but be flexible in building. Consider drainage and ventilation- chickens need to be dry. Build everything at a height that is comfortable for you to work in/with. Be mindful of cleaning issues and form a plan that allows you to clean with ease.”

Finding the chickens wasn’t hard, Mikulski just looked on Craigslist.  When she got them back in February she kept them in inside the house until the coop was complete.  “When they’re done growing they’re going to be big birds,” she said, noting that she specifically sought out Buff Orpington chicks because of their mild-manner and their heftiness once grown.

“The ladies won’t lay eggs for a while, and when they start it might take a while before the eggs come out fully developed.  Sometimes they come out without a shell.  Sometimes they’re just tiny.  Sometimes there could be ‘fart eggs,’ which are eggs without a yolk inside.”  Once they girls do mature though, they will likely lay about one egg per day.

“I just love being able to come out here and watch them.  It’s so peaceful.  The littlest things make them so happy,” Mikulski said.  Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl enjoy eating seed and leafy veggies. They also love rolling around in the sand and dirt.  They even get along well with the family dog Hurley.  “He’s never seemed bothered by them in the least,” Mikulski said.

For much more information on backyard chickens, check out

For official City of Ferndale ordinance information and more, go to

   For stories of how this all came to be, check out: