MORAGA — Inspired by the legalization of residential chicken-keeping in Lafayette, and the prospect of a ready supply of farm-fresh eggs, Moraga residents are pushing for similar laws letting them house hens, bees and other furred and feathered creatures in their own backyards.
In addition to making domestic chicken-keeping legal, the rules up for study Aug. 17 will expand existing laws allowing poultry, fowl, birds and other small livestock on agricultural land or open space of at least 40,000 square feet. Rabbits would be OK, but hoofed animals such as sheep and goats aren”t included.
Closely modeled on guidelines adopted by the city of Lafayette last October, Moraga”s proposed small farm animal ordinance would allow barnyard livestock such as chickens, pigeons and rabbits in single-family home zones without a permit. Residents of duplexes and triplexes could also keep the animals with special town permission, but apartment dwellers are out of luck. Lafayette allows from four to 16 hens and other small farm animals on a parcel depending on square footage. Roosters, waterfowl, peacocks, guinea hens and other noisy birds aren”t welcome.
While Moraga is just beginning to publicly study the proposed guidelines, residents have long been advocating for backyard chickens. Supporters say they”re educational and environmentally friendly. They also provide nontoxic pest control and their composted droppings are an alternative to artificial fertilizers.
Gathering fresh eggs at home rather than relying on factory farms also cuts down on pollution spewed out by concentrated animal feeding operations, said Lynda Deschambault, a former Moraga mayor and executive director of the nonprofit Contra Costa County Climate Leaders.
“Staying local is hugely beneficial to the community,” Deschambault said.
Planning Director Ellen Clark said the town has heard from residents who are keeping chickens under the radar and want the activity legalized. Permitting chickens is also in line with the town”s recently adopted climate action plan, Clark said.
The town has also received the infrequent but occasional complaint, she said.
“There are people who do have issues with chicken keeping, she said. “We inform people they need to go through (the town”s) process to keep chickens.”
Unlike numerous other Bay Area cities that allow chickens, including Antioch, Concord, Pleasant Hill and San Leandro, Moraga”s laws would also officially let owners slaughter their livestock.
Lafayette currently allows residents to slaughter small farm animals as long as the activity isn”t visible to neighbors and the remains are properly disposed of.
“Processing is an important part of the life cycle of keeping chickens,” said Ed Wagstaff, a backyard chicken-keeper in Lafayette. “(It”s) part of the responsibility of tending my homegrown, organically-produced protein source.”
Slaughtering is also something “Papa” John Kiefer — Lafayette”s noted backyard chicken expert — called an absolute requirement to have in the code.
“If you don”t have slaughtering, one unfortunate byproduct is people will take their chickens to open space at night and let them out. It becomes a meal for mountain lions or coyotes,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer — who keeps his own small flock of Delaware, buff Orpington, Sussex and other hens — has been working with the town on the new regulations.
He”s also been educating both chicken owners and their prospective counterparts at his annual workshops, which include teaching people how to make “odor-free” coops. Kiefer estimates there”s about 40 to 50 residents in Moraga already keeping chickens because they attend his workshops. Others are standing by.
“Some are waiting anxiously because they”re not willing to be out of compliance,” Kiefer said. “They”re not going to get chickens until it”s legal.”