Cape Charles Chickens Leave Home to Roost

This backyard chicken coop from Williams & Sonoma has been vacant since the previous owner moved away last year. (Wave photo)

This backyard chicken coop from Williams & Sonoma has been vacant since the previous owner moved away last year. (Wave photo)

Cape Charles Wave

February 17, 2014

Chickens that resided at two Cape Charles residences in the Historic District have left town. One little flock of three left last summer when their owners sold their property. The other flock of six has moved to Eastville while their owner awaits a decision on whether backyard chickens will be allowed in town.

The presence of chickens in town and the need for an ordinance regarding them has sparked controversy between friends and neighbors. Town Council has tasked the Planning Commission with providing a draft ordinance about backyard chicken keeping. This month Commission members discussed the pros and cons of chicken keeping in town but did not finalize a draft ordinance. The discussion will continue next month.

As has been reported in the Wave, numerous municipalities allow small flocks of chickens in residential neighborhoods. Roosters are rarely allowed due to their natural tendency to crow in the morning.


Town Planner Rob Testerman suggested the following critical questions to be addressed by the ordinance:

• What type of chicken would be permitted?

• Where would they be allowed?

• How many would be allowed?

• What are appropriate setbacks and structure standards?

• How will they be permitted and who is responsible for enforcement?

Many prospective chicken keepers want a flock of their own so that they do not have to purchase eggs from inhumane operations where the birds do not have the opportunity do any of the things that a chicken would naturally do like explore their surroundings,  scratch in the dirt, and take dust baths. Chickens are by nature gregarious and social birds. They do not fly well, making them easily domesticated.

Karen Davis of Machipongo, founder of United Poultry Concerns,  an organization promoting the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl, tells the story of egg laying chickens in battery cages that may be read at

When developing an ordinance the needs and desires of people come first, but it is the chickens that are the recipients of the standards devised. A coalition of animal sanctuaries has crafted a policy statement on urban chicken-keeping for municipalities to consider when drafting a backyard chicken ordinance. The coalition urges community members to provide this policy statement to decision-makers and the community. It is available here and on the United Poultry Concerns website.




16 Responses to “Cape Charles Chickens Leave Home to Roost”

  1. Cathy Buyrn on February 17th, 2014 9:47 pm

    Chickens, Neighbors, and Character

    I resided in Cape Charles from 1992 to 1995 when I moved to Eastville with my husband. During my time in Cape Charles I experienced neighborliness from both full time residents and part time residents. Vacation homeowners actually existed in Cape Charles before Bay Creek, gated communities, and golf courses. It is a shame that such neighborliness does not seem to exist today.

    I have had the pleasure of dining in the backyard of the Hadden residence before and after their chicken adventure. There was no smell, no noise, and absolutely no salmonella. The Haddens embarked upon a backyard chicken experience as part of a homeschool experience for their boys after much research and consideration. Despite the portrayal of their endeavor as being a blatant violation of law and abomination to civilized living, nothing could be further from the truth.

    The town ordinance does not address the keeping of any animals as pets. The Haddens never intended to keep the chickens as part of an agricultural operation. If keeping backyard chickens violates the ordinance against agricultural production within town limits, so does the New Roots Garden or any other garden in town that produces vegetables or fruit. Perhaps the Haddens would have been better off had they chosen to keep Pit Bulls or Rottweillers in their backyard.

    The Hadden family spent weeks going door to door discussing backyard chicken keeping with neighbors and sharing their endeavor on the sidelines of the soccer field. They were pleased with the level of support that they received from neighbors and community members who engaged with them directly over the issue. It is a shame that the neighbors who lived across the alley from them didn’t directly engage them about their concerns before a public confrontation. It is a shame that they chose to operate behind the scenes from out of town until they were forced to be publicly direct about their opposition. That isn’t the kind of neighborliness that I experienced when I lived in town.

    It seems to me that there is an opportunity for Cape Charles to be a town where there is a unique blend of historical character and modern amenities. Cape Charles is in fact a “rural community” where chicken keeping was part of the local character. It would be nice to see the conflict resolved with a healthy respect for the unique character that the history of Cape Charles was built on and the future that Cape Charles hopes for. I would suggest that a good starting point for that conversation would be to cross the alley and talk to each other before debating issues in a public forum.

    Backyard chickens may not be appropriate in Richmond, Virginia or suburban Maryland, but they are actually very appropriate for a rural town on the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. Character is what makes someone, something, or someplace unique. It would be sad to think that the only character of value in Cape Charles is that which disregards the actual history the town. That history includes agriculture, chickens, and good old-fashioned neighborliness.

  2. Susan Bauer on February 18th, 2014 10:54 am

    I wish people would stop referring to these chickens as “pets.” I understand the Haddens are not presently eating their chickens, because they are busy consuming their embryos, but unless they plan to retire their chickens to a life of lounging in front of the fireplace and taking long walks on the beach to view the Cape Charles sunset, like my bulldog, they are not pets. It is disingenuous to characterize them as anything but livestock and food – period.

  3. Wayne Creed on February 18th, 2014 2:34 pm

    Thanks for posting this image of a Cape Charles chicken coop. It will probably help folks achieve a better perspective about what back yard chickens can be. Of course, this stylish W&S structure is a bit pricey, but there are also many great, attractive and inexpensive coop designs for kits that can be purchased for not much more than the cost of materials. Despite what most people envision, coops are typically small, clean and attractive like the one in the picture (look, just about anyone that goes to the trouble loves their chickens and wants to take care of them).

    To Ms. Buyrn’s comment, I hope that any opposition to Cape Charles chickens is not being directed at the Haddens. If anything, Steph did try to keep an open dialogue with immediate neighbors to ensure any concerns or issues were addressed, and though she may have put the chicken before the egg a bit, it should be noted that she personally went around town with a petition to gauge how much support for backyard chickens existed (my wife and I also signed the petition).

    My family has been in the chicken and egg business for well over 100 years, so I was a bit surprised by the push back and level of concern by some who were opposed to chickens, and it also made me realize maybe we need more data if it is indeed that big of a deal for some folks (even the American Poultry Association advises that the rights of neighbors must be considered when raising chickens in a city or town). As far as I know, however, more people signed the petition in favor of backyard chickens than have voiced concern against.

    I do believe once we separate the reality from myth, we will realize that chickens can be kept in a yard so inconspicuously, and that it may not be apparent they’re even around (with no detrimental effect to property values). And chickens don’t really smell — the poop, if left unattended for an extended period, may develop an odor, but it can also be composted and worked into gardens. Chicken manure, high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium adds organic matter and increases the water holding capacity and beneficial biota in soil. For redneck Italian tomato farmers like me, it’s better than horse or cow manure. If it’s done right, it’s all a part of the natural urban agriculture sustainability cycle.
    You have to think, given the amount of horse manure I dump into my gardens each year, not to mention my beloved 80 pound Labrador retriever Chloe, who has been known to create a few massive piles herself, that two or three little birds probably won’t be creating environmental disasters that are any worse than those that already exist.

  4. Dana Lascu on February 18th, 2014 11:45 pm

    Cool design. Put a Neiman Marcus processing plant next to it.

  5. Mary Kate Felch on February 19th, 2014 11:37 am

    Just a note: The City of Richmond in fact allows backyard chickens.

  6. Louise Johnson on February 19th, 2014 11:39 am

    I would not want property in Cape Charles if they were to offer me the entire town free of charge.

  7. Sandy Mayer on February 19th, 2014 12:04 pm

    People keep snakes and lizards as pets also fish…….so why can’t a chicken be considered a pet? I have never had a bird as a pet……… I do not know much about their personalities, but I am sure that they have them. Farm animals in town is another issue. Perhaps it needs to address how much property you have.
    I come from a small town in NJ and if you had an acre you were allowed to have 1.5 horses (a horse and a pony). I think the limit for chickens was 6. They did not allow trailers or trucks to be parked on the street at night, never any boats that made the roads impassible. Guess we need to decide who we are trying to appeal to tourists or residents that take advantage of the loose parking laws that force you to drive down the double yellow lines just to get through. I am pretty sure that driving over the double yellow lines is illegal. Seems we have more important issues in town than chickens.

  8. Deborah Bender on February 19th, 2014 1:19 pm

    Chickens are NOT pets. Period! The way this town’s 2 town managers, mayor, and Town Council like to spend our money I think they should do a $10,000 chicken study. Comments anyone?

  9. Dana Lascu on February 19th, 2014 3:03 pm

    Some birds are lovely pets – unlike poultry, parrots are intelligent and great companions. Moreover, parrots live in the house, and only occasionally spend time outside. They rarely bother neighbors, and owners clean their cages daily.

    On the subject of city ordinances, in areas with similar size yards to those in the Cape Charles Historic District, you never ever see poultry (Manhattan, the Richmond Fan, D.C. included). It may be that the ordinances are more restrictive in these areas, or the neighbors more vocal and vigilant. In these cities, poultry might exist in areas where properties are reasonably large, and where they do not bother neighbors. If you own a quadruple town lot in Cape Charles, then perhaps you could potentially plant your poultry in an area that is sufficiently far from your neighbor’s fence to not pollute their environment as well.

  10. Tom Kenny on February 19th, 2014 4:38 pm

    Please, New York City allows for the raising of chickens. Deborah, chicken can be pets. Not sure what your definition of a pet is but you need to tell me the difference between a dog, a chicken, a snake, fish or a guinea pig as a pet?

  11. Deborah Bender on February 19th, 2014 7:07 pm

    Tom, if I am not mistaken, in this town most dogs, [pet] snakes, fish, and guinea pigs live in the house. If the people raising chickens want to keep them in the house, so be it. Case closed for this chick!

  12. Cathy Buyrn on February 20th, 2014 1:31 pm

    People have different preferences, beliefs, and styles. Cape Charles and the entire Eastern Shore represents a unique blend of character. It is more productive and reasonable to seek some kind of common ground that gives each member of a community the right to pursue their own preferences, beliefs, and styles without being attacked. The nasty tone of dialogue on the part of many commenters on this issue and others says more about those individuals than it does the issues they are squalking about. One of the considerations for a potential plan to allow backyard chicken keeping might be to restrict the keeping of the loudest hens and roosters. That might mitigate any noise concerns from the chickens but I am sure will do nothing to temper the squalking and self-righteous screeching from those who believe they should get to tell everyone else how to live. You have a noise issue in town, but it has little to do with chickens.

  13. Bruce Lindeman on February 21st, 2014 7:40 am

    Cathy — I whole-heartedly agree with you and it’s why I mostly read, but don’t much comment on stories any more. If this community — and, I’m including the Wave in this — would seek to build consensus and solve problems rather than argue, we’d move this town forward.

    Clearly on this issue, there are at least two sides. I think we all get that. So, let’s talk instead about how to compromise, as you suggest, rather than to attack. I’ve been called pollyana for such comments on this site, and I imagine I will again. But, no organization solves internal problems by individuals digging in their heels on their position. They move ahead when they realize that people are different with different with wants and needs and they work to figure out the win-win. We can do that here, if folks would simply drop the anger and attacks and work on solving our issues — together.

  14. David Gay on February 22nd, 2014 2:58 am

    Bruce and Cathy, I agree with both of you. I recently offered to coordinate a get together at a neutral site where all sides could meet, have a dialog and seek some positive solutions. I got one favorable response from a weekender who lives in Northern Virginia and a response from a member of the town council who would be open to the idea after the election. There was a time in this town when a person could have differing opinions and still maintain social ties with everyone. I long for those days.

  15. Cathy Buyrn on February 22nd, 2014 1:02 pm

    Perhaps there is hope for neighborliness in town after all! The nasty squalking and screeching seems to have died down in the wake of calmer heads and a desire to respect differing points of view. I hope that becomes the new tone in town.

  16. Maris Crane on July 21st, 2015 9:56 pm

    Susan Bauer, We all have our opinions and who are YOU to call someone else “disingenuous” because they consider their chickens to be pets. You closed minded idiot. I have 8 hens which I absolutely consider pets. I live in a subdivision in Phoenix AZ. Just because I eat their eggs does not mean that I do not consider them my pets. When the stop laying, I plan on KEEPING THEM AS PETS for the remainder of their lives. I plan on a move to Kentucky, NC, or VA in a few years and YES I’ll be taking them with me along with my dogs, 3 PET pigeons and 8 PET coturnix quail and my PET turtle dove. I’ll be sure not to move to a place full of mean spirited folk such as yourself.