People, Coyotes and Chickens

It seems a lot of people want chickens these days. Many cities along the Colorado front range, including Denver, have adopted new city ordinances , or are considering ways to allow people to have chickens in town.

This comes along at the same time as the entire front range of Colorado has seen a dramatic rise of the urban coyote. Some people see coyotes as a huge problem. Others like it, and are even feeding coyotes to keep them around. Of course, coyotes will stay around even if nobody feeds them. They’ve discovered it’s easy to make a living in urban areas whether the people like it or not.

The chicken situation is interesting. Apparently a lot of people want to have chickens or there would not be so many municipalities considering whether to allow chickens.

When I think of chickens in the backyard I get an image of a lower middle class neighborhood where relatively poor people live and supplement their grocery budget with chickens and their eggs. That’s because I grew up in the 1950s Cheyenne, Wyoming where, if I remember correctly, chickens were not allowed within the city limits, but outside of town nearly everyone was poor and had chickens.

Economics is not the reason people today want chickens. Cherry Hills Village, one of the most expensive places to live in Colorado, has long allowed chickens in certain areas of the city. Those areas seem to have some of the most expensive real estate in an already high-priced real estate town.

In many areas, such as the exclusive Keene Ranch development just South of Castle Rock in Douglas County, people are engaged in chicken fights.  No, not the bloody and abominable and illegal kind, but the kind where neighbors and homeowners argue incessantly over whether chickens should be allowed or remain forbidden.  So different from my youth in Wyoming where you could tell for sure who was well off and who was poor by whether they had a chicken coop.

These days it is the well off who most want chickens. I guess the poor don’t need them. They have welfare checks and food stamps and caring for chickens would be too much trouble. I say that’s too bad because poor people used to alleviate their poverty with chicken husbandry. It was a way for them to do something for themselves, a way to reach a little toward Maslow’s zenith of becoming self-actualizing.  No one who depends on government welfare will ever get close to that happy place.

Those opposed to chickens might find them a sign of lower class living. I was one of those because of my childhood remembrances. Having expanded my horizon, I see that it’s no longer poor people who want chickens. It’s the upper economic class and those who just want the experience of raising chickens. That has to be the motivation in Keene Ranch and Cherry Hills Village. Nobody living in either is poor.

The sentiment for having chickens is spreading. Arapahoe county, between Denver and Douglas County, is considering allowing chickens in unincorporated suburban areas. They’ve long been allowed in unincorporated rural areas.

Arapahoe County government is asking for feedback from county residents on allowing chickens. I predict chicken fights will break out. Arapahoe County and all of the rest of Colorado’s urban and suburban front range has been taken over by the phenomenon of the urban coyote. Most but certainly not all people don’t like this turn of events and are anywhere from slightly to mightily upset about it.

Chickens attract coyotes and urban coyotes live almost exclusively on people’s pets and chickens so that’s another reason people might be opposed to chickens in urban and suburban areas. If the presence of chickens exacerbates the coyote problem the chicken fights will get more intense.

I’m hearing lots of news stories of people’s strategy to get rid of coyotes. I guess they don’t know that there is only one way to get rid of coyotes once you’ve got them. What is that way? Wolves, of course.

But even wolves don’t get rid of all coyotes. At first there will be a few extra-wiley coyotes that learn to avoid wolves, then they breed and pretty soon you’ve got about the same number of coyotes again.

That’s what happened in Yellowstone. For a while after importing wolf packs it seemed the coyotes were disappearing. There numbers were greatly reduced. But now there’re back up to about where they were before, albeit with a much different sort of coyote.

Instead of trying to get rid of coyotes, which is not possible, people need to think about what is attracting coyotes and get rid of those things. Chickens will be one of the things that might have to go or not ever be started. Keeping pets on a leash also, but there have been reports of coyote attacks on leashed dogs right in front of the owner’s nose. The only sure way to protect a pet from coyotes is to keep them indoors or in a coyote proof enclosure.
Along the front range there are three kinds of people. Those who hate coyotes and want them gone, those who don’t care one way or another about coyotes, and those who feed coyotes and try to attract them. So it’s as much a people problem as a coyote problem.
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