May 22, 2015
Dear Portsmouth City Council Members,
On behalf of United Poultry Concerns, I am writing at the request of residents whose concerns we share about the Board of Adjustment’s vote to allow
Strawbery Banke Museum to keep a small flock of hens as part of a “historic poultry exhibition.” We respectfully urge that this exhibit be
conducted with historic films and other features that convey the history without live birds.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, chickens kept in coops require daily labor and care. What looks like an idyllic pastime becomes an unwelcome burden if
care is not taken initially to ensure responsible husbandry practices.
Chickens need predator-proof housing and yards with nest areas, roosts and natural sunlight. Their living quarters require daily cleaning and maintenance,
yet even the cleanest coop attracts rodents to the free food and straw bedding. Moreover, chickens need to be treated with respect and compassion. They
have feelings, they are companionable creatures, and it is not right to relegate them to the role of specimens.
A few years ago I visited an exhibit similar in purpose to this one where the chickens were kept in insanitary conditions and covered with lice and mites.
Their food and water bowls were unclean and their housing was barren. They were unhealthy and unhappy. The museum manager said, “This is how they did
it back in the old days.”
In traditional farming, chickens seldom received veterinary care, but in today’s world it is imperative that chickens have access to reliable
It is disturbing to read that the museum got its chickens by “mail order.” Shipping chickens as airmail is inhumane. Please see Veterinary Assessment of Shipping Live Birds as Airmail.
Also disturbing is the fact that for every hen purchased, a rooster was born who was ground up alive, gassed or suffocated to death in plastic garbage
bags. Hen-keeping without roosters is neither natural nor traditional. This practice has become a fad in recent years as part of an idea about
“returning to nature” or to some fantasized “tradition” by incongruously ordering hens from industrial hatcheries.
Out of concern for the hens and opposition to the perpetuation of demeaning ideas about chickens that treating them as museum specimens entails, we
respectfully ask that you reconsider allowing chickens to be kept by Strawbery Banke Museum. The story the museum wishes to tell can be told without live
chickens. The story of chickens that needs to be told is that they are friendly, intelligent, sociable birds with cheerful spirits who love sunlight and
soil, fresh breezes and light rain, and lots of daily activity and exploration. Chickens have excellent eyesight and hearing, and they are very sensitive
to the attitudes of the people around them. They are not meant for harsh temperatures or callous treatment. Unfortunately, that kind of treatment often
reflects a farming attitude that we fear could be carried over into the museum exhibit and transmitted to the public. Please see if you can come up with
other, more creative ways of recapturing the past, and let chickens be chickens on their own terms and for their own sakes.
Thank you for your attention and consideration. I would be more than happy to speak with you at any time about this issue.
Karen Davis, PhD
United Poultry Concerns
12325 Seaside Road, PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405