Whatever Happened To ... the D.C. family and their pet chicks

 Caryn Ernst, a proponent of raising backyard hens in the District
Caryn Ernst, a proponent of raising backyard hens in the District (Benjamin C. Tankersley)
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By Kris Coronado
Sunday, July 11, 2010

First, you hear their high-pitched chirps, rising above the Sunday morning din of the Dupont Circle farmers market. Then, there they are -- 11 tiny chicks, strutting through a cut-out doorway in the side of an old Crate and Barrel box resting on the ground.

Ada Silverman, 5, and her sister, Leah, 7, make a border around the box with their legs to keep their baby chickens from scampering away. The younger sister nuzzles one of the yellowy birds, which had been hatched two weeks earlier in her pre-kindergarten class: "I love Sunny," Ada says.

At an adjacent table, the girls' parents, Caryn Ernst and Josh Silverman, hand out pamphlets about backyard hens. It's been a year since the family parted with its first batch of eight chickens, which had been kept in a homemade coop at its Capitol Hill home. As reported by columnist Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post in January, what began as a project in the older daughter's kindergarten class turned ugly when animal control workers arrived on the family's doorstep and declared the birds illegal.

A week later, the family returned the chickens to Twin Oaks Farm in Fauquier County, where they'd gotten the fertilized eggs. Ernst, pictured above, then discovered an old regulation that makes it practically impossible for District residents to keep fowl: Coops must be at least 50 feet away from a residence and 250 feet from a property line.

Ernst met with Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells, who last October had presented a bill that would let residents obtain a permit to keep fowl with the consent of 80 percent of the neighbors. Charles Allen, Wells's chief of staff, said the Health Committee, where the bill has languished, is working with the health department to develop an alternative proposal.

Ernst had hoped to bring some of her original hens home this spring. But three hens were sold, and the four roosters likely wound up "in the frying pan," Ernst says. The family expects to see the only remaining chicken from their original batch when they return the new chicks to Twin Oaks this summer.

Ernst remains an advocate, working with a grass-roots group nicknamed "Team Chicken" to collect signatures at D.C. farmers markets for a petition asking the city to allow residents to raise as many as five hens (roosters are noisy and don't lay eggs) without a permit. Team Chicken plans to present the petition to Health Committee Chairman David Catania this month.

Read the original story: D.C. residents fight to raise poultry in the city


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