Last month, I received a letter from my homeowner's insurance company, notifying me that my policy would not be renewed. The reason? My policy was terminated because I keep chickens in my backyard. Per the letter I received from these cluckers, "chickens make the risk unacceptable." Never mind that, a week earlier, one town away, a pregnant woman was mauled to death by her pitbull. Insurers understand the need to have vicious dogs around pregnant women and small kids, but chickens? Good lord, what horrific damage a couple of quiet, egg-laying hens might do. Just think of all that scratching, pecking, and fluttering. Personal injuries, property damage, emotional distress, think of all the claims. Come on. Seriously, does anyone really think hens are dangerous? From what planet do these people hail?
If you have read my "Fresh Food From Small Spaces" book or some of my previous blog posts on this site, you will know that I strongly advocate keeping chickens for eggs. It is a small, simple, and rewarding step towards greater local food production and self-reliance. Plus, chickens are a lot of fun, they're great around small kids, they eat some of our compost scraps, and you can use not only their eggs (for eating) but their manure litter (as garden fertilizer). My chickens have a spacious, well-constructed coop and run, and are let out regularly for limited free-ranging (limited only because I don't let them into my raised veggie beds). It's code-complaint, the hens are fairly quiet (much quieter than the ravens in the tree behind their coop), and the neighbors don't mind.
There is little or no risk involved in keeping chickens. But like any natural pursuit (just ask the raw milk folks), the government and economic powers will do their best to make life as difficult as possible for anyone who tries to return to a simpler way of living. Cities and counties all around the country can sometimes be a barrier, but many of them have been getting on board with the backyard chicken thing these last few years. Recently, a record number of ordinances have been revised to allow people to keep a few chickens for egg-laying. But apparently, insurance companies have not caught up yet; backyard chickens do not factor into their actuarial formulas.
So we found another insurer who doesn't seem to care. But I'm half expecting to get another letter saying that my policy won't be renewed because I grow lettuce, because "lettuce makes the risk unacceptable." Instead, I'm supposed to pay 20 times as much to buy store-bought organic lettuce in a plastic bag that has been shipped for hundreds of miles. The next one will be denied for melons, because "melons make the risk unacceptable". No, I'm supposed to buy the listeria-laced ones at the supermarket and play Russian roulette like everyone else. And I sure hope the next surprise home inspection doesn't unearth my worm bin. Policy denied for earthworms? "Earthworms make the risk unacceptable"? It wouldn't surprise me one bit.