Proposal stops short of ban on roosters in Fort Worth

FORT WORTH -- Residents want to keep their roosters, Fort Worth code enforcement officials were told Thursday night, after city leaders floated a compromise that would allow people to keep up to three roosters, depending on their lot size.

Brandon Bennett, the city's code compliance director, said the proposed ordinance is a reasonable alternative to a complete ban. But most speakers said during a public hearing at City Hall that they oppose a crackdown on rooster owners.

Robert Riojas said he appreciated the effort by city officials to compromise but said he still does not like the proposed law and questioned how it treats roosters and hens differently.

"Chickens make just as much noise as roosters," Riojas said before an audience of about 150 people. "As a matter of fact, they might make more noise than a rooster. Every time they lay an egg, they're going to cluck for a good two or three minutes."

Eric Johnson said after the hearing that he moved his 150 chickens from his south-side home to the Rendon area about seven months ago because of city codes. He said he believes that racism is a factor, given the high percentage of Latinos who turned out to support raising roosters. The city provided a translator during the meeting.

"Texas, especially Fort Worth, loves their animals," Johnson told city officials. "We're not Dallas. We don't want to be Dallas," where roosters are banned.

Some speakers said that roosters keep them up at all hours at night and that Fort Worth should shed its "hicktown" stereotype and strive to be a modern city. People buying homes in the city might balk if they knew they would be living next door to roosters, they said.

"We need to ban roosters citywide and free up our code enforcement personnel," Wendy Helm said.

Under the current city code, Fort Worth residents can keep up to 12 fowl on a half-acre or less; up to 25 fowl on property between a half-acre and an acre; and 50 fowl on an acre or more. There are no restrictions on the sex of the fowl. Bennett proposes that roosters be limited to one on up to a half-acre; two from a half-acre to just short of an acre; and three on an acre or more. The other birds must be hens. Cockfighting paraphernalia would also be banned.

The proposed ordinance would define nuisance crowing based on how often and how loudly a rooster crows and when, said Keane Menefee, city animal control manager. That would allow code compliance officers to cite violators. Residents who now complain about noisy roosters must file an affidavit and go to court. Some people don't want the hassle or fear retaliation, city officials said.

The ordinance would apply only to residential and mixed-use properties, Menefee said.

In July, city officials held forums to get feedback about what people want in an ordinance, given the annual 450 complaints about hens and roosters. Thursday's meeting was held to get feedback about the proposed ordinance.

Officials now hope to put an ordinance before the City Council in October. Roosters are already restricted or banned in 26 Texas communities, Fort Worth officials said. Arlington allows them only in agricultural areas.

Johnson said that he stopped cockfighting about four years ago because of changes in the law. He said that roosters fight by nature, and that people cannot train them not to.

Jerry Horton, who lives in Sycamore Heights, said she raised chickens and confirmed that roosters fight by nature. But she said she opposes cockfighting.

"This is one time I have to say, yes, we need to follow Dallas, Arlington and the other 24 cities that have banned roosters from city limits," Horton said.

Gene Trainor, 817-390-7419