- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2020

LADY’S ISLAND, S.C. (AP) - Tallulah Trice has realized the six chickens she took in on her property on Lady’s Island are elusive birds.

The free-ranging animals resist being corralled, and rounding them up using an exhaustive list of methods can be time-consuming.

It’s a challenge that animal control employees have faced more often as more people buy chickens as quarantine entertainment during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Trice, the Beaufort County Animal Services director. The animals are easily available, too, from retail stores such as Tractor Supply locations in southern and northern Beaufort County.

Trice is pushing for a system to register chickens owned or bought in unincorporated areas of the county. Municipalities could also adopt the rules.

“It’s just good for us to know for many reasons,” Trice said. “We’re not trying to restrict people from having animals; we’re just trying to register them.”

That way if someone calls in birds on the loose, Trice and county animal officials can look at a map and quickly determine who might own the birds and enlist their help in detaining them. And when a hurricane approaches, the animals would also be easier to locate to ensure their well-being.

It’s a similar system the county has for horses, so that a call in the middle of the night about the animals in a roadway can lead to contacting the responsible owner quickly.

The bottom line, Trice said, is that catching problem poultry eats up too much county time and resources.

Novice chicken owners should be aware of proper care and housing and have a plan for emergencies like a storm evacuation, Trice says. The birds can carry diseases such as salmonella, and owners can run afoul of local noise ordinances or prohibitions on owning roosters that crow at all hours.

Towns generally have ordinances limiting the number of chickens and disallowing roosters.

If caring for chickens becomes too much, owners should surrender them or re-home them rather than set them loose. Adult chickens offered on the Animal Services Facebook page usually find new homes quickly, Trice said.

She’s received calls recently for chickens loose in a housing community in Grays Hill and a nuisance rooster outside the Bluffton town limits.

“Just don’t release them and think they’re going to go explore in the wild,” Trice said. “We do have to catch them, because they become a nuisance.”

Requiring people to register chickens could be difficult, said Laura Lee Rose, an agent with the Clemson Extension office in Beaufort County who has kept chickens at her home on St. Helena Island. She noted that some people buy chickens by mail order, and people in rural areas might just be resistant to the idea.

Rose said a voluntary registration system could work well. If people are no longer able to care for birds, they can call the local extension office, and an agent can connect them with local farmers willing to take the animals, Rose said.

She said she and Trice could discuss the possibility of an educational program on backyard birds.

Good fencing, food and water are essentials. Rose recommends a chicken tractor - kind of a coop with wheels that can be easily moved around a yard and helps keep out predators at night.

“And start small, too,” Rose said. “I tell people this with gardening all the time: Don’t try to get a flock and think you’re going to go into the egg business overnight.”

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