Thursday, May 1, 2008

NO Chickens Allowed!

Ethan Montgomery recently looked into whether Bemidji’s municipal code would allow him to keep chickens in his yard in town. Here’s what he wrote about the experience:

"Many people think of chickens as farm livestock rather than backyard pets. Actually, chickens have a lot to offer. When I heard of the urban chicken concept I was initially skeptical… “Mom, are you serious?” “Absolutely,” she said. I began researching, already aware that chickens lead cruel lives in the corporate/agribusiness world. The extent is more than I had expected - they are debeaked with hot clippers, pumped full of growth chemicals that can cause their legs to collapse from rapid weight gain, and many die from the sheer stress of their situation. I already knew that brown farm eggs taste better than "regular" eggs.

I did not know that recent research found that eggs from chickens allowed to forage naturally have, on average, seven times more beta carotene (which is what makes pastured egg yolks so orange), three times more vitamin E, two times more omega-3 fatty acids and two-thirds more vitamin A than those from factory farmed chickens. Pastured eggs also have one-third less cholesterol and one-quarter less saturated fat, on average (Mother Earth News). I would reasonably conclude that this is a result of better diet and living conditions.

I was also unaware that a backyard chicken "agri-hipster" movement existed. Many of the participants have as few as three or four chickens-others as many as several dozen. Chickens are allowed in various forms in the cities of New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Topeka, Los Angeles, and many others. Common conditions for keeping chickens include, but are not limited to, guidelines of how far from property lines they may be kept, the number of chickens that may be kept, whether roosters are allowed, and if consent from the neighbors is required.

Bemidji, MN has an outdated and arbitrary code that I would like to see replaced by a proposal I constructed that takes inspiration from many other proposals from city council members and interested citizens across the nation. Bemidji is an informed city and this is exactly the sort of code adjustment to help lead it a little closer to sustainability and self-sufficiency.

Nowhere in Bemidji’s municipal code ( does it say that chickens are banned. In Chapter 6 (animals), Article 3 (animals and poultry) the code states that a permit is required from the city. Since no permit is required for having a dozen cats, I propose that either this requirement either be extended to dogs, cats, etc., or it should be removed for hens, if not roosters.

The criteria for issuance of a city permit is as follows: “No permit required under this division shall be issued to an owner if to do so would constitute a health hazard or constitute a nuisance to others in any form.” My neighbor’s dog knocks over my trashcan, barks, and occasionally relieves itself in my yard while it’s "just passing through the neighborhood." The dog is a nuisance in many ways. I can hardly see how three to six penned hens would constitute a greater nuisance than one unruly, unrestrained canine. I am not inherently against dogs and cats…I think they are wonderful animals, even if they aren’t as good to have in a city as chickens.

I called the animal control officer for the city for details about the municipal code; he referred me to the website above. Fortunately I had already read the ordinance and knew to ask what was necessary to get a permit. The response was that a clean area for the chickens to live and exercise was all that was required.

Then he got suspicious and asked where I lived. Upon hearing that I lived near the technical college I was told that I would never get a permit. I was “in proximity to other people.” He may or may not have understood that my true intention was not to start my own miniature chicken flock to generate complaints for him, but he didn’t seem enthused. After thanking him and hanging up I bristled a bit at being arbitrarily told by a bureaucrat that having even two or three hens would not be permitted because it would constitute a nuisance.

I live on a double lot (.38 acres), and while I agree that this is not a huge swath of land, it certainly is more than adequate considering the lesser restrictions in place in the four largest cities in the United States of America. In Minneapolis, the largest city in the state, you are allowed to keep an unlimited number of chickens provided you have the consent of 80% of your neighbors within 100ft of real estate and provided that the chickens (roosters are allowed as well) are penned. I was displeased that the decision about whether I was hypothetically allowed to keep chickens was in the hands of a city employee rather than the decision depending upon my neighbors’ consent.

Most poultry detractors cite noise, smell, and a need to distinguish between urban and rural, city and country as reasons not to allow chickens in their neighbors’ back yards. These are all valid concerns, though the reality seems to be that the problems are generally much less than people would imagine. I searched for a single anti-urban chicken blog and found none-nary a “peep.” This seems reasonable. Chickens will hunt for mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects. They also eat kitchen scraps and yard rubbish, all while producing less waste than cats and dogs - and they lay eggs! My opinion is that the simple solution is to regulate them similarly. I wholeheartedly believe a city should require an inexpensive permit to house more than six dogs or cats in a residential area.

While this may seem like a trivial issue, the larger issues of animal cruelty and human self-sufficiency and sustainable lifestyles are not. I don’t know many chicken owners, but those I do know all have gardens, beautiful green lawns from the extra "fertilizer," and more eggs than they can eat.

Don’t cry “Fowl!” Please do the right thing and encourage decriminalizing the urban chicken!"

Ethan's Proposed Code Revision for the City of Bemidji:
• 1-3 chickens must be kept 15 feet from neighboring structures. 4-6 chickens must be kept 25 feet away. A permit is required if you wish to keep more than 6 chickens. Roosters are not allowed in residentially zoned areas (neighbors could waive all requirements except the permit for 6+ chickens).
• Permits would be granted only to residents of single or two-family homes.
• Owners are subject to noise laws that can lead to a fine if neighbors are disturbed between 10:00pm and 7:00am.
• Chickens would have to be provided with a clean and covered structure with a fenced area and tied at all times when out of the structure.
• Chicken slaughter is prohibited in residentially zoned areas.
Ethan Montgomery is a KAXE member (and 28-year-old son of KAXE general manager Maggie Montgomery) who lives with his wife, Siau Yean, and 2 sons within the Bemidji city limits. He wrote this article as part of his class in Minnesota Politics at Bemidji State University.

1 comment:

mana said...

I would like help with changing our village municipal code to allow for the keeping of 3 hens NO ROOSTERS in a safe a sanitary coop. Our city council is concerned about attracting bears and losing tourism due to hens.