Urban Chickens

Chicken VillageWe were sprawled on the couch watching “The Kids in the Hall” on Tuesday night when the phone rang.  It was Will’s sister, Linnea.  She wanted to know if chickens would be an appropriate wedding present.

I had to laugh.  I think chickens would be an awesome wedding present but this is the sort of thing that earns me weird looks from more mainstream folks.  Will told her that we are interested in chickens but couldn’t give her a “yes” answer until we find out if we’re buying a house.  (We now have an accepted offer on the house so things are looking good, assuming the inspection goes well and the mortgage people can hook us up.)

Alas, having chickens within Bloomington city limits requires a bit of hoop jumping.  I took a two-hour class last fall through Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard and learned that we would need to get a chicken flock permit, under ordinance 06-21  “To Permit Small Flocks of Chickens By Waiver.”  Believe it or not, this was a huge controversy just a couple years ago with passionate speech-giving on both sides.  The proponents said that all citizens should have the right to raise chickens for eggs and as a disposal system for kitchen scraps, provided they are cared for properly.  The opponents said that chickens are too loud for city-living and that they create offensive odors and that they might infect us all with deadly avian flu.  (I believe there was also some talk of “returning to the Dark Ages” but we’ll leave that rhetoric for the folks in Raleigh who want to keep their garbage disposals.)

Eventually, a compromise was made and voted in so here’s the scoop.

1. A landowner may keep a flock of up to five hens and no roosters if he/she gets a permit, lives in the correct zoning area, and follows all the permit requirements.

2. The first step in obtaining a permit (and probably the biggest challenge) is to get a written waiver from all adjacent lots “indicating that said owner does not oppose the harboring of chicken flocks at the applicant’s address…”  The good news is that the people across the street are not considered adjacent and therefore can’t say anything.

3. Next, the landowner must create a suitable chicken coop and chicken run.  There are lots of details about how far it can be from property lines and what it should be made of but the general idea is that your chickens should be contained at all times and kept out of contact from wild birds, rodents, and dogs.

4. Once all the waivers are submitted and the chicken coop has been inspected, the permit is issued.  Oh, well, you do have to pay a $25 administrative fee and get the permit renewed every year.  And there are still some restrictions on what you may or may not do – no slaughtering chickens on property, no letting your chickens run wild, make sure their droppings are disposed of properly…  You get the idea.

It seems like a pretty reasonable compromise to me although there are still some people in the community who think it’s too restrictive.  I’ve heard arguments that hens should not be deprived of rooster companionship but I’ve heard others say that the hens get along just fine and that one of them will take over the role of the rooster, even going so far as to mount the other hens and to develop noticeably more masculine features.  I wish the city arrangement allowed for chickens in chicken tractors but I can see where that might not be practical on a 0.1 acre lot.

So, Linnea, I definitely appreciate your offer and once I make it through the house-purchasing and permit-acquiring phases, I would love some wedding chickens.  But I might want to help you pick them out.  It’s a big wide world of chickens out there.

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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Linnea said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 1:27 am

    I wouldn’t dream of picking out someone else’s chicks for them, there are way too may breeds and temperaments. I think ‘wedding chickens’ is probably more like a ‘wedding chicken-certificate’, and maybe some construction plans for a kick-ass coop.

    But the more I read this backyardchickens.com, the more they seem like really cool pets. Who knew you could train them to recognize their names and come when you call?

  2. 2

    Jessica said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

    Fascinating. What a cool wedding gift idea. I have a friend getting married in a couple of days, I wonder if she would like chickens. Somehow I don’t think so, but that would be a cool gift for me!
    I think its funny to talk about “denying chickens the companionship of a rooster.” It makes me think of denying prostitutes the companionship of a pimp. Then I picture a rooster strutting around in pimp clothes. Crazy. And then others say, I guess, that without a rooster (pimp) one chicken will take over the roll. Does that make that chicken a madam? Ha ha ha.

  3. 3

    Linnea said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 7:52 pm


    So would that make the farmer their ‘johns’?

  4. 4

    Andy said,

    May 23, 2008 @ 12:40 am

    Isn’t it funny how we can burn gas to go to a store to buy eggs from a “farm” that “raises” 800 chickens in the same space as a bathroom, but if you wanted to raise your own chickens for eggs you need to ask the neighbors? No one asked me if I was okay with them using gas all the time, can we make an ordinance for that? 🙂

  5. 5

    Maggie said,

    May 23, 2008 @ 9:18 pm

    Chickens are pretty awesome. I try not to think about their sex lives too much but I can see where it’s a little unfair to deprive an animal of sex just because you think the males are obnoxious. But I totally love the image of a rooster in a pimp outfit.

    Maybe someday we’ll pass an ordinance to fine anyone who doesn’t have a garden and produce at least a little of their own food. Wasting gas is another good cause but a little harder to enforce.

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