We 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.