New law takes roost
Despite some clucking by concerned neighbors, city dwellers in Fergus Falls, Minn., will soon be able to raise backyard chickens.
John Demuth, who suggested the ordinance, was pleased to see the poultry provision pass. He plans to order fertilized eggs this week in hopes of having his chicks hatch after the law comes into effect in about two weeks.
Demuth, a middle school teacher, was surprised by how much discussion the law allowing four hens per household generated. It's been a hot topic for the local newspaper and drew a divided 5-3 City Council vote on Monday.
"I thought, 'A couple of chickens, who could complain?' " Demuth said.
When the issue was first raised in May, Councilman Eric Shelstad was ready to shoot it down, thinking the idea "silly and ridiculous."
When he found out Minnesota cities such as St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth and Rochester - not to mention New York and Chicago - have laws favoring in-town fowl, he reconsidered.
Though opponents were worried it would open the barn door for keeping animals such as cows, pigs and goats on city lots, Shelstad supported the law. Having chicken permits require all abutting property owners to sign off helped Shelstad get past concerns, he said.
Also, the ordinance only lasts for one year, the city will issue no more than 12 permits, there are setbacks from buildings, and no butchering is allowed.
The restrictions prevent the law from being a total coup for city coop backers, who say they want to raise chickens for both the social and the nutritional benefit.
Demuth doesn't think he should need the approval of neighbors, because it isn't required for pets. And worries about odors are unfounded, he said. His operation will be much less pungent than the 100-head coops his family had when he was growing up, he said.
Dave Lindig runs an educational farm that includes 200 chickens about eight miles southwest of Fergus Falls. He thinks fears of trouble-causing chickens are off base, seeing as the critters are homebodies unlikely to stray. Plus, the $50 permit fee is too steep, he said.
"The ordinance is set up to fail. They should have voted it down," Lindig said.
That wouldn't have irked Shelstad, who said, "If this thing hadn't passed, I wasn't going to lose any sleep over it."