Post-Crescent Article on Urban Chicken Efforts

(This article is re-posted from the Post-Crescent. We offer it here in case the original is archived.)

APPLETON — Hens would be allowed but roosters have no boosters under a proposal to promote sustainability by allowing residents to raise fowl within city limits.

The idea started with Shannon Kenevan’s daughter Emmalea, now 9. In kindergarten she decided it would be fun to raise chickens and keep them as pets.

Kenevan, co-founder of the Harmony Cafe in downtown Appleton, helped Emmalea research urban chickens and the two started “City Peeps,” a group of sustainability-minded Appleton residents interested in keeping fowl within city limits.

City Peeps spent a year surveying police and health officials from the 20 other Wisconsin cities that allow chickens. They persuaded two Appleton aldermen to put forward a resolution last week so an Appleton rule could take flight.

“Besides some of the negatives, there are some great positives. The fresh eggs are healthier than store-bought eggs, they’re locally produced, and chickens love table scraps and bugs,” Kenevan said.

Aldermen Christoph Wahl and Joe Martin asked the city’s health department to draft the ordinance that would allow residents a small number of hens in backyard coops and fenced enclosures.

Kenevan and the group already identified pitfalls in other failed ordinances and have specific guidelines in mind for Appleton.

“We want an ordinance allowing four hens, no roosters, which make noise,” he said. “We want responsible bird owners operating outdoor, properly ventilated coops.”

Kenevan said although 180 people have joined the group’s page on Facebook, about 15 to 20 people have expressed serious interest in keeping poultry that produce an egg a day. Wahl said he’s optimistic about chickens roosting in the city given the successful track records in other communities. Green Bay, Neenah and Oshkosh all have adopted similar ordinances in recent years.

“If we on (the) council can be as thorough and organized as the citizen group, we’ll be able to make our case and have a discussion to get an ordinance passed,” Wahl said. “There will be a couple of bright lines in the ordinance prohibiting chickens inside homes, making clear these are backyard chickens in separate coops and fenced enclosures.”

The health department, led by health officer Kurt Eggebrecht, will take a month to study other cities’ ordinances and raise health concerns.

“We’ll take it to our next Board of Health meeting to get some direction,” Eggebrecht said. “It could have an impact on zoning and enforcement. We’ll also be discussing whether to require some type of permitting fee with an ordinance.”
Political battle on the horizon

If nearby cities are any indication, the discussion about chickens will attract plenty of criticism.

In Menasha, elected officials ultimately decided against a chicken ordinance after much debate last winter.

There, Ald. Mark Langdon said, the concerns over care for the birds were too great.

“Bottom line — it’s a farm animal. It should stay there,” Langdon said. “I could just see it, chickens running around all over the place. The smell was also an issue.”

Langdon worried amateur owners would fail to secure the coops, attracting predators like dogs, raccoons and rats. Then, when the urban chicken experiment goes awry, the birds end up in humane shelters, he said.

In 2009, a national poultry group took notice of the rise in urban chicken popularity. They set out best practices to address the “dramatic increase in the intake of chickens, particularly roosters” at animal shelters.

In theory, they said, people purchase chicks from hatcheries at an age before hens and roosters can be identified. The roosters grow up and provide an unwanted wake-up call.

A representative from the Fox Valley Humane Association said the facility takes in roosters and hens, and has a strong network of nearby farms for adoption.

“It’s definitely a lifestyle change for anyone considering this in an urban setting,” said Liz Pirner, resource and events coordinator at the humane association. “You have to educate yourselves about the adequate housing, food and responsibility.”
Nearby cities implement rules

Oshkosh passed a rule last spring allowing chickens, but it may be the most stringent in the state. Only four licenses have been issued.

In addition to mandating a standard setback of 25 feet from neighboring homes, the rule stipulates that owners must get permission from each abutting neighbor.

Kenevan said he hopes Appleton stays away from such a measure.

“To me, it’s like having a dog. If you had to get permission for a dog, people wouldn’t be happy — it’s a bad compromise,” Kenevan said. “Most cities have few and often zero neighbor complaints.”

Green Bay recently transferred licensing responsibility from the police department’s animal control.

Sharon Hensen, the city’s humane animal control officer, said she has encountered minimal problems with the rule.

“I’ve only had one time I had to give a warning because a chicken was out strolling in an alley,” Hensen said. “As long as they’re in an enclosed area, they aren’t a problem. The roosters are the nuisance animals. If you stick to hens and manage them, everything works out.”

original article Citizen group pushes Appleton to reverse ban on raising backyard hens

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