Many concerns, few actual complaints on urban chickens

2013-07-14T06:30:00Z 2014-02-16T22:37:17Z Many concerns, few actual complaints on urban chickensJohn Lee McLaughlin Journal staff Rapid City Journal
July 14, 2013 6:30 am  • 

Cities that allow backyard chickens had the same initial concerns that have arisen in Rapid City as it debates the issue — noisy birds, unkempt cages, stinky dung piles, diseases spreading, hens running wild and mini chicken farms popping up by the hundreds.

But officials in municipalities that have already approved city chickens say most of those fears — aside from an occasional crowing rooster or hen on the loose — have proven unfounded.

And it turns out that Rapid City is behind other area municipalities in terms of allowing urban agriculture: Spearfish has allowed animals to be kept in the city for 30 years, and Sioux Falls has also allowed urban chickens for years.

In Rapid City, a group has been pitching the idea of allowing chickens in the city limits, though a proposed ordinance has yet to surface. The local group known as the Rapid City Hens hopes to convince the City Council to allow up to six hens within city limits. A similar effort to pass a chicken ordinance in 2011 failed on a narrow 5-5 city council vote.

Chicken supporters in Fort Collins, Colo., passed a ballot initiative in 2008 to allow residents to keep up to six hens within city limits. Since the initiative passed, the town of about 146,000 has issued only 153 permits for backyard hens.

Concerns in Fort Collins centered on noise, smell, disease, the potential for attracting predators and whether residents would actually know how to care for chickens. But out of more than 54,000 overall animal complaints since August 2008, only 76 chicken complaints have surfaced, according to the Fort Collins animal control unit.

"Basically, that's a non-issue," said Bill Porter, director of the unit. "Most of them [complaints] are roosters and a chicken running across the road."

Porter said Fort Collins doesn't allow roosters, but some still get into town when a chicks are bought and some later turn out to be roosters.

He said only one citation has been issued and that was to a resident who had too many chickens that were too close to a neighbor. The city's ordinance requires that chicken coops be at least 15 feet from adjacent properties.

Fort Collins is now considering allowing more birds, depending upon the size of the lot. It is considering allowing up to eight chickens — or even duck hens — in a half-acre yard. Twelve birds may be allowed in one-acre lots, and larger properties could keep an additional six hens per half acre.

Fort Collins requires each hen to have two square feet of space. The proposed change would bump that up to four square feet per chicken. So while chickens themselves have not been a problem so far, the precedent set by allowing them in the city has had a ripple effect.

"I would caution that this will lead to opening the door to other agricultural livestock," Porter said. "Now, we're looking at goats within city limits — potbelly pigs. But chickens are a non-issue."

The city of Billings, Mont., gave backyard chickens an official OK about two years ago, according to Code Enforcement Supervisor Nicole Cromwell. She said up to six hens are allowed and only about 24 permits have been issued since the ordinance passed.

Concerns over backyard hens in Billings mirrored those of Fort Collins. However, officials say there's been a long-standing culture of urban agriculture in parts of the city of 160,000 people that may have eased those worries.

"It's always been the culture of some neighborhoods in the city that people always had a bit of urban farming going on," said Cromwell.

Cromwell said major opposition to a citywide ordinance centered on increased rodents and predators, the amount of space chickens would be allowed, and what the coops would look like.

"There was a lot of back and forth. I think by the time it was initiated by the city council — by the urging of chicken supporters — it took about six months," Cromwell said. "I don't think we've had very many complaints since it has been adopted."

Billings Animal Control Division Office Manager Kristal Ward said she's received only one or two complaints, and those were about chickens that escaped and were at large.

Spearfish was an early adopter of the backyard chicken concept.

The Northern Hills city has allowed chickens within city limits since 1982 as part of its urban agriculture code. The city doesn't maintain a limit on the number of chickens a resident can have so long as they are kept at least 100 feet away from a home, school, church or business, according to city planner Jayna Watson.

Watson said goats and other small livestock are also allowed. She said there has been very few complaints about chickens.

"We don't have a lot of complaints," she said. "We actually have more of the garden-variety barking dog complaints."

She said about the only issue was a horse that got too close to a property line and that was a couple of years ago. Watson didn't have an exact number of residents who keep chickens inside the city.

Chickens have always been unofficially allowed in Sioux Falls, which didn't put guidelines for keeping the birds and other critters on the books until April.

The city now allows up to six chickens inside city limits without a permit. More chickens can be kept with a license and approval from neighbors, according to Zoning Enforcement Manager Shawna Goldammer, who also facilitated the city's Urban Agriculture Task Force. Goldhammer wasn't aware of any complaints about residents keeping chickens.

Sioux Falls does require that uneaten food is removed on a daily basis and feed stored outdoors needs to be kept in a closed, weather-resistant container.

Contact John Lee McLaughlin at 394-8421 or

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