Citizens push for backyard chicken ordinances in area

by Sean Miner
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Most cities have a good regulatory handle on the more common animals citizens might want to keep. Dogs, cats, parrots — you might need an annual license for some pets, but few cities will take issue with these run-of-the-mill animal selections, so long as they behave.

Not all animals, however, are accepted that easily. One prominent example is the keeping of backyard chickens.

The practice is allowed by some cities in the area, but not by others. For some interested citizens, cities outright banning chickens is tough to swallow.

“My husband and I wanted chickens probably four years ago now,” said Mound resident Amy Velsor. “We didn’t do any investigation, we just went out and built a coop.”

The Velsors obtained a total of five egg-laying hens. The birds were mostly contained to their coop, though the chickens were allowed to wander around the yard when the family was there to supervise them.

“They were really good,” said Velsor. “They were really quiet.”

After a year, however, Velsor said that the family got a citation from the city. She said the citation didn’t cite noise complaints or sanitation concerns, but rather city code not condoning chicken-keeping.

The Velsors hoped that the city council itself would consider drafting an ordinance to allow backyard chickens, but the city demurred. Some members of the council, she said, expressed the viewpoint that keeping chickens was regressive or too rural for Mound.

Her reasons for wanting chickens offer a different viewpoint.

“We want to teach our kids to have a lower carbon footprint,” said Velsor. “The eggs are just a convenient byproduct of all this.”

Useful, too, is the fertilizer produced by the chickens, which is free of any chemicals, in addition to free in the financial sense. The birds can also be helpful for pest control.

“It’s well-known that, when you have chickens, the amount of bugs and insects and critters is greatly reduced, because they see it as a food source,” said Velsor. “With three little boys, I’d rather not pick ticks off my kids at the end of the night.”

Though the keeping of chickens might fall somewhere in between a tiny-scale farming operation and keeping a pet indoors, Velsor said that the chickens develop a pet-like rapport with their owners.

“They’re fun, they’re cute — they come when you call,” Velsor said. “They get used to your voice, because they know you’re where the food comes from. They’re as affectionate as something with a beak can be.”

The Velsor’s five chickens produced an average of four eggs each day among them, providing more than enough eggs for the five-member family. Velsor also stressed that, for their family and most other backyard chicken-keepers she knows of, backyard chickens are not raised for their meat.

“I haven’t run into anybody who’s done it for meat,” she said. “It’s been for the eggs and for the compost.”

To the challenge that chicken-keeping might be best suited for more rural locations, Velsor explained that a number of cities near Mound and elsewhere in the metro area allow backyard chickens.

Among chicken-friendly cities are Orono, Minnetrista, Minnetonka, Bloomington, Richfield, Golden Valley, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Burnsville, Robbinsdale, Maplewood and Eagan. Some have adopted ordinances fairly recently, and other cities are considering the move, including Waconia.

“The frustrating part is Mound and Minnetrista’s borders — they’re very blurry in places around out by us,” said Velsor. “We can’t have chickens; three doors down, they can. That’s a little unsettling.”

Velsor said that her family was hoping to keep chickens on their roughly half-acre lot. She noted that many pro-chicken cities’ ordinances include guidelines for chicken-keeping, including a limit based on lot acreage.

“We don’t want this to be a big burden on the city,” said Velsor. “[It could be] more like dog licensing. If there were any complaints, [the city] can say they weren’t following guidelines.”

The Velsors aren’t the only ones in the area who are on board with chickens, either interested in keeping chickens themselves or amenable to the idea of their neighbors doing so.

A Facebook group called “Mound Peeps Backyard Chickens” has 55 members, and Velsor said that a recent online petition to push for an ordinance change garnered over 150 signatures.

“I’m not saying that everybody who signed it wants chickens,” said Velsor of the petition. “But we’re frustrated that, as taxpayers, we have to fight this.”