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Rushford pecking at proposed chicken ordinance

By Kirsten Zoellner

Mon, Apr 16th, 2012
Posted in Rushford Features

Two Black Australorp hens enjoying their backyard enclosure at the home of Andy and Amber Torgerud. Photo courtesy of Amber Torgerud Photography

The city council has taken a proposed chicken ordinance draft, put forth by the Planning Commission, under review. The draft is exceptionally thorough and should be straightforward to maintain, as well as making it easy for the city to pull the licensure of homeowners who fail to follow the provisions.

The keeping of chickens in urban settings has been a growing trend. Minneapolis, St. Paul, and many other large municipalities have passed ordinances allowing for the keeping of poultry. “We looked exhaustively at other ordinances in other municipalities,” noted City Administrator Steve Sarvi.

Last year, the city of Peterson, in prompt to homeowners Andy and Amber Torgerud, approved a similar ordinance. In Rushford’s case, Bruce and Tina Darr were the first residents to approach the council about the allowance of laying hens and they are adamant about their cause.

“With Rushford being a rural town, it seems only fitting that it would allow backyard chickens. Much larger area cities have chosen to, along with neighboring small town such as Peterson, and I have not heard of any problems,” cited Tina Darr. “There is a strong, nationwide movement, for people to, even on a small scale, get back to growing their own food. This can be for financial, or more often, for health reasons. Many people feel strongly about that and want to teach their children about where food comes from. Vegetable and fruit gardens have been great ,and allowing chickens seem to be the next step. There are numerous reasons for raising backyard chickens and I’m very hopeful that this ordinance will pass”

Proponents of the ordinance agree and are watching eagerly to see what the council will decide. “It’s logically inconsistent to allow dogs, and not allow chickens. Dogs produce more waste, are far louder, and can potentially run around town and bite people,” noted Andy Torgerud in response to the considered ordinance in Rushford. ‘It would take one hell of a chicken to do that. If it does, just cook it for supper. Problem solved,” he joked. “I applaud the City of Peterson for allowing residents to have chickens.”

According to the draft ordinance, the purpose is stated, “It is recognized that the ability to cultivate one’s own food is a sustainable activity that can also be a rewarding past time. Therefore, it is the purpose and intent of this ordinance to permit the keeping and maintenance of chicken hens for egg and meat sources in a clean and sanitary manner that is not a nuisance to or detrimental to the public health, safety, and welfare of the community.”

The proposed ordinance also lists explicit specifications regarding flocks, coops, exercise runs or yards, and quality control of feed and sanitary maintenance. Most importantly, these include no more than five hens kept on any one residential lot, no roosters, and leg banding of all chickens identifying the owner. Slaughtering of chickens on the property is also prohibited.

Other requirements currently highlighted include a location in the rear or side yard, including a setback at least five feet from property lines, and approval from 100 percent of adjacent residents or proof that the permit applicant’s property lines are at least 150 feet from any other house. In the case of rental or multi-family dwellings, only the applicant will only need approval from the owner or manager.

Housing and sanitary care for the chickens is the most documented area of the draft ordinance, stating that coops must provide a minimum of four square feet of space per bird, include one window per 10 square feet of floor space, and provide adequate ventilation to maintain coop temperature. Specifications for roosts and nest boxes are also documented. Exercise runs or yards must provide a minimum of 10 square feet per bird. Food must be kept contained in rodent-proof receptacles and regular sanitary maintenance done frequently.

Applicants will need to obtain a permit/license from the city annually. It is undecided at this point what the cost of the license will be, but Sarvi indicated that because of the start-up costs involved with backyard chickens, it would likely be inexpensive.

A public hearing regarding the topic will be held at the first council meeting in May, Monday, the 14, at 6:30pm, at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

In other news, another group of eager, sustainably-minded citizens have been granted approval by the council to construct a Community Garden at Creekside Park. The group, led by David Hinz and sponsored by the Rushford Lutheran Church, have been allocated a 75 foot by 150 foot section at the park.

The completely organic garden will be constructed entirely by the volunteer group, including fencing. The only cost to the city will be a water access near the garden. The group intends to donate the garden’s bounty to residents in the area, as well as the local food shelf.

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