Residents in the dark on chickens

Brittany Perry has done a lot of research on raising chickens, but even she didn’t know how little people in Austin knew about it.

Since she first approached the city of Austin to ask if she could raise chickens, she has spoken to many residents who support a city ordinance to raise the plucky fowl within city limits.

She hasn’t found much opposition to the idea yet — though council members have — but she has found a lot of people who don’t know much about chickens or a potential ordinance.

“It seems those who want chickens have them already, but those who don’t want chickens think they don’t care, or they have an opinion on the issue without knowing much about it,” she said.

Dozens of Minnesota cities, from Minneapolis and St. Paul to Rochester and Albert Lea, already have chicken ordinances in place.

Though ordinances vary among municipalities, there are some common regulations in each, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

Those rules include allowing only hens — which can lay eggs without a rooster’s help — limiting the amount of chickens kept, and keeping chickens in sanitary and humane conditions a certain distance from property lines and other structures.

Perry had proposed the city allow residents to keep three to six hens as that’s the general range many cities have approved. In addition, a lot of common concerns, like whether chickens will smell or make a lot of noise, are easily taken care of through proper care, according to Perry. Chickens are less noisy than dogs and may not smell at all if they are well kept.

“If you limit the number [of chickens] and have the proper care, it should be fine,” she said.

Perry didn’t realize keeping chickens in the city was illegal, but she wasn’t the only one. Many residents have asked her questions about chickens, which she doesn’t mind.

“Some of my coworkers have been calling me the crazy chicken lady,” she said with a laugh. “They don’t mean it in a mean way, because they’ll come up to me and tell me about chickens or questions they’ve heard.”

Perry has also talked with several people who already own chickens within city limits. She said she hopes to encourage them to speak out on the issue over the next few months.

Austin City Council Member Michael Jordal said he’s pleased residents are looking into the issue.

“I think that’s great to see citizens showing initiative like that,” he said. “A lot of times we get citizens that want something but they don’t look into it.”

He was surprised at how many people showed up to the council’s June 2 meeting prepared to talk about chickens.

“They addressed all the concerns the council members had as well,” he said.

Yet some council members and Mayor Tom Stiehm aren’t convinced many people in Austin want an ordinance to raise chickens.

“These people are well-intentioned and good people, but we live in a community, and to live in a community you have to do what’s best for all,” Stiehm said.

In addition, Council Member Steve King isn’t convinced an ordinance would be easily enforced by city staff. Based on the research he has done, he said it’s likely cities pass an ordinance to simply put it in place, but then can’t enforce the mandates behind it.

“The reality is it’s so arduous,” he said.

Perry said she wants to get more residents talking about a potential ordinance in the future.

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