Raising the roost

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Proposed restrictions on chickens ruffles some feathers

By Ann Marie Shambaugh

Most people leave the library with an armful of books, but thanks to a Hussey-Mayfield Memorial Public Library animal fostering program, Geoff Ruffer and his two daughters became the owners of two baby chicks.

Sunshine and Fluff Fluff have lived in the Zionsville family’s backyard since their original foster family decided to give them up when they were just months old. They roost in an old playhouse converted into a coop, and although they recently stopped laying eggs, the hens provide the family with plenty of companionship and laughs.

“They’re funny,” Ruffer said. “They’re definitely conversation starters.”

The Ruffers are among a growing number of families in Zionsville – and across the country – to embrace backyard chicken farming. Several chicken owners in Zionsville attended the Zionsville Town Council meeting on Jan. 2 to share their stories and opinions on proposed changes to a town ordinance that would limit the number of chickens to six, prohibit roosters and require that all animals be contained on its owner’s property in the town’s urban district. The current ordinance only mentions containing dogs.

“[The proposal] is a common sense amendment to the ordinance that says any animal should be contained on your own property, whether cat, dog, chicken or pot-bellied pig,” Zionsville Town Manager Ed Mitro told the council.

The town looked at ordinances regulating chickens in nearby communities to help draft the proposed updates for Zionsville. Carmel, for example, recently increased the number of chickens it allows in urban areas from three to six. The city of Indianapolis doesn’t place any limitations on raising chickens within its borders.

The issue came to the council’s attention after the town received complaints from a resident stating that chickens owned by a neighbor frequently wandered across the property line and caused damage in the yard.

“This is not something we’re going to actively be policing throughout town,” councilor Tim Haak said. “It’s simply a tool we can utilize when neighbors can’t get along. It gives us a tool to help us come to a resolution.”

After six Zionsville chicken owners attended the Feb. 2 meeting to express concern about the proposed changes, the council decided to postpone a vote to allow time for further research.

A national trend

While Zionsville is one of the most recent communities to discuss chicken regulations, municipalities across the country have been addressing the issue in recent years as the trend has grown.

Backyardchicken.com, a website that offers forums and information for chicken enthusiasts, has seen its online community grow from 50 members in 2007 to more than 300,000 in November 2014. Chicken owners from across the world add about 7,000 new posts to the site every day on topics ranging from flock health to building a coop to storing fresh eggs.

“There is a growing awareness of how fun and easy it is to raise backyard chickens,” said Rob Ludlow, owner of BackYardChickens.com, in an email. “People are quickly realizing that chickens are a multi-purpose pet: Chickens eat the bugs and weeds in your yard, generate fantastic fertilizer, and of course are a pet that makes you breakfast.”

Andi Simmons has been keeping hens in her urban Zionsville backyard for about two years for the same reason as many other new urban chicken owners: a steady supply of farm fresh eggs from a known, healthy environment. She has never heard a complaint from her neighbors about the chickens, but she can understand why the town council would consider providing some restrictions.

“Obviously with lot sizes being small in the village, any more than six [chickens]could be a problem,” she said. “If their bedding is left out I suppose it could be a smell hazard, although I’ve never had anyone tell me they’ve noticed that anywhere in the village.”

Simmons knows of several other chicken owners nearby, and some of them have even discussed arranging a coop tour to share ideas and introduce others to the growing trend.

The council is expected to discuss the proposed ordinance at its next meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. March 2 at Town Hall.

Tips for raising chickens in your backyard

  • Do your research on chicken coops. It needs to be sturdy enough to protect your chickens against predators. Noise reduction could also be a consideration. You’ll need about three square feet per chicken and pine shavings to create a floor.
  • Clean up any uneaten chicken feed so nothing rots or creates a problem.
  • Avoid some foods, including anything overly salty or sugary, dried or uncooked beans, avocado skins and citrus fruits. Don’t feed them raw eggs because it can train them to eat their own eggs.
  • Be kind to your neighbors. Offer them eggs and make sure the chicken food isn’t attracting rodents or pests.

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