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City Chickens Meet a Warmer Welcome This Time Around

An earlier discussion of urban chicken-keeping was nearly dismissed by city officials, but after looking into other cities' experiences, Wauwatosa is ready to draft an ordinance.

In May, when a small group of citizens persuaded the city to take up a discussion of permitting residential chicken-keeping, the idea got a decidedly cool reception.

It was little wonder. Neither the citizens proposing nor the city staff assessing the concept really looked at the details of how other cities that allow chickens – and there are many, including Milwaukee – handle the situation.

The proposal was tabled pending further research, and it came back Tuesday to the city's Community Development Committee to a much warmer welcome, though less than unanimous.

After a presentation on successful chicken-keeping ordinances elsewhere, committee members voted 5-2 to direct City Attorney Alan Kesner to draft an ordinance for Common Council consideration.

"It will be modeled on Milwaukee's ordinance," Kesner said. "We've also been asked to address the costs of licensing and enforcement."

Scores of cities across the nation, including San Francisco and Portland, Ore., have adopted chicken-keeping ordinances designed to allow a few hens – no rousing roosters – to be kept in residential back yards.

Advocates of urban chickens cite getting fresh eggs as their top reason for having poultry on the premises, but hens also can consume vegetable scraps and produce high-quality fertilizer for the flower bed – regulations permitting.

Among the concerns cited in May was the potential for salmonella to spread from chickens, eggs or their waste. There were worries about chickens drawing predators such as coyotes into neighborhoods where pets and children might be threatened.

Well-crafted ordinances address those and other issues, advocates say, and such problems have not been reported where responsible chicken-keeping has been allowed for years.

The cost of enforcement was also raised as a concern, but the chicken lobby points out that Milwaukee had determined that a permit costing only $35 was sufficient to cover the city's expected expenses.

Cream City Hens, the group that successfully lobbied Milwaukee to create a chicken-permitting ordinance there, helped their city devise its law to protect both the chickens and the community.

According to the organization's website, these are the requirements of the Milwaukee ordinance:

The ordinance that was passed allows for four hens in each residential back yard, any breed, any size, providing that you meet some basic requirements of the City of Milwaukee, including:

  • A secure, sanitary, predator-proof coop and run. The city requires 16 square feet per bird, and it's recommended that 4 square feet be interior (coop) and 12 be exterior (run).
  • Birds must have access to clean water and food at all times.
  • No roosters are allowed on residential properties.
  • No slaughtering within city limits.
  • Approval by the owners of all neighboring residences (those on either side of your dwelling as well as those across an alley directly behind you as well as kitty-corner across an alley from your lot).
  • A 25-foot setback is required for the coop – this means that your final constructed coop must be 25 feet from neighboring residences (this does not include garages, lot lines, garden sheds, greenhouses, etc., and the run does not factor in to this 25-foot measurement).
  • A permit is required, for which you must pay $35 and meet all requirements of the city regarding the rules of the full ordinance and have properly filled out all paperwork required by the city.
  • An approved DNS-362 site plan to the satisfaction of the Department of Neighborhood Services.
  • A DNS-363 Neighbor Approval Statement Form from every neighbor touching your lot line.

At last count, only 16 permits had been drawn in the entire City of Milwaukee, and it seems unlikely that very many people in Wauwatosa would opt to build and maintain a chicken enclosure.

For those who might, Tuesday's vote was the first positive step.

sparky November 15, 2012 at 04:33 PM
I would like to butcher my own hens in my basement when the time comes... I assume they can be free roaming while I am home attended by my dog if needed and then cooped for the night.
alt ideas needed November 15, 2012 at 05:49 PM
yea, my dog wants a pet, and a chicken might be good for him to learn some responsibility.
sparky November 15, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Yup, thats what farm dogs do. They are used to chickens roaming and have no prey drive for them. If you had a smart, trainable dog you could even train it to "herd" your chickens to keep them in one area.
Jim Price November 15, 2012 at 07:15 PM
sparky and @alt ideas needed – sounds like fun, but nope, the chickens may not fly the coop. Note in the Milwaukee regs, both the coop and the run must be securely fenced, and the setbacks would keep you from making your entire back yard a run. I don't think they're going to let them roam free even under the expert supervision of a herd dog. Now, I had an idea, though. Once bees and chickens are OK'd for private residents, the city should follow suit – get a herd of sheep to tend the grass in Hart Park, and one really bright, dedicated border collie to keep them in line AND chase off the geese.
RedRaider November 15, 2012 at 07:38 PM
I heard a responsible chicken owner from Milwaukee testified at the hearing. Is this true? Seems like Milwaukee did a grat job putting a good model in place.

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