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Thursday, January 28,2010

Pecking order

A new county ordinance allows the raising of poultry in Lansing backyards

by Kyle Leppek

Lansing resident Dale Huber had not announced his three new chicks to his neighbors yet when one did the job for him.


“When they are smaller, they’re not as smart as they are when they’re older. One of them actually got out, and there was a knock at the door and here’s the neighbor holding a chicken and he goes, ‘I think this is yours. We see them in the backyard every once and a while,’” Huber said.


Huber, who grew up on a farm, purchased his three hens last March and began raising them in his backyard. With future plans to move his family out of Lansing, Huber wanted to get a start on raising chickens.


Although Huber lives on Risdale Street in south Lansing and not on a farm, he bought the hens, built a coop and started raising the chickens in his urban backyard. And, it’s legal.


Ingham County passed an ordinance last fall allowing the raising of chickens in non-agricultural areas. Now the City of Lansing is deciding how to address raising chickens in the city limits.


Many Michigan cities, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Grand Rapids and East Lansing, have approved ordinances allowing for the raising of hens on residential property.


Darrin Karcher, the poultry extension specialist at Michigan State University, says the economy and a movement to buy local food serve as incentives for people to raise chickens.


“In the past two to two and half years it has become more popular — especially as the economy has turned,” Karcher said.


The Ingham County ordinance allows nonagricultural properties in urban areas to keep up to five hens, which cannot be slaughtered on the property. The hens must be kept in an enclosure no less than 10 feet from an adjacent property line and no less than 40 feet from a structure on an adjacent property. The ordinance also puts restrictions on feed and other items as to not attract rodents.


The ordinance covers the whole county unless expressively prohibited in certain areas, which has caused some confusion in the City of Lansing. Lansing’s zoning laws do not specifically allow or prohibit poultry in nonagricultural areas.


Members of the Lansing Backyard Poultry group met on Jan. 16 for a forum at the Hunter Park hoop house on Lansing’s east side hoping to clarify the issue. Members of the group, residents interested in and opposed to raising hens and a representative from the City Attorney’s Office attended the forum.


The group supports the county ordinance and would like to see the city adopt it. The members also support making residents take an educational course and receive written consent from neighbors before they raise chickens in their backyard.


Lansing Zoning Administrator Susan Stachowiak said the city follows the county ordinance.


“We have our own zoning ordinance and we’re looking at possibly doing an amendment to our zoning ordinance to address chickens. In the meantime, though, we would have to adhere to the county ordinance,” Stachowiak said.


However, some residents are not in favor of raising hens in residential areas.


Lansing resident Luke Canfora attended the meeting and voiced his concerns with the ordinance.


“Five
a piece doesn’t sound bad, but I have an alley and I back up to seven
other neighbors. I could have 35 chickens in my backyard,” Canfora
said. Canfora argued that possible odor and noise from poultry could
become a nuisance.


Canfora
also believes enforcing the ordinance would require additional officers
and training, meaning spending more money. But he is in favor of
requiring neighbors to give written consent, as well as requiring an
educational course before allowing a resident to raise chickens.


Yet Canfora does agree responsible ownership is key and could make the difference. “I
have no doubt in my mind this is a room of responsible chicken owners
and if this is how it would go there would be no problems.
Unfortunately you can’t guarantee everyone will be responsible,”
Canfora said.


Huber is an example of a responsible owner.


Huber’s
three hens have become a hobby, as well as family pets. He enjoys the
challenge and self-satisfaction he receives from raising his hens and
producing eggs.


Huber
only keeps only three hens (he’s allowed to own up to two more and has
room in his yard to do so) in order to keep the birds clean and
controlled.


Huber uses his hens strictly for eggs. Each hen lays about an egg a day, less in the colder months.


Huber and Karcher agree that raising hens for their eggs is far from being
more economical than buying a carton of eggs at the store. But to Huber
the fresh eggs he receives from his hens and the satisfaction he
receives from doing so is well worth it. The absence of hormones and
pesticides, which can appear in commercial eggs, is also important to
him.


To Huber the difference between fresh and commercial eggs is immense, “You get the deeper, richer yolks,” Huber said.

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