Chickens like Beauty the Red Bantam are becoming popular in the suburbs.
Darlene ProisStar Tribune
Hot new suburban pet: chickens
Last update: August 28, 2005 at 7:38 AM
Darlene Prois, Star Tribune
August 28, 2005
Tulips, the Americana, lays olive green. Flowers, the Golden Penciled Hamburg, lays white eggs; Big Mama’s, a Cochin, are brown. Kung Pao, the Golden Laced Wyandotte, lays tan.
These days, when chickens come home to roost, they’re increasingly headed to the suburbs. And they’re not ordinary chickens, either; they’re most likely exotic breeds who lay colorful eggs.
“Chickens are more popular than they’ve ever been,” said Tom Tidrick, owner of Anoka/Ramsey Farm and Garden, which sells chicks yearround. “I started here in 1980 when the city of Ramsey was rural. Now it’s a regular city, and we sell more than ever, at least 20 percent growth every year.”
The birds are friendly pets, prolific egg producers and sometimes, a delicious Sunday dinner.
“They’re fun to play with, and you get something back,” said Tim Bergman, father of Jonah, 10, and Noah, 12. Last year, he helped the boys convert a former treehouse and sandbox into a two-story coop for their free-ranging flock of 15 chickens. The birds provide eggs — and entertainment — for the family and neighborhood.
Chickens like Beauty the Red Bantam are becoming popular in the suburbs.Darlene ProisStar TribuneAnd they’re cheap to keep. A chick survives on chicken feed ($7.50 for a 50-lb. bag) and costs $4, about the same as a dozen organic eggs at the grocery store.
“Martha Stewart got this going, you know — before she went to jail,” said Tidrick, who estimates he sells about 5,000 chicks a year.
Stewart has often featured her South American Araucana chickens in her magazine and television show, lauding the virtues of their beautiful (and tasty) pastel blue/green eggs.
There are no official statistics on home flocks, but one doesn’t have to scratch too hard to find chickens in the suburbs.
Bud Wood, an owner of the Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, the country’s largest supplier of two-day-old chicks, recently told the New York Times that shipments to amateur keepers in urban counties used to be too sporadic to permit him to count accurately.
Now, however, his company ships as many as 1,000 chicks a week to such areas all over the country.
“Most people are buying ten or less birds,” Tidrick said. “I sell them every day of the year.”
Years ago, most of the chickens Tidrick sold were meat birds. Now about 90 percent of the chickens he sells are pullets: hens that lay eggs.
“I tell people to stay away from roosters,” said Tidrick of the oft-times noisy male birds. “That will agitate people.”
Tidrick recommends brown egg layers (Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rock, Buff Orpingtons and Brahmas).
“They’re friendly birds, they’re not afraid of you, they’re nice to have around,” he said. The former barnyard staple, the White Leghorn that lays white eggs, is skittish and scrawny by comparison, said Tidrick .
Regulations not uniform
Minnesota’s largest cities don’t view chickens as bandits. A small-animal permit is all that’s required to raise chickens in Minneapolis or St. Paul. But as the suburbs become more regulated, there are all kinds of ordinances about farm life and wildlife. Vadnais Heights recently outlawed exotic pets. Shoreview is considering a limit of four licensed pets — any combination of dogs, cats or pot-bellied pigs, an animal that Coon Rapids doesn’t allow at all. It’s not unusual for communities to forbid roosters because of the noise factor. Two cities, Anoka and Ham Lake, recently considered banning chickens in residential areas altogether, but both city councils relented after chicken-lovers made their cases.
Doug Degler, who lives on nearly 3 acres in Ham Lake, was forced to send his family’s 14 chickens to a neighboring farm last winter while the City Council debated whether to allow the birds in a residential area.
“The only reason we had a problem is that one neighbor — one — had a complaint,” said Degler. “We talked to the rest of the neighbors, got 29 signatures agreeing the chickens weren’t a problem, but the last one, the one who made the complaint, wouldn’t sign it. She had some sort of problem with chickens. And then she moved.”
After six months of discussion, the city passed a three-page ordinance in June that allows chickens by temporary conditional-use permit, accompanied by a long list of conditions.
Despite that, the Deglers hope to get a new brood of chickens this spring.
It was also a neighbor’s complaint that preceded a potential chicken ban by Anoka’s City Council. The council initially voted 4-1 to pass the ban, but after a mini-chicken awareness campaign was waged by Suzanne Witterholt and Jonathon Uecker, the council unanimously voted a few weeks later to allow the birds.
The Witterholt-Uecker family considers their seven chickens and two peacocks part of the family. It wasn’t their neighbors who complained; in fact, three wrote letters to the council supporting the family’s flock after the initial vote to ban them.
“I don’t understand why chickens could be an issue,” wrote Lynn Hopkins, who lives next door to the family. “On nice days they are let out to search for goodies … sometimes they come into my yard where they are fed … and talked to until they get sick of me and leave.”
Anoka City Council member Phil Rice, who said his five children occasionally raise various fowl for meat and for “the life experience,” led the charge against the ban.
“I’ve raised chickens myself,” said Rice. “I don’t know what all cities do, but it’s not uncommon to allow chickens. I don’t see the harm or the foul in that, no pun intended.”
Darlene Prois is at firstname.lastname@example.org.