Changes to Columbia backyard chicken ordinance proposed

Friday, May 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:40 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 20, 2009

COLUMBIA — To allow chickens in people's backyards or not? That was one of the questions brought up at the Board of Health meeting Thursday.

Several Columbia residents want a change to the current ordinance of owning chickens, which allow one chicken per half-acre. While the public was not allowed to give input at the meeting, they still expressed their opinions before and after.

Mary Stilwell of Columbia wants chickens because she feels the diversity of food has gone down with all of the hybridized enhanced foods. Stilwell said she isn't asking to own 50 chickens, but simply half a dozen or so.

Board members discussed issues that would arise if the ordinance was changed to allow more chickens, such as how to address complaints from neighbors, how the number of chickens fit into pet ownership limits and the use of the chickens.  

People who oppose raising chickens often raise concerns about the smell, bugs and noise.

"Packing 200,000 chickens into a few big closed sheds creates huge problems of smell and disease," said Greg Baka, a Columbia resident who wants to raise chickens. "But city chickens are nothing like that. Six hens in a open-air coop in somebody's backyard are happy healthy birds. No smell, no disease. Compared to the average dog they will make less noise, less poop and be much more useful at breakfast time. But they can't fetch the newspaper."

Anita Janes lives outside of California, Mo., and sells eggs from the chickens she raises. She said she sees children who think eggs come from the cartons in the store.

"We need to educate our children on where their food really comes from," Janes said. "Education is a powerful force, and people who are educated as to where their food comes from will be less likely to fall into the idea that factory farms are OK."

Linda Green of Columbia looked into getting chickens before realizing it wouldn't be feasible because of the space required. She grew up on an Iowa farm and has previous experience raising chickens. Citing sustainability as a major factor, she said she hopes the ordinance will change so people can raise chickens in their backyard.

"Times have changed, and we need to be as independent and sustainable as possible," Green said.

Supporters of an ordinance change also brought up economic woes as a factor for allowing chickens.

"I think that the ordinance to allow chickens inside the city is a great idea. Times are hard and for people to have good wholesome food, it is going to get harder. This will allow at least a few eggs daily and possibly a stew hen once in a while to a family who maybe can't afford it otherwise," Janes said.

Other cities have set a precedent. A group that dubbed themselves the "poultry underground" successfully convinced the city of Madison, Wis., to permit backyard chickens in spring 2004. New York City, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and Seattle all have laws permissive toward keeping chickens.

Columbia Board of Health members did not take any action on changing the ordinance, but they compared the current ordinance with other cities that allow chickens, using them as a guideline of what could possibly change for Columbia.

Specific issues the board will research include the noise level of chickens and if the chickens would attract other animals, such as coyotes or foxes. Board of Health Chairman David Sohl and member Lynelle Phillips agreed to research the subject further.

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matt haight July 16, 2009 | 2:38 p.m.

totally in favor. Had a chicken neighbors loved her. as far as added wildlife, i see racoons, fox, opossums, deer in the center of columbia all of the time.

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