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Move on to legalize chickens in the city

Source: Journal and Courier (Indiana)
Date: August 18, 2009
Byline: Bob Scott

The "chicken underground" is on the march.

Gay-Ellen Stulp and Stephany Miskunas are lobbying the Lafayette City Council to allow them to keep pet chickens at their homes in the historic Highland Park neighborhood.

Stulp said she wants city council members to amend the ordinance that forbids having chickens in the city. The city council's Public Health Welfare and Safety Committee plans to consider the matter.

"It's been a blast," Stulp said of her quest. "I can't believe the discussions I've gotten as I go around with my petition.

"It's a little hobby. They are pets. I guess I'm now part of the chicken underground."

Melanie Lucroy, president of Highland Park Neighborhood Association, said the group hasn't taken an official stance on the issue.

"We are mostly a social organization interested in promoting the neighborhood," she said.

"There are strong opinions on both sides."

Stulp said she has collected more than 200 signatures from Lafayette residents in favor of allowing pet chickens in Lafayette.

Urban chicken movement

Many cities allow urban chicken farming, including Indianapolis, St. Louis, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Madison, Wis.

Restrictions are placed on the chicken lovers in most of those cases, though. For example, in most cases, hens are allowed but not roosters, only three or four chickens are permitted at each household, and chickens must be kept from leaving the property.

The urban chicken movement has businesses that sell equipment and offer tips for raising the birds.

"There are even 'stealth' chicken coops that look like trash cans," Stulp said.

She said that the city's animal control department last May ordered her to part ways with her four hens. Miskunas had chickens in her backyard for a year and she said most neighbors knew it. But this summer, a young hen escaped into a neighborhood yard and authorities were called.

Several Highland Park neighbors declined to comment about the situation or about legalizing chickens in the city.

Miskunas had purchased a kids' playhouse and customized it into a coop. She winterized it, added a light bulb for heat and secured it from predators. She even added a flower bed.

"I just love my chickens," she said. "They are excellent pets and are easy to keep."

She said fresh eggs are a benefit.

"Fresh eggs are better. The yolks are school bus yellow," Miskunas said.

Stulp said a 1971 noise ordinance allowed a home-owner to have a few backyard chickens. The chickens were prohibited from making noise. Later, the city added chickens to the expanded definition of the types of livestock that are prohibited.

Stulp is preparing for the possible homecoming of her four chickens. She is working on a garden cottage to house the birds.

"I'll put a doghouse inside for the chickens," she said. "I even bought a Siberian pea shrub because the chickens will eat the seeds."

All of the chickens are at a farm off of McCormick Road near West Lafayette. They are "free ranging" in a farmhouse yard.

A visit Monday showed the bond between Stulp and her four hens. She shook the chicken feed in a plastic container and called their names.

"Come here, Hazel. Come on, Pearl!" she shouted.

Suddenly, several chickens appeared from under a couple of bushes.

"Aren't they beautiful?" she said.

The women have several breeds, including Rhode Island reds, black stars and Americans. Stulp said backyard hobbyists are propagating the heirloom varieties of chicken.

"This is part of the 'back to the earth' movement," said Stulp, an Eli Lilly chemical engineer. "It's a harmless hobby.

"After the ordinance was changed in Madison, Wis., there are now 150 families that have chickens."

Safe habits

Associate professor Mickey Latour of Purdue University works with the poultry extension office. He said he will attend the next meeting on the backyard chicken issue.

He urged the chicken hobbyists to practice safe habits, especially since there have been cases of salmonella from children handling baby chicks.

"It would be good if backyard flocks were inside of caged areas where they don't have access to wild animals," he said.

"Wash your hands before you go in and eat. Make sure everything's cleaned up."

Stulp said that she is prepared for the worst.

"If the city council turns us down, I'll find homes for my chickens," she said. "I'll really miss them."

What's next

The Lafayette City Council's Public Health Welfare and Safety Committee was initially scheduled tonight to take up the issue about keeping chickens in the city. That meeting has been canceled. A new date has not been set.