Usually the words ‘urban’ and ‘chicken’ don’t go together. But they do in Bloomington thanks to the 2006 ordinance that allow chickens in your backyard.
City of Bloomington Planning Director Tom Micuda said the chicken debate generated the most public interest he can remember, thanks in part to city councilman Steve Volan who wore a chicken suit to the meeting that recommended the ordinance to pass. “This was very much generated from citizens talking to public officials and council members to develop an ordinance that ultimately got passed – very much a grass roots effort.”
An effort led by residents like Jerry Dayhuff on Bloomington’s north side who moved from the country where raising chickens was always a part of his life.
“A lot of people like cats or dogs but I like them, but I like to raise chickens, because you get the eggs. They’ve laid every day since late last summer. They’ve laid every day all winter long cause I have electronic heat light in there, and electric heat for water.”
But to him they are more than livestock.
“See you can just pick them up – they aren’t no trouble, they are pretty tame. We won’t eat them our self you know because they are just like a pet to us. If you mention eating one of them why my wife would have a fit.”
Before Jerry bought his hens, he had to get approval from all adjacent neighbors such as Wilma Greenwell. She thinks it’s strange to keep chickens as pets in city limits but admits they have never bothered her.”
“Farmers I can understand, it just seems a little strange but to each his own. I only eat chickens.”
The ordinance contains guidelines such as size and construction of the coop and setbacks from property lines. The coop is inspected by animal control and then the planning department.
City of Bloomington Animal Care Director Laurie Ringquist thinks the ordinance has been very beneficial.
“It’s worked well because we have something clear cut to follow and we’re not caught in limbo with what to enforce and what not to enforce,” said Laurie. “There are certainly some that I think view them as pets and really get involved with them, I think though, also in Bloomington with the attitude toward sustainability and green living, I think Bloomington is a very progressive community that way so chickens also fit into that perspective.”
Vanessa Cantrell home schools her daughter Clara and says raising chickens goes along with that method of teaching.
“It was just a no brainer. It was a way our daughter could see a direct input, see how everyday she feeds the chickens and she can gather the eggs and then she can go in and cook an egg that she took compost out from our kitchen and it becomes a very nice cycle.”
“When I open it up everyday I always look up here and look into the nest, there is one egg today,” said Clara.
Vanessa did encounter some opposition from an area neighbor.
“We had some neighbors that have some cantankerous personalities I would say and they campaigned quite a bit saying to the neighbors who had to sign the permit that the chickens were going to be noisy, smelly and the honest truth is most people don’t even realize we have them.”
Which is good news for city officials.
“From a neighbor perspective, it’s reduced a lot of complaints, we rarely get chicken complaints anymore because there are no roosters and people are only allowed to have five hens,” said Laurie.
“I’m really pleased with the permitting process,” said Vanessa. “It seems like it covers the essentials and make sure you know what your getting into, that you’re prepared to do it and that you’re respecting other people.”
While at the same time keeping these chicken lovers happy.
“I’ve got kind of attached to them now so,” said Jerry. “If I had to get rid of them, it would really be, I wouldn’t like it.”
Currently, there are four active permits approved and three who have applied since the law went into effect. Laurie said those who had chickens before the law will not be able to replace their hens until they apply for the chicken flock permit.