Backyard chickens run afoul of city ordinance

backyard chickens urban farming
A pair of backyard chickens, St. George, Utah, July 02, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – So you fancy yourself an urban farmer and like to keep backyard chickens. They give you a steady supply of fresh eggs, as well as the occasional chicken dinner when occasion calls for it. You may also use them to help teach your children some responsibility as you delegate chicken-chores. Their droppings can be used as fertilizer, and the birds can even foster a sense of self-reliance in your food supply.

“I live downtown and have (six) Bantam chickens. I love it!” Shelsie Stratton wrote on St. George News Facebook page in response to a question on backyard chickens. “They do get loud … but it’s no louder than the neighborhood dogs. I wouldn’t recommend having more since they do poo a ton and will tear up any flower beds you have.”

There are the drawbacks of course. You have to keep the chicken coop and range clean (which is where teaching the kids “responsibility” may come into play) so a healthy atmosphere can be maintained and the neighbors don’t start complaining about the smell. And speaking of neighbors, you need to be mindful of them too. Not everyone appreciates urban fowl, especially if they are loud and stinky. Chickens trespassing into a neighbor’s yard may not do much to endear the birds to them either.

Also commenting to St. George News Facebook on urban poultry, Sindy Elamrani wrote: “My old neighbor in Santa Clara had chickens in his back yard. There was always a nasty smell so we could not really use our back yard and the rooster would wake me up every single day at dawn. The chickens were quite noisy and just smelled horrible.”

There are also city ordinances to consider when dealing with residential fowl. Many cities allow residents to keep chickens – hens only, roosters are usually a big no-no. Still, just what do the regulations set forth? How many chickens can you keep? How much space is required? How far from a property line does a coop have to be? The City of St. George adopted its current “chicken code” in 2010 to address these issues.

As with any city ordinance, there are supporters and detractors. One person who feels aspects of the ordinance aren’t exactly reasonable is St. George resident Julie Breckenridge. Specifically, she takes issue with how large a residential lot needs to be before a person can even consider having chickens.

“My beef is (the city doesn’t) regulate the size of a yard for a dog, so why chickens?” Breckenridge said.

The chicken code

Regulation 10-7B-2 is the city code governing the keeping of chickens in residential areas. It allows a for up to six chickens to be kept on a 10,000-square-foot lot with a single-family dwelling. A total of 16 chickens are allowed by the city, but only if there is an additional 1,000 square feet for each chicken over the original six.

The chickens are also required to be kept in a coop and be kept in a fenced area that must be cleaned and maintained regularly. Roosters are forbidden under the ordinance.

Particulars on where a coop can be placed and how large it should or should not be can be found here.

Breckenridge said she has run afoul (or would that be a-fowl?) of the city ordinance and keeping backyard chickens due to the size of her property which measures at 5,900 square feet. She has a small home, she said, yet a big backyard where the chickens can roam.

“A St. George City resident can have two dogs, any size, and the city doesn’t regulate the minimum size of the lot to accommodate those dogs,” Breckenridge wrote on a flier she has begun to distribute around St. George as a way to bring awareness to the ordinance.

She also added she has nothing against dogs, and only uses them as an example to illustrate how unfair she feels the city’s ordinance is to current and would-be backyard chicken keepers.

“I’m just trying to help this all be fair,” Breckenridge said.

In addition to the fliers, Breckenridge has also created the “Operation Chicken Code-St. George Utah” Facebook page. She also plans to approach the St. George City Council about its current rules pertaining to residential chicken-raising, and has already caught the attention of one council member in particular.

Councilman Jimmie Hughes, who told St. George News in a previous interview that city government “needs to stay out of people’s backyards,” said the current ordinance is in need of “tweaking.”

“There is some concern (about the code),” Hughes said, but as a whole, he said that “so far there have been very few issues about chickens … I haven’t heard that we’ve had any major issues.”

Still, Hughes said the lot size requirements need to be looked at and that a change in the ordinance may be addressed in a future council meeting. Yet, even while looking at the possibility of easing aspects of the ordinance, he said:“We have to keep in mind that some people don’t like chickens. What’s the best way to avoid conflicts with neighbors?”

“There’s a downside to everything,” Hughes said. The key in the whole chicken code business will be to find some sense of balance, he said.

More awareness needed

“A lot of people don’t know (about the ordinance),” said Dave Vane, Animal Control supervisor for the City of St. George.

Animal Control tends to get calls from the neighbors of people who keep backyard chickens, Vane said. Chicken-related complaints can range from chickens either getting loose, to rooster’s crowing, to people not knowing their neighbors – who may be in compliance with the code to start with – can have chickens.

“We are getting called out more than we used to,” Vane said, noting how the trend of backyard chickens has increased in the area.

When Animal Control is sent to someone’s home for a potential code violation, people are given a warning to get rid of the chickens if their property isn’t big enough or if they have too many. People typically comply with the request, Vane said. Those who do not face the possibility of a citation and a fine.

“Before you get chickens,” Vane said, “check in with zoning or Animal Control.”

Health concerns?

Dave Heaton, a spokesman for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the health department has been investigating reports of salmonella and campylobacter in the five counties area that have been traced to chickens.

Both bacterial diseases in nature, Heaton said they cause bouts of “unpleasant diarrhea” when contracted. Transmission of the disease happens when people handle a chicken’s droppings, eggs, or the chicken directly, and then touch their faces before watching their hands.

“Keep your hands away from your face and wash thoroughly,” Heaton said.

People particularly at risk for the sickness are the young and individuals with compromised immune systems. Overall, however, Heaton said the health department does not discourage anyone from keeping chickens – just remember to wash your hands after handling them.

Resources

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

backyard chickens urban farming
A pair of backyard chickens, St. George, Utah, July 02, 2013 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

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15 Comments

  • Amanda Ballif July 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    You really need to do a story on city and county ordinances governing the other animals that run “a-foul”. Before a dog owner, for instance, gets another dog, they ought to check the zoning for their area as well as these chicken owners. Just last month that young boy who was almost eaten by those dogs whose owners had three dogs, is one reason to do a story about the rules. Even the Sherrif’s department doesn’t understand the law of dog limits. At least chickens offer a food source. Chicken ownership is a vital part of our communities.

    • Foghorn Leghorn July 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Dogs is AH SAY THAR, DOGS is good eatin’ too. . .:D

  • Foghorn Leghorn July 12, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    By golly theys gonna dun be puttin usens in jail if we don’t stop our cluckin’ around! :0

  • staypositive July 13, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Maybe she should tell the real truth, not only does she have chickens, there are ducks, a goose, turkey and the set up is just terrible. You drive around town and see how the McArthur has a nice chicken coup and then there is one on the west side of town, but this is so gross, she isn’t showing the whole truth. The code enforcement came out and looked at it and said this is not in Code. I don’t understand why Jimmie Hughes is getting involved unless he is related to them, has he really seen this mess. Let’s see the real truth on ths issue. There is also the issue of the Animal Control coming out because there was a chicken by the rec center right in the middle of the road, who was following code on that.

  • Sindy July 13, 2013 at 10:05 am

    I do not have a problem with keeping chickens at all but I do feel that the area should be kept clean, sanitary and somehow keep the noise to a min.
    I had called Santa Clara City many times about my neighbors chickens, only after I talked with the neighbor many times to no avail, but the city choose to do nothing even though he was against the ordinance.
    The school kids would taunt my dogs every singe day and they would bark and when the neighbor called the city I was given a ticket, I took care of the barking, and the police man could smell the chickens from my front door but choose to do nothing. The neighbor even called the police when my dogs killed one of his chickens that came into MY BACKYARD and I was given a warning from the police!!
    I say just have respect for your neighbors, don’t have a rooster to wake up the neighborhood hood at dawn every day, and stop thinking about yourself and your chickens only. We all have neighbors and sometimes need to bend a bit to keep a peaceful, happy neighborhood.

  • Still Staying Positive July 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    @Stay positive
    Obviously the old adage good fences make good neighbors hasn’t worked in this situation. Real truth? Truth, I have a humble, yet functional backyard. It contains a vegetable garden, a chicken coop, a compost pile and the ugliest shed known to mankind. The latter was inherited when I purchased the property and still works well, so it has stayed. I also have around the perimeter of my backyard, a 6 foot fence for privacy and to protect my right to be self-sufficient in by own backyard without bothering the neighbors. The backyard is in no way gross, I don’t consider it terrible or the set-up terrible, but then I am a pretty practical person and only discard items if it’s lost its functionality. The coop is homemade. My son built it for me, not anything fancy like you see in the catalogues, but it works. The coop had 6 laying hens in it. I made a chicken run from fence posts and chicken wire. There is nothing like seeing a chicken run…it is like a scene from Jurassic Park.
    Between March and April of this year, I bought 2 ducks, 2 turkeys and 6 hens. I enjoy raising baby chicks and wanted to give my grandchildren the opportunity to see them grow. However, before the purchase was made, I made arrangements with a farm to take them when they reached a size they could survive on the farm.
    I received the “courtesy” letter from the code enforcement officer. The letter was complete with pictures of my backyard (as best an angle of the coop that could be taken from my neighbor’s yard given the 6′ fence), I posted on Facebook my sadness and frustration. A friend, who’s active in the Farm Bureau, saw my post and told me about Councilman Jimmie Hughes. I contacted him. We are not related nor had I ever met him before. The courtesy letter only gave me a week to comply so I gave my 6 laying hens away (there is a Christmas carol in there somewhere).
    All the concerns expressed regarding a person having chickens in the comments and the article itself could be expressed about any pet. Again, the reason I am asking the city council to reevaluate the ordinance is to make it fair for all pets. Again, I am not against any animal, the following is used as an illustration to show the discrepancies in the ordinance. So, why is yard size even a consideration for hens when It isn’t for dogs. Yes, chickens can get loose, but so can dogs. And rest assured, you will never get bitten by a chicken. Why is there a concern about noise of a chicken when a dog can bark louder, more constant and continue through the night? Yes, chickens poop, a lot, but its droppings can be used in a garden or landscape, a dog’s poop can’t. Also, a dog eats meat; chickens eat greens and grain. Which poop do you think will have the worse smell?
    I am sorry for all the injustices in the past of people against or for chickens or the controversy of animals in general, but it isn’t right to discriminate against a property owner because of their lot size. For the most part, enforcement of codes only comes when a complaint is received. So, if any ordinance should be written, for any pet, it should be that they should be kept humanely and without being a nuisance to others, not because their coop (which is only visible by the homeowner, mind you) doesn’t look as good as McArthur’s.

  • FreedomFighter July 13, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    I have seen Julie Breckenridges yard… AND @Stay Postives yard (for that matter) as I used to live in the neighborhood. In order for ANY neighbor to see into her backyard you would have to walk straight up to the fence line and peek over it- mind you not very many people are 6 feet or taller. What has our country come to that we somehow feel the right to peek into our neighbors yards and complain about the state of it?!?! What a gross invasion of privacy. Especially when a privacy fence is in place. Shouldn’t we show more respect and courtesy to our fellow neighbors than that? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about our own lives, our own homes, and our own yards instead? There are plenty of back yards that I do not think are perfectly manicured or designed how I would like- that doesn’t give me the right to complain and control my neighbor. Especially when a privacy fence is in place. If you own a home you should have the right to do with that property as you see fit so long as you aren’t infringing on anyone else’s rights or safety. I don’t see how keeping hens (or other fowl for that matter) infringes on anyone else’s rights…. or safety for that matter.

  • Gunther July 14, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Here’s what will happen………Julie works for Ron Thompson of the all powerful Washington Conservancy District. Ron will chat with Mayor and the whole thing will disappear. Place your bets……

  • staypositive July 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

    First of when we moved in we put up the fence on the property line and not one cent came from the neighbor, which i find interesting that such care would go into taking care of the chickens, but when the children were living there they didn’t do anything for those children, they ran the street and played everywhere but the backyard. I am not controlling my neighbor, it is an ordinance that the councilmen, mayor and city attorneys put numerous ours into drafting and having code enforcement comply. Yes, when you own a home you have the right to do with the property that you see fit as long as it is within the law. It is my right and if I want code enforcement to come on my property to enforce the law that is also my right, as they are looking over MY fence, if you built the fence I could see your complaint about looking over but that is mute. What is the issue with the dogs, really, so many posts and I have never in this neighborhood see any dogs, except the Animal care place have any issues, just a diversion from the real issue. The code is written for health and safety issues. You can blah blah blah on and on, but the issue at hand is the fact the ordinance was written and you were in violation period. Whine and moan all you want, but the truth of the matter is you violated and they enforced. Thank you City of St. George for enforcing the laws that you spent so much time on. Also thanks go out to Animal Control for having to take the duck out of OUR yard and picking up the chicken by the rec center.

  • staypositive July 14, 2013 at 11:34 am

    I do want to thank you for following the code and putting up the additional fencing. I am not knocking chickens or other animals as I spent plenty of time on a farm and they are interesting. The issue that I have is when a ordinance or law is written that they are followed because the a written for a reason. We spend a lot of time and effort in making sure our yard was fenced for the safety of our grandchildren and the upkeep as we are blessed to have what we do. I do apologize about the comment on the children, as that was a low blow, and it was brought to my attention in regards to the backyard from someone else. Now if the Council sees fit that they will reduce the size, then is great and it is welcomed. The few set ups I have seen are really nice and maybe that isn’t your style, I have seen many houses that should be on the Hoarders show because I wonder how they can live like that, but one is right I guess that is why we can put up these fences so we don’t have to look at them. I apologize, as I don’t want this to get into a fighting debate, as it just isn’t worth it.

    • Still Staying Positive July 16, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Your continued posts are hostile towards me. You are insulting in your judgments of what you perceive me to be. All this over chickens? You said I wasn’t truthful. So, I told my story, completely and civilly. I didn’t tell my story for your benefit, but for the readers that may have thought there was some validity in your accusation. There were no insults towards you or derogatory judgments in the way you choose to live. Then in your continued comments you insult me, write an apology to me and follow it with another insult. I am using my story to show why I feel the ordinance should be evaluated and changed. I have not engaged in any “fighting” debate with you, nor would I ever choose to. In order to have any kind of debate, there must be some sense of logic in the discussion and you, simply, have not brought any to the table.

  • Tyler July 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Why on earth does St. George not ban chickens. I guess we really will never rise above a mormon red neck town.

    • Foghorn Leghorn July 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      Ah say, AH SAY THAR BOY this fine city should encourage chickens and ban guitarists! All they do is make noxious noise, ain’t good fer nuthin’ and prolly smoke dope besides. . .Chickens is good eatin’ and they deposit great AH SAY GREAT ferdelizer! :p

  • lmfao July 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    I love you Foghorn;)

  • The Yakima Kid August 9, 2014 at 12:49 am

    I think I love Foghorn Leghorn, too.

    Hey, Tyler, if you don’t like Mormons or rednecks, move to SF or Manhattan. Unfortunately, you will find that there are lots of backyard chickens in both. Lots and lots of them. In SF, we have people who pay around $5,000 a pair for breeding Ayam Cemani. There are breeding permits available for those who need them and comply with the rules

    On second thought, you might not like SF or Manhattan. The residents in those areas would probably see you as an ignorant, narrow minded, nosy provincial. I know I do.

    The folks there would probably consider you backward and provincial. I know I do. In fact, the more impoverished and backward the town, the more hostility to keeping interesting pets – such as chickens. People in several cosmopolitan west coast port cities may even keep dairy goats in their backyards. We assume that our neighbors are capable of manure management – and if they aren’t, we call animal control.

    In any event, I have rarely had to step around chicken feces while walking in SF or Palo Alto – but the same cannot be said for canine feces.

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