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.”
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.
- City of St. Goerge Chicken Code
- University of Utah 4-H: Basics of raising backyard chickens
- Center for Disease Control: Keeping backyard poultry
- Operation Chicken Code-St. George Utah Facebook page
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