It began as a great idea. “Urban Chickens” that we could raise as our very own, house in a small coop built behind the garage. We’d get 3 or 4 hens, feed and care for them, and in return they would give us 4 eggs a day eventually. We even fought the city a bit for the right to keep them. Only a few days after moving baby chicks into our backyard, we had animal control show up. Through laughter, the man complimented our “Taj Mahal” of chicken coops, and reassured us we had nothing to worry about.
“I get calls like this often, and usually it’s someone who’s thrown together some chicken wire and scrap wood, with lots of smelly chickens. It’s obvious you guys aren’t going to let this ruin the neighborhood. I can’t tell you who called, but don’t worry about it.”
We breathed a sigh of relief. Then a few days later, the police showed up. With measuring tape. Apparently the person had called back to complain, and accused our coop of not being within city code. The code states that any chicken housing should not be within 70 feet of any home not occupied by the owner. So they measured just to make sure. It was true. We were only 63 feet away.
Our baby chicks seemed to look at us with tear-filled eyes….”why do they hate us?”, they clucked. Okay, so maybe that’s melodramatic, but we couldn’t understand it. The police told us we had a few days to find the chickens a new home, or we could be given fines, taken to jail, and/or the chickens forcibly removed. Even as he said all of this, he confessed he felt like a jerk…and it shouldn’t be that way. Still, the law is the law.
So we decided to go on the offensive. I wrote a letter introducing my family, and explained why we had chickens. Both from the perspective of faith, teaching our daughters to care for God’s creation, and animals giving food to us…and from the angle of home-school, teaching our girls animal-care, science, etc. In the letter I confessed that we really wanted to chickens, but that our relationships with humans took priority…please let us know if we need to repair a relationship. I took 2 of my daughters and hand-delivered these letters up and down our street and one block over. We knew it wasn’t our immediate neighbors, but had no idea beyond that. We had great short conversations, and actually educated several people who thought we needed a rooster to get eggs from a hen. No sir, only if we want baby chicks….which we do not want. Our neighbors smiled, enjoyed meeting our kids, and there were no calls to the police after this.
Not wanting to rely on this, and afraid of being arrested for illegal-chicken-keeping, I went a step further. The city code wanted the coop 70 feet away from anyone who wasn’t an owner. I wrote up an affidavit for my neighbors to sign, declaring they agreed to be considered “owners” as defined by the city (anyone who shares in some sort of care for, or allows the animals on their property, etc.). Once they signed this, and I filed it with the city’s legal team, I received a call a week later that it’d been approved.
“But Mr. Anderson, you must let your neighbors know…if your chickens were to escape and harm anyone, they would be liable with you.”
Yes…I shall let them know. I still remember that moment, coming back to my wife and children to tell them the good news….daddy had saved the day. We could now legally keep a few chickens on our property. Such a small victory for city code….such a large one for our kids. And finally, months later, we begin to collect the “fruit” of our labor…