Hens in the City

Anybody priced organic eggs lately? Like everything else, they’re going up, Up, UP! And you can’t, and I don’t, blame the farmers a bit. Everything’s costing more for everyone, whether it’s the farmers and ranchers being edged-out and pushed to the brink of extinction by the big food conglomerates, or the consumer trying to make smart food choices.

Speaking of food conglomerates, I finally watched Food, Inc yesterday. Oh man. So much there that I just really wish I didn’t now know. As I posted on my Facebook status, I’m loving my organic/heirloom garden, local beef and local butcher who processes it, and wild game. This year’s gardening efforts will be (even) bigger than before as I now have a greenhouse and sharing more community garden space. I freeze, dehydrate and can as much veggies as possible during the summer and early fall, and hopefully this year’s gardening results will take us all the way through the winter and Spring to come.

But one issue I have is regarding eggs. When I owned Liberty Oaks Ranch in Liberty Hill, Texas, I had a big sprawling Texas-sized home garden with fruit trees, a few head of cattle, and poultry. Hens from Rhode Island Reds to Aracaunas… guinea fowl… and quail! And I seriously miss having a couple (or three) quietly clucking, busily bug pecking, egg-laying hens around.

So now that we have two kids and live in the city limits in Billings, Montana, and prices have climbed and threaten to skyrocket, I’d sure like to have some hens at home. A cute little henhouse/hutch with a very small chicken yard… lots of garden scraps and very eager grasshopper-catchin’ children to feed them… even a heated greenhouse in the wintertime for sorta-outdoors-livin’. I’m all set, right? Except for one little thing…

Billings City Code – Sec. 27-607. Livestock and fowl.
Livestock, as defined in BMCC section 27-201, shall not be maintained in any zoning district located within the limits of the city.

This includes hens, as they are lumped together by section 27-201 with their larger, smellier brethren such as swine, sheep, cattle and horses. Now I’ll be the first one to admit that I’d LOVE to have my horse at home with me again, instead of off at the boarding ranch. However, to put it delicately, he produces more compost materials than I am able to successfully process in a timely fashion in my smallish garden compost operation. And he has very big feet and weighs 1000#, which isn’t necessarily compatible with a small yard, two young children, a beagle, a garden, and said greenhouse. Comparing him to a hen is just ridiculous.

Apparently the whole code issue is not necessarily frequently ENFORCED, as determining the said City Code took quite some time on the computer researching, as well as several phone calls to our City officials before an answer was researched, I was called back, and the verdict was rendered. However, BREAKING laws isn’t necessarily my thing, when they can be taken on and CHANGED! As community gardening takes off, not only across the nation but also in my fair city, local food is lauded, and perishables increase in price and scarcity (to put that in sort of a backward sentence), I think it is only right that we reconsider this city code and revamp it!

So my city councilpersons have been contacted, the ball has begun rolling. I’m on a mission… a mission for HENS IN THE CITY!

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2 responses to “Hens in the City

  1. You should check to see what is on the city of Missoula’s website – I remember reading an article at one time in the paper about the same issue. I think people there are allowed to have a small number. I would love to have some chickens but Ben needs to be older and I need to get Mike on board.

    • You’re right – Missoula has fairly recently changed their city code to allow a limited number of hens in town. It’s quite widespread across the nation; even the Code Enforcement Agent here in Billings told me that it was a very old code and not enforced unless there was a specific noise/smell problem… which should not be an issue with a gentle and quiet hen breed (like Buff Orpingtons) and tidy owners. Chicken pens that are not just wildly overcrowded are actually quite clean – they eat EVERYTHING. Spiders, sowbugs, slugs, wasps, flies, ticks, june bugs, etc. And there are a ton of quite adorable chicken coops (both portable and non) available… Mark is quite handy with the hammer though so ours will be, like our greenhouse is, a home-creation-endeavour.

      The only warning I will post about hens is… cover your pedicure if you’re a sandal-wearer, before visiting them. Girlfriends love them some red, and toenails are fair game!!

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