FAIRMONT - Fairmont chicken owners, beware. Your chickens' days could be numbered.
On Monday, the City Council is meeting, and chickens will be on the agenda.
"I'm not trying to ban chickens. Chickens are already banned," said City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist, pointing to Section 4-3 of the City Code, which outlines general restrictions on livestock.
HER?BIRD?— Fairmont resident Angel Gordon holds one of her pet chickens. Gordon is advocating for Fairmont to allow chickens within city limits. The council will discuss the subject 5:30 p.m. Monday.
The ordinance reads: "No person shall keep any horse, cattle, sheep, goat or animal of a wild nature in the city."
Note, chickens are not specifically mentioned.
"It was pointed out there is some ambiguity," Bloomquist said, "and now we're going to try to straighten it out.
"The council's position historically has been no, but this will give them an opportunity to discuss it. Maybe they'll change their mind," she said.
Fairmont resident and chicken enthusiast Angel Gordon says the ordinance is fine as it is. Even if it's changed to specify chickens, that section of the code still shouldn't apply, in her opinion. Why is that? Because her chickens aren't livestock.
"I can't eat chickens, turkeys, ducks and eggs," Gordon said, pulling out a medical file that shows she indeed has an allergy to all of the above. "I got these as pets."
To be specific, Gordon's pets are Easter Egg chickens, so named because of the colorful eggs they lay. (They're also advertised as great pets due to their sociable nature.) Gordon has three of these chickens, as does her neighbor, Brenda Ervin. They aren't alone.
"There are so many people I've talked to who looked up the [Fairmont] ordinance and said, 'It says I can,' so they've had chickens a number of years," Ervin said.
The two women got their chickens from the same source and brought them home last month, frequently allowing their new pets to socialize with each other. Small coops provide enough room for the birds to escape from the elements, and the owners had plans for a portable fencing system to allow the birds to roam.
Then, last week, Ervin said, the animal control officer drove by her yard, saw the chickens, and turned his car around to inform her that chickens aren't allowed in city limits. She was shocked.
"We really don't want to ruffle feathers," Ervin said. "That wasn't our intent."
Before bringing the chickens home, Ervin and Gordon talked to their neighbors, including St. Martin Episcopal Church. The church's reaction? The priest blessed them, literally.
"Nobody is running around and complaining about chickens," Gordon said. "There isn't a mad outbreak of chickens running loose. We have far more problems with other animals in this city. ... I know people who have had them for decades here, and there's never been a big chicken crisis in town."
In recent years, chickens have been taking roost in more urban and suburban settings, as city-dwellers adopt the bird for the companionship, eggs and natural insect control they provide. The two largest cities in our state - Minneapolis and St. Paul - both allow chickens, with some obvious restrictions.
Most "chicken-friendly" cities don't allow roosters, since they can be aggressive and noisy. Clean coops are required. If it's smelly, the city can take the animals away, just as they would with any other pet.
Dr. Shirley Kittleson, veterinarian at Goldmount Veterinary Clinic outside Sherburn, sees no problem with keeping chickens as pets, not anymore than having dogs in town.
"Just yesterday I was at a sale, and there was a lady carrying around a pet chicken in her purse, just like a dog," she said. "It was the cutest thing. It even had a little diaper on. ... They really do make good pets if somebody wants to take the time to make a pet out of them."
The hens clucking softly in Ervin's backyard on Monday kept to the small area penned off for them, pecking at the grass, insects and shiny objects - like this reporter's painted toenails - and dusting themselves in the dirt. These "dirt baths" are how they keep themselves clean, explained Gordon, just like other birds. If they do get mites, the problem is easily remedied with an ointment similar to Vaseline, said Gordman, who worked in the pet industry for 20 years in Florida before moving to Minnesota.
Chickens are no worse than any other pet, like a cat or dog, when it comes to carrying unwanted pests, said Kittleson.
"Any of those parasites can be controlled," she said.
Other risks chickens could potentially present to people are less hazardous than what's inside a common house cat's litterbox, said Gordon, so where does the city draw the line?
"I don't think they should ban something, unless they can prove it's a true health risk to society or a nuisance," she said.
Fairmont Mayor Randy Quiring had not heard the fowl news, but he had to admit, the subject strikes him as somewhat humorous.
"Just make sure they're on a leash," he said, laughing.
Anyone who wants to add their input to the discussion can attend the City Council meeting 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at City Hall. The council cannot vote to change the ordinance until a public hearing is set. It will likely be Aug. 27.