More cities in Iowa are debating whether or not in-town residents should be allowed to keep chicken flocks in their backyards. It’s a trend growing nationwide. Bud Wood, who owns the McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, says they’ve sold 1.8 million chicks this year – mostly to people keeping them in their backyard.
“This year and last year, we’ve been running at full capacity,” Wood said. “We’re shipping as many chickens as we can hatch. We just have more and more people who want them.” He says a lot of people are keeping three to six hens for fresh eggs. Wood says he now refers to his business as a pet store rather than a livestock operation.
“People get (chickens) because they like the idea of a pet that can also produce eggs,” Wood said. Opponents of urban chickens often cite potential problems with odor or disease. Wood says those concerns are easily addressed. “Like any animal, that’s all in the management. If you take care of them properly, those kind of issues shouldn’t be a problem,” Wood said.
Rebecca Mumaw of Cedar Rapids is a member of Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chickens – or CLUC. The group is asking city leaders in Cedar Rapids to allow residents to keep chickens as pets. Mumaw believes a chicken pen isn’t much different than a backyard garden.
“We’re not trying, for example, to raise a lot of corn to sell or anything like that in our backyards…we’re not trying to raise chickens to make money,” Mumaw said.
A similar effort is underway in Iowa City, but Mayor Reginia Bailey is opposed to idea. “I believe that this would just add one more challenge to the pile of challenges with conflicts between neighbors, conflicts within neighborhoods…adding more stress and expense to our code enforcement and our animal enforcement officers,” Bailey said. The city of Ames has allowed urban chickens for decades.
Judy Parks has been the Assistant City Attorney in Ames for 20 years and says she can’t remember her office fielding any complaints about chickens. “We, from time to time, have people who have inquiries. They’ll call and say ‘I’ve seen (chickens) down the block, are those legal?’ We can confirm that they are,” Parks said. She says complaints about barking dogs far outnumber any disputes over chickens.
Many urban chicken ordinances bar roosters, outdoor slaughter and allow up to six egg-laying hens. Wood, the owner of the hatchery in Winterset, claims a small flock of hens makes very little noise and produces about as much waste as one Labrador retriever. Wood, Mumaw, Parks and Bailey all made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program “The Exchange.”