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Time for backyard chickens in Detroit Lakes?

Mrs. Clucker Nutter, one of the chickens belonging to Erin Mayer, is seen in the backyard of Mayer's Fargo, N.D., in this 2015 file photo. While Fargo and several cities in Minnesota allow chickens to be kept in city limits, Detroit Lakes is not one of them. DL resident Nina Kleinschmidt aims to change that with a petition she is circulating. (Rick Abbott / Forum News Service)

Nina Kleinschmidt believes that what Detroit Lakes needs is a few good chickens.

"Chickens have personalities, they are able to remember people," Kleinschmidt said in an email interview. "They can recognize over 100 different faces of humans and animals. They also have their own language with about 30 distinct vocalizations. If you ask a chicken owner if their laying hens are pets or for eggs, most of them will say both: They get both eggs and companions out of them."

Chickens are considered livestock and are not allowed to be kept in city limits, but Kleinschmidt aims to scramble up that status quo. She says she has collected nearly 100 signatures in an online petition circulated in hopes of getting the city council to go along with her plan: Up to four hens per household would be allowed within city limits, with restrictions that include no roosters (they're too loud, and hens can lay eggs without them), no butchering (too messy) and no selling.

An annual permit would be required, and chicken coops would have to be well-maintained, not visible from the street, and at least 10 feet away from lot lines.

Over the past few years, there has been some squawking over the urban chicken ban in DL.

"We have had a couple requests for the city to change the ordinance," said Detroit Lakes City Administrator Kelcey Klemm.

But there's a pecking order to these things, and those requests didn't fly with the relevant city committee, so the full city council never received a pro-chicken recommendation.

"Those opposed to backyard chickens are concerned about odors, noises, diseases, that kind of thing," Klemm said. "Some cities allow them and have no problems, and other cities have allowed it and had problems," he said.

"From what I understand, there have been two written letters asking the city council to reconsider allowing hens within city limits," Kleinschmidt said. But the letter-writers couldn't crack the city's position that the ordinance is needed "to protect the public health, safety, and welfare arising from the keeping or escape of farm animals, poultry and non-domesticated animals, animal bites or disease transmission," Kleinschmidt said.

She's not trying to ruffle feathers at city hall, but "those are antiquated beliefs that can easily be refuted," she argued. "If you read the ordinance, it says that 'monkeys kept by handicapped persons as personal helpers,' are allowed. So why not chickens?"

She started circulating the petition in mid June, and said that "we are in the process of creating educational pamphlets and a written petition for people to sign."

The online petition has not been sent to the city council yet, but Kleinschmidt, who lives on the 1300 block of Minnesota Avenue, hopes to get on the agenda in August to answer questions and provide information.

Nick Biermeier, who lives in the same neighborhood, said he supports the idea of backyard chickens in Detroit Lakes.

"I have no interest in having chickens myself," he said, "but I am 100 percent in favor of others having the right to raise a few. I honestly can't believe it isn't already allowed."

Biermeier said he often visited a friend who, when his kids were young, had over 20 hens out on Lake Maud, "and that coop blended right into the landscape, was silent, and it had no odor," Biermeier said. "The hens were so lovely and the eggs were the best I have ever had."

Detroit Lakes wouldn't exactly be breaking new ground by modifying its chicken ordinance. Kleinschmidt pointed to 50 other Minnesota cities, from Anoka to Minneapolis to Coon Rapids to Winona, that already allow backyard hen coops.

"Some people believe that if an ordinance such as this is approved, that their community will be filled with hens at every other house," Kleinschmidt said. "Fargo allowed hens two years ago and have had much success. Since the beginning of 2019, only six applications for a permit have been completed.

"Fargo is a town of over 120,000, much larger than DL. We are only asking for four hens per household, many other towns allow more than six."

She said that a flock of laying hens is actually pretty quiet—indeed, far quieter than most dogs. A hen will cackle or squawk when she lays an egg, which happens once a day or less.

"Roosters can be loud — but roosters are not required for egg production and are not included in this proposal," she said.

As for odor, she said that chickens don't smell any more than other pets do, and a properly cleaned chicken coop doesn't stink.

"As far as stray cats go," she added, "with a properly made coop that is well maintained, we can protect chickens from predators. Chickens would be kept in their coop and only allowed outside if accompanied by their owner in an enclosed yard."

Backyard chickens would also give city kids a better idea of how agriculture works, said Leigh Nelson, Becker County 4-H program coordinator. "Raising chickens is a great way for youth to learn about sustainable agricultural concepts and the responsibility of raising an animal," she said.

Watching hens lay eggs can help kids see the connection between food production and consumption, and show them where their food comes from—before it gets to the grocery store, she added.

If the city council receives a petition, it will go first to committee, then the full city council will weigh out what it wants to do, Klemm said. "A petition means there is more interest in something—it doesn't necessarily mean the council will change an ordinance," he said.

Learn more

For more information, check out Nina Kleinschmidt's Facebook Group:

www.facebook.com/groups/birdloversofdl.