By Susan Bromley
Ortonville– Why did the chicken cross the road?
The answer may never be known, but because at least one chicken crossed a property line in the village it has shone a spotlight on an ordinance forbidding ownership of live chickens, one that has not been enforced and which is now being reexamined.
Village Manager David Trent noted at the May 22 village council meeting that his knowledge of, and love for, chickens extends only to “original or extra crispy.”
However, after receiving a complaint about fowl that were trespassing and leaving “residue” on a village resident’s property, Trent investigated and found an ordinance dating back to 1982 that states it is “unlawful for any person to keep or allow to be kept within the village any cows, horses, pigs, goats, pigeons, chickens, geese, ducks or any other animal, fowl or insect except birds, dogs, cats or other harmless and domesticated household pets.”
He also found in researching the issue that at least five residents in the village, and perhaps as many as 30, own chickens in violation of the ordinance, some for many years, and that their neighbors often “look the other way.” Trent, however, sought guidance from the council now that he is aware of the ordinance and residents who are not in compliance.
“Do you want me to lower the boom?” he asked. “We want to play ball fairly. If we’re going to have an ordinance, we should enforce it or put guidelines in place (for ownership).”
Trent has researched other municipalities for guidelines in chicken ownership and he cited Ann Arbor, a city with a population of more than 100,000, as one that has allowed residents to keep chickens for nearly a decade. Rules there include obtaining neighbor consent for a 5-year permit to own up to six hens, or no neighbor consent required to keep two hens for a 1-year trial period.
Brenda Timmermans, a village resident who currently owns seven chickens, said she was unaware of the village ordinance and was under the impression that if no one complained, she was fine. She said she has received no complaints about her chickens, which were roaming a fenced area in her yard on Tuesday, occasionally hopping into their adjacent henhouse, where Timmermans collects their eggs every morning.
She has kept chickens for the past six years, getting her first flock when her daughter expressed an interest in joining 4-H Club. Although her daughter no longer participates in 4-H, Timmerman’s love for the chickens remains. They are a source of meditation for her in the morning, relaxing her as she watches them.
“I love them, they’re like a pet,” she said. “They have no worries, they just peck, find their food, make comforting sounds, and cuddle with each other… There are so many people that have chickens. They want to be more sustainable and raise their own food. I am hoping I can keep my chickens and it would be great if more people knew how awesome it is to have chickens. It is hard if everything is put down by rules and regulations. I don’t think my chickens are harming anything.”
Councilmember Tonja Brice said at the meeting that the troubles with chicken were more of an owner behavior problem.
“Maintain your animals in your yard, I don’t care if it’s a hippo,” she said.
Trent plans to craft proposed modifications to the ordinance, possibly addressing containment of free-range chickens, setbacks, number of chickens permitted, and consent from neighbors. He will bring proposed changes to the council at their next meeting, set for 7 p.m., June 26, at the township offices, 395 Mill St.