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City of Hudson to allow backyard hens

Jen Heriot, right, and Heather Mathews ask the Hudson City Council to permit residents to keep caged laying hens in their backyards.

Maybe it was fate.

Monday, June 3, was National Egg Day, the spokespersons for Hudson Urban Chickens said at the start of their presentation to the City Council that evening.

Half an hour later, members of the group seeking permission to keep laying hens in their backyards erupted in applause when the council voted 5-1 to grant their request for a trial one-year period.

The issue will first go to the council's Public Safety Committee, which will draft proposed regulations and a permit system for the backyard coops. The current City Ordinance 99-8C will need to be amended to allow chickens and establish rules for keeping them.

The outcome was somewhat unexpected after the Public Safety Committee earlier voted 2-1 to deny the group's request.

Alderperson Mary Yacoub, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said she had done more research since initially opposing urban chickens, and now thought they should be allowed - with strict controls recommended by the committee.

Alderperson Kurt TeWinkel said his first reaction, upon hearing that people wanted to keep chickens in the city, was negative. He said email messages from officials in cities that allow chickens, saying that they aren't a nuisance, is what swayed him to change his mind.

The council in general was complimentary of the educational campaign waged by Hudson Urban Chickens.

Even Council President Rich Vanselow, the sole alderperson to remain opposed to the proposal, praised the group. He said the members didn't resort to the personal attacks that sometimes accompany such efforts.

Vanselow said he also had gotten a lot of email messages on the issue, divided between supporters and opponents of backyard chickens.

"So while we are satisfying some people, we won't be satisfying other people," he said in anticipation of the outcome.

"I have a real hard time (with) bringing the farm into the city," he added.

Alderpersons Randy Morrissette II and John Hoggatt indicated they were early supporters of the request.

Morrissette said that, in his time on the council, no group had made a better case for its proposal than Hudson Urban Chickens had made. He said the group should be trusted to keep backyard hens in a responsible way.

"I've been in favor from the beginning," Hoggatt said. He said he hadn't read anything to indicate that urban agriculture is a bad thing.

Jen Heriot, the found of Hudson Urban Chickens, and Heather Mathews gave the Powerpoint presentation outlining the request and arguments for granting it.

The group is asking for residents to be allowed to keep up to five hens in a confined coop and small fenced-in yard (called a run). Roosters wouldn't be allowed, under its proposal.

"Only roosters are loud," Heriot said, relating that a hen at its noisiest (60 decibels) is about as loud as two people having a conversation.

"The average hen will cackle to let others know that she has laid an egg, for a couple minutes a day and never at night," Hudson Urban Chickens' written request to the city stated. "...There is no comparing the sound of a cackling hen to barking dogs (85 dB), lawn mowers (90 dB), garbage trucks, motorcycles (85-100 dB), kids playing, car alarms, sirens, trains, and the myriad of other loud noises frequently heard in a neighborhood."

Heriot said a hen produces about 1.6 ounces of waste a day, compared to 12 ounces for a medium-size dog. The foul odors people may associate with chickens are from their visits to large farms with hundreds or thousands of chickens, she indicated.

Mayor Alan Burchill opened the floor to statements from the audience following the presentation by Heriot and Mathews. Each speaker was limited to two minutes.

Those advocating for chickens to be allowed were Pat Colton, Robert Cesena, Heidi Halverson, Chloe Halverson, Marty Dahlke, Leif Halverson and Michelle Anderson.

Heidi Halverson said the people who want to keep backyard chickens are the type who will follow the rules that are established.

"Our neighbors are like family to us, and Hudson is our home," she said.

Her daughter, Chloe, said she would benefit from being allowed to raise chickens as a 4-H project.

Former Hudson mayor Tom Redner was the lone opponent of backyard chickens to speak. He said the chickens would attract predators like raccoons and opossum, and are a threat to spread illness.

"If it starts tonight with chickens, where does it go next? Sheep? Cows? Horses?" Redner asked.

Alderperson Lori Bernard also expressed concern about city chickens attracting predators. She said there are already coyotes in the city.

Bernard said the number of permits issued for backyard coops should be limited. She indicated that she was especially concerned about the older part of the city, where she believes most of the permit requests will come from.

Yacoub said the city could require residents to get permission from their neighbors before a permit to keep chickens is issued.

Hoggatt said there is almost no evidence of the problems mentioned by opponents of urban chickens actually occurring in the cities that allow them.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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