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Michigan’s second-largest city could soon welcome backyard chickens

Feb 23, 2015

Chickens at Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids are about the only legal chickens in the city limits, but that could change with Tuesday's vote.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

On Tuesday, elected leaders in Grand Rapids could vote to allow people to keep chickens in their backyards.

“I’m excited,” Amy Bowditch said of the proposal. “People kind of chuckle ‘oh chickens, everybody wants to turn the city into the country’ and a lot of people think it’s absurd. But we, for myself and my family, we think it’s really important that we stay connected to our food,” she said.

Elected leaders rejected a law that would have allowed Grand Rapidians to keep chickens a few years ago.

Dozens of people people were doing it anyway. Bowditch kept chickens illegally in Grand Rapids for a couple years.

“I knew that if my neighbors were OK with it and no one complained, I could get away with it for a very long time,” she said.

She says after city commissioners rejected the proposal, they thought about coming together and flaunting it, sort of as civil disobedience.

“In almost like this joking sort of a way. Like ‘yeah they’re illegal, what are you going to do about it?’ It’s not like they were going to throw me in jail,” she said.

The new ordinance is seen as a compromise between residents who want to raise chickens, and neighbors’ concerns about noise and smells chickens could pose.

The city would approve chickens on a case-by-case basis. People will need to have a big enough backyard (lots need to be at least 3,800 square feet) and a chicken coop to keep hens. No roosters – period. They can’t be kept on lots with multi-family homes. You can’t slaughter the hens either. If your immediate neighbors object, you’re probably out of luck.

If city commissioners adopt the law allowing chickens Tuesday, it would take effect in May. It would automatically expire in two years unless commissioners vote later to make it permanent.

The goal is to see what problems come up if chickens are allowed on a trial basis. 

“I think it’s going to work out,” Bowditch said, “I think that people are really going to find that chickens aren’t as much of a nuisance as people think they are.”