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The Journal Gazette

  • Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette Michele Berkes-Adams has started a petition to persuade the Fort Wayne City Council to allow city residents to keep urban chickens at their homes. Berkes-Adams owned chickens – before she learned it was illegal – until they were killed by a neighbor’s dog. This chicken is not hers.

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Chickens get their morning feed at Andrea and David Cole’s home on Stellhorn Road.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 12:36 pm

Chicken ban for the birds

Jeff Wiehe The Journal Gazette

The fans will say this: 

They eat bugs, their manure can help fertilize your yard, and they can even provide you a nutritious breakfast – all that on top of being absolutely fantastic pets.

So why not urban chickens?

One Fort Wayne woman is trying to spark a change to city law so residents would be allowed to own and raise chickens at their home, much like other cities – big, small and midsize – have done over the past several years as urban farming has become more popular.

"Chickens are very important to the landscape," said Michele Berkes-Adams, who in February started an online petition to gather signatures in support of making it legal to raise chickens within Fort Wayne city limits. 

Berkes-Adams is not jumping into this as some fly-by-night idea, though.

She’s the founding member of a Food Not Lawns chapter here in Fort Wayne, a group of farming advocates that has attracted between 50 and 100 people to events during the past year and a half. 

She has also done her research, looking at what other cities, including Denver, New York City and even Indianapolis, have put into place as far as ordinances when it comes to chickens, she said. 

Plus, she owned chickens herself – before she knew they were illegal – until a neighborhood dog got through her fence and ate them. 

"I’ve been working on this for a while," Berkes-Adams said. "I’ve looked at a lot of different cities, and I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive as possible." 

Berkes-Adams’ proposal limits the number of chickens one can own to six and includes regulations on how far a coop must be from a neighbor’s home or a river or stream. 

And her idea would also prohibit city roosters. 

"I know some people are worried about feral chickens, and there’d be no reason we’d have feral chickens," Berkes-Adams said. "With no roosters, there’s no fertilized eggs. No babies." 

"They’re pets, number one," said Andrea Cole, who is a chicken owner residing just outside the city limits. 

Cole’s husband, David, got into chickens two seasons ago after he retired and bought six. They were given silly names – one was called Scrambler – and have provided constant entertainment as they roam around the yard every morning while the Coles sip their cups of coffee. 

But if there’s one thing Cole recommends to anyone wanting to start raising chickens, it’s commitment. 

"This season, we’re going to go ahead and get us six more chickens," she said. "It’s not just a fad for us. We really enjoy it." 

Still, while the Coles initially thought they had bought a group of hens, one turned out to be a rooster. It’s sometimes hard to determine the sex of a chicken until they’ve grown a bit, and the rooster was loud, Cole said. 

"In the city, you’re going to have to get rid of them," Cole said of roosters. 

Which poses another question: Where do the unwanted chickens go? 

In some towns that have allowed urban chickens – most notably, Denver – there have been reports of an influx of chickens brought to animal shelters by people who either don’t want them anymore or who found them roaming in a neighborhood. 

These animal shelters are not designed to handle chickens. 

"I would certainly want answers to concerns other communities have run into,"  said Belinda Lewis, director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. 

Lewis said she first heard about Berkes-Adams’ petition last week, and she immediately thought of complications chickens may present. Some Web reading of what other towns have gone through did not put her mind at rest. 

"As you read about urban chickens, you see some people say, ‘Well, this is a lot more work and a lot more expensive than I thought it would be,’" Lewis said. "Then we have chickens running around this community. How are they caught? Who is capturing them?" 

Also, Lewis said her agency has had problems with sanitation concerning coops where pigeons are kept that might be similar to the ones chickens would be housed in. 

Add to that, Lewis said, is that while hens lay eggs for three or four years, they can live for several years longer than that. Will people want to take care of a chicken that doesn’t lay eggs? What happens to that chicken if they don’t?

"I’m not a naysayer on this, but nobody has come to me," Lewis said.  

Nobody has come to Fort Wayne’s City Council yet, either. 

At least, not officially. 

For an ordinance to get drafted, a council member or someone from the mayor’s legal staff would have to present it and get behind it, according to Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, who is also the council president. 

"I haven’t heard too much of a groundswell yet," Crawford said. "If it does come up, I imagine it will be vigorous on both sides." 

Berkes-Adams did say she contacted a few city councilmen about the idea of an ordinance. She plans to attend the council’s March 24 meeting to present her idea and her petition, she said. 

As of Friday, the online petition had garnered just under 1,300 signatures, and Crawford said having a petition with her wouldn’t hurt her chances of getting the ball rolling on a potential ordinance. 

"I hear a lot of people are scared (that) people are not going to take care of their chickens," Berkes-Adams said. "They’re very easy to take care of. They’re safer than dogs and quieter than dogs.

"They’re just wonderful pets." 

jeffwiehe@jg.net