Feathers ruffled over chickens in the city

Many cities in Indiana allow people to keep chickens within city limits. But Terre Haute is not one of them. That's why Wabash Valley woman Christina Ridgway is asking for change.

Posted: Mar. 5, 2018 6:14 PM
Updated: Mar. 5, 2018 6:34 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Many cities in Indiana allow people to keep chickens within city limits. But Terre Haute is not one of them. That's why Wabash Valley woman Christina Ridgway is asking for change.

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Ridgway recalls, "My boyfriend came home in the afternoon and called me and said, 'You have a citation on the door.' I said, 'What for?' 'The chickens, it says you have to call this guy about the chickens.'

The incident happened back in September 2017. Ridgway was asked to call Terre Haute Code Enforcement because it was reported that she was keeping chickens in her backyard. She lives in the city, where officials say chickens are not allowed.

Ridgway says, "It’s very grey how it's written in code. I was told that chickens are considered a farm animal. But nowhere in code does it define what a farm animal is or is not."

City Code defines an allowed companion animal as many things, including exotic or native birds. Ridgway thinks that should also include chickens.

News 10 reached out to City Code Enforcement officials for clarification. They say a chicken would fall under city code for "agricultural animals." They say that's based on the United States Department of Agriculture definition.

After that, Code Enforcement points to City Zoning codes. They say a residentially zoned lot cannot be used for agriculture purposes.

Here’s an excerpt of City Code 10-240

DIVISION OPEN SPACE DISTRICTS (3) ”No building or tract of land shall be devoted to any use other than a use permitted hereinafter in the zoning district in which such building or tract of land shall be located.”

Also under section (3):

b. Preamble O-1 Agricultural. The Agricultural District includes that large area of land which is predominately either general farming, residential farming, or farm land undergoing a change into suburban usage.

To Ridgway, she says the birds were like pets. They just so happened to serve many purposes for her too.

She shares, "In the summer, I would go out in the morning and lay in the hammock, and they would hop up there with me. I love the idea of being able to have my own eggs, and to not have to waste kitchen scraps. During the day, they stay in the fence, they scavenge all day, and keep my garden free from bugs. That means I don’t have to use harmful pesticides on them. "

Ridgway says she feels Terre Haute is behind the times when it comes to this code.

She says, "Indy, Carmel, Ft. Wayne, Bloomington, Evansville, all allow chickens in the city. We want to be able to be slightly more self-sufficient, to be environmentally conscious."

So for now, Ridgway's chickens are being fostered by a friend. But one day, she hopes to have them back under her wing.

Code enforcement officials tell News 10 they're working to get clearer language on the books for resident-use. It would clearly relay that chickens are not allowed within city limits.

However, they do say they have hesitations about allowing the birds in-town. They say it isn’t so much an issue for noise (as long as they’re referring to hens and not roosters), or an issue of smell (as long as residents are properly cleaning coops.) They say the bigger fear is it could draw more predators into town like coyotes.

Another issue is the city is not prepared to house chickens either. If a stray dog or cat is located, it’s taken to the humane shelter. The city currently doesn’t have a plan in place on where stray chickens would be taken.

To be clear, City Code Enforcement says they will not take your chickens from you. If you are cited for housing chickens, you will be given time to find them a new home.

If you're someone who supports chickens in the city, you'll have to go before the city council to work on changing city code in your favor.

In the meantime, if you’re pro-“city chicken,” there is a place to connect with other residents about the issue. You can visit the “Haute Hens” Facebook page by clicking here.

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