Code officer warns council about chickens; permits to be limited as a test

Instead of being adopted or rejected at last week’s Oxford Village Council meeting, a proposed, three-page ordinance that would allow residents to keep chickens will undergo a few more tweaks before it faces a final vote.

After discussing some issues among themselves and listening to a warning from the village’s code enforcement officer, Dan Durham, council members voted 4-1 to set the second reading aside until their next meeting and make the following changes:

• Limit the number of chicken permits to 15 in the first year.

• Allow for the indoor slaughtering of chickens.

• Clarify that residents would be able to have a maximum of four chickens per household, not per person.

Under the proposed ordinance, only residents living in detached, single-family homes would be allowed to have up to four chickens “for personal use only and not for any business or commercial use.”

Residents would be permitted to have hens, no roosters, and required to annually obtain a permit from the village.

Prior to council’s discussing the issue, Durham spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. His comments were based on his experiences as a code enforcement officer and as a person who has engaged in trapping for 50 years.

“If you bring chickens into a relatively tight environment like this . . . you’re going to have trouble,” Durham told council.

Durham said it’s not a matter of “if you’ll have trouble,” it’s a matter of “when” it comes and to what degree.

He warned council that if chickens are allowed in the village, “you’ll have rats” because they “eat chickens” and they “eat (chicken) feed.”

Durham explained rats won’t stay confined to the properties with chickens; they’ll spread out and live on surrounding properties as well, which means the village is “going to have a hard time getting rid of them.”

“We’ve had two (outbreaks of rats) since I’ve been here. Both times they spread to nearly half-a-block and it took us almost a month to get rid of them,” he said.

“There are rats in the village now,” Durham continued. “We get calls on them periodically. I’ve talked to residents that state they’ve seen them cross the roads. We get them around the dumpsters downtown occasionally, but nothing serious yet.”

Durham warned the presence of chickens will also attract other hungry wild critters including raccoons, coyotes, opossums and skunks.

“Raccoons love to eat chickens. There are raccoons in town now . . . I’ve trapped coyote within a mile of where I stand. These animals are already in town. But they don’t have any reason to stay,” he said.

Durham cautioned council that letting residents keep chickens is “not a good idea.”

“It’s going to cause you trouble, for sure,” he said.

In response to Durham, village President Joe Frost said the code officer’s comments are “appropriate and warranted,” however, there are “nearby communities,” such as Holly and Ortonville, that allow chickens and they “don’t seem to be overrun with these issues.”

Frost added, “There are going to be rodents in any community.”

Ultimately, Frost said he believes a local government’s ability to “allow people to grow their own food . . . far outweighs the cons.”

In light of the issues raised by Durham, Councilwoman Kate Logan suggested revisiting the idea of having a pilot program in which the number of chicken permits issued would be limited during the first year.

She indicated she “would be much more comfortable with this” because it would give the village “some time to gauge” how the new ordinance is working and get “a much better sense of if this is a great idea or not.”

Village attorney Bob Davis suggested limiting the number of first-year permits to 15.

“I think 15’s a solid number,” Logan said.

Councilwoman Maureen Helmuth raised the slaughtering issue again. In the draft presented to council that night, slaughtering chickens would be prohibited. She didn’t agree with that.

“If you’re going to allow chickens, you’ve got to allow (people) to kill the chickens,” said Helmuth, who noted she doesn’t want to have “geriatric chickens running all over the village” in 10 years because people “kicked them” off their property after they stopped laying eggs.

She pointed out that people are “not going to waste the money that (they) saved on buying eggs” by using it to pay a processor to slaughter their chickens.

Helmuth suggesting allowing for the “indoor slaughtering” of chickens.

“You want to do it in your garage, go crazy,” she said. “I personally don’t have a problem with anybody doing it in their backyard, either.”

Officials also decided to tweak the proposed ordinance language to ensure the four-chicken limit is per household, not per person in a household. “I just think it needs to be clarified,” Helmuth said.

Frost, who originally brought the idea of a chicken ordinance to council, expressed his frustration that a proposal introduced in May must now wait another month for a final decision.

“We’ve looked at this a dozen times. We’ve talked it to death,” he said.

To Frost, the “pace” at which village government works “is not efficient and we need to fix that moving forward.”

“This has come before us six times now and it’s still not ready to go,” he said. “And here we are at (the) second reading and we’re sending it back again to the attorney, (to spend) more (in) attorney fees, to figure out something that could have been added three months ago.”

Helmuth noted this is covered under Davis’ retainer, so it won’t cost extra.


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