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Are chickens compatible with in-town life?

November 14, 2008
By MIRIAM MOELLER, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - They have names, they get petted, they are loved, yet they are not considered pets.

They are chickens - and in the city, they're illegal.

The Gray family of Marquette decided to raise chickens in their backyard this summer as an educational exercise for their children, to eat food grown closer to home and to have a few more pets.

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"We got them because we wanted our food to be grown closer to home," Michelle Gray said. "We wanted the kids to understand where their food comes from."

The Grays harvest the eggs from their seven chickens for food.

While the Grays believe their efforts toward a more ecofriendly lifestyle are legitimate, Marquette police are not so happy about the chickens, which are housed in a coop behind the house on 10 acres of their land.

Last week, Marquette's animal control officer informed the Grays of their violation of a city ordinance. They have been given a week to get rid of the chickens.

City ordinance states: "It shall be unlawful for any reason to keep animals within the City of Marquette, except for domestic pets."

According to the ordinance, a "domestic pet includes dogs, cats, or animals customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets."

"If you can make an argument that a fish is a pet, you can make an argument that a chicken is a pet," added Paul Gray, who said they plan to challenge any citation they receive if they do not get rid of the chickens.

However, Det. Lt. Gordon Warchock said he is trying to work with the Gray family, since most people aren't even aware of the ordinance. He added that in his 20 years of employment with the Marquette City Police Department he has never had to deal with chickens.

Karl Zueger, assistant city manager, said the ordinance helps to sustain property values and enforce order in the city.

"I think it's to create some type of order within the community," Zueger said. "Ultimately the community has to have a certain standard."

He said the ordinance can be challenged by community members and can be changed, but "it has to be in the best interest of the community."

Fred Benzie of the Marquette County Health Department said raising chickens poses no health threat to the community.

"(It) is a local zoning ordinance, not a health ordinance," he said, adding that farming is an American way of life and that raising chickens is a good thing whether done in rural or urban settings.

Marquette city planner Dennis Stachewicz said the animal ordinance has nothing to do with the zoning department.

"That's a nuisance ordinance enforced by the police department," he said. "There is nothing in our zoning ordinance that has to do with agriculture."

The Grays - especially the kids - said they are quite unhappy at the prospect of having to dispose of their chickens. In addition to raising their own food, they also found feeding the birds food scraps kept the family's food waste down.

The chickens also proved to be an effective form of pest control - they ate bugs that were infesting the garden this summer. And chicken manure works as a natural fertilizer, according to Michelle Gray.

The Grays aren't the only family raising chickens in the city. Jim McCommons has four 8-week-old hens. McCommons said he read the city code and felt there was nothing unlawful about having chickens as pets and for eggs. McCommons said he has done research and written an article for Organic Gardening magazine about raising urban chickens.

"They're legal in L.A., New York," he said. "You can go online and find chickens in Manhattan. It's a growing movement."

The Grays have also done some research on the issue, finding, for example, the city of Ann Arbor recently allowed its residents to raise chickens.

"We want to see if we can make a change that's good for the community," Paul Gray said.



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