Something to crow about

Raising chickens pricey, but worth it to one resident

Gazette Photos by Avery Cropp
Four chickens sit in a coop in the backyard of Tisha Palmer’s Stillwater home recently. Palmer said her family consider the chickens as pets, but she cautions that raising the birds can be expensive. Palmer recently convinced the Stillwater City Council to approve an ordinance allowing residents to keep chickens.

Keeping chickens is a pricey hobby, but the price tag is worth it for Stillwater resident Tisha Palmer.

Palmer is responsible for getting the Stillwater City Council to pass an ordinance allowing residents to keep chickens. Palmer’s work getting the measure passed started after she received a warning from Animal Control in December about violating the original ordinance of keeping farm animals on a property that was less than three acres.

“I did know about the original ordinance that said you had to be on three acres or more. I knew I went against the ordinance but I guess I thought naively that I didn’t deliberately try to break any rules,” Palmer said about the warning, “I did ask my neighbors before I got them (the chickens) and I wouldn’t have gotten them if I was going to offend anybody. They had all told me that it would be okay.”

Overall, the nursing student, wife and mother of three is glad the ordinance passed and felt that Community Development Director Bill Turnblad did a wonderful job of setting up the ordinance to please chicken owners and give comfort to people that didn’t want chickens.

“I’m a farm girl at heart, I love chickens and their personalities and it’s a fun thing to get the kids into, too,” Palmer said. “They’re a whole lot easier to care for than my dog, I put fresh food and water in the coop in the morning when I come out and collect the eggs and I clean it out regularly.”

Although it might be fun, the hobby isn’t cheap. Her coop is the largest cost Palmer’s incurred while she’s owned her four chickens. The small coop cost about $500, and Palmer plans to rebuild it to meet the new ordinance’s size requirements. Additional costs include chicks, at $1.75 each at Houle’s Farm Garden & Pet Store in Stillwater and $12 to $14 for a bag of chicken feed every month or two. Wood shavings used for cleaning and the inside of the coop are an additional cost.

Though Palmer’s chickens do lay eggs, that was not the main reason she got her pets.

“It’s not all about the eggs. They are pets, and after they no longer lay eggs you still need to care for them as if they are your pets,” she said.

Palmer’s chickens lay one egg a day after they are six months old and then one every other day after they’re about two years old. The number of eggs begins to decrease, as a chicken ages.

“For my kids it gives them the experience of raising animals like they would on a farm. It’s a little too expensive to live outside the city though we’d like to,” Palmer said. “They go out and they take care of their chickens, collect the eggs, and they’ll run back in and have me make scrambled eggs for them, so it’s fun to see that they’re learning where their food comes from.”

Palmer has noticed other benefits from owning her chickens. Wood ticks, mosquitoes, Asian beetles, and box elder bugs are significantly reduced in her yard. The Palmers do a lot of composting and their garbage has been cut in half because apple cores and crusts from her girls’ bread can be fed to the chickens. They also use chicken waste as fertilizer for their garden.

So far, Palmer hasn’t had any problems with predators. Since neighbors gave Palmer permission before she bought the chickens, she said none have complained about her birds noise either.

“I’ve done so much research on this topic that sometimes I felt like I was going to chicken school rather than nursing school,” Palmer said. “Chickens do squawk in celebration after they’ve laid an egg, but that sound is only about 60 decibels, which is conversation level, while my dog barking or kids running around and screaming in the backyard comes in at 90 to 120 decibels which is similar to mowing a lawn. This isn’t your grandparents’ farm with tons of chickens. This is four or five chickens which is quite a different scenario.”

Her advice to potential chicken owners is do the research. Chickens can live for five to eight years, according to www.farmanimalshelters.org, so owning a chicken is a long-term commitment.

“Want them for the right reasons. Want them for pets,” she said. “You could get them for eggs but understand that eventually the eggs will go away and you need to continue to care for them as though they are your pets. Approach it as though you’d buy a dog. Do your research, make sure it’s the right fit for you, and let’s follow the regulations behind the permit and be responsible chicken owners so we can keep the privilege in town.”

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