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Santa Claus (aka Mike Jakupcak) reads a chicken-oriented version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' to members of city council on Monday evening. After months of contentious debate, the council approved the urban chicken ordinance by a vote of 8 to 4. Photo by Anne Medley

Council OKs Urban Chicken Ordinance

Santa Claus read a poem encouraging the Missoula City Council to vote in favor of the urban chicken ordinance at Monday night’s meeting. As it is the week before Christmas, the council obliged, passing the measure by 8-4.

If all goes as planned, Missoulians will be able to keep up to six hens in city limits. Fowl must be fenced and housed in an enclosed coup 20-feet away from neighbors’ homes, food must be stored in a predator-proof container, and chicken owners will be required to pay a $15 licensing fee to offset the potential costs of enforcing the chicken law.

Mike Jakupcak, who appeared at the meeting as Santa, read the chicken poem to a packed council chamber. “Twas the week before Christmas…the chickens were all huddled outside city limits in pens awaiting the decision to stay put or gather speed…” he said, with Mayor Engen and the council looking on.

Perhaps it was Santa’s poem, or it could have been the droves of chicken supporters praising the benefits of urban fowl over the last several months, regardless, the council gave their nod. But there’s a catch.

The measure could be revisited. Ward 5 councilman Dick Haines switched his ‘no’ vote at the last minute to a ‘yes.’ That move allows Haines, skeptical about urban chicken, to revisit the new law at a later time.

If he calls the ordinance up for another vote, a super majority, or eight of 12 council members could reverse Monday night’s decision. And with four new members taking their seats in January, the chickens might not be able to move in just yet.

Even so, Stacy Rye, who originally brought the proposal up for debate, is happy with the vote.

“I’m thrilled,” she said. Last year when a handful of her constituents first presented the idea of having hens in the city, she thought it was a far-fetched scheme. “I didn’t know anything. I was like, what? You want what?” Since then, though, she has been swayed by the advantages of keeping fowl in the city, she said.

Paul Hubbard from the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition said raising chickens in Missoula will not only help feed people inexpensively but also educate folks about where food comes from.

“Our food does not magically appear in front of us,” he said. “There’s no vegetable, fruit or grain that can replace the nutritional content of an egg.”

Even so, the skeptics have concerns. Allergic reactions, noise and the possibility of diseases incubating in coops across the garden city are real threats, they say.

Ward 4 councilman Jon Wilkins repeated many of those worries before casting a ‘no’ vote. And Ward 2’s Don Nicholson said the law may cause problems between chicken owners and those hostile to the feathered fowl.

“I feel it’s going to pit neighbor against neighbor,” Nicholson said.

But Santa has hope.

“I’m glad they finally got off their nest,” he said.

About Jessica Mayrer

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3 comments

  1. Urban Chicken Owner

    Hooray for chickens!! Thank you city council members for finally voting on this so we can all move on (as long as Haines doesn’t drag this out any more). Santa and his chicken poem were a class act, thanks for that. This is one small step for mankind, one giant step for chickens!!

  2. Pro-poultry lobbyist

    Chicken owners all around the country have been watching this fight play out, and I’m glad that the ordinance finally passed. It should serve as a shining example of good chicken ordinances for other cities, and hopefully this will be the end of major chicken controversies in the Garden City.

    Now, the real work begins. Gotta go clean the coop for christmas- wouldn’t want poo on the reindeer hooves.

  3. I hope Haines brings it up OVER and OVER and OVER again. After all it isn’t over yet. Too many other code issues are being broke! Look at the coop fire up big flat today it brings it to our attention that these people are heating coops with electric heaters and they are on a minimum of 20 foot ext. cords. Whether you like chickens or not if my neighbor burns my house down with his “cozy coop” &%^* is going to hit the fan! Can’t wait for the city inspector to fine these guys on that we are talking about $300 or more in permit fees just to get electrical to a coop. Now how sustainable can 6 chickens be?