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.