Chicken Coops in Ferndale

(Crystal A. Proxmire, 4/19/2011)

On the City’s NE side, a family of four enjoys having 4-8 fresh eggs each day.  They also have plenty of natural fertilizer for their garden, and the joy of being able to care for and watch the four chickens that live in their backyard.

Because having chicken coops in Ferndale within 150 feet of another person’s residence is illegal, we are withholding this family’s identity.  Howerver, we are grateful to four-year-old Max who gave us the grand tour of the chickens’ home.  Max’s mommy tagged along too, to explain what it is like being a renegade backyard farmer.

The garage is divided, with a several foot section to give the four chickens shelter.  The area is fenced to the ceiling, with a people-sized door and plenty of straw for the chickens.  This is where they sleep and lay their eggs.

The family has four chickens – two brown and two white.  In this home the brown chickens produce brown eggs, and the white chickens produce white eggs.  However, this is not always the case.  According to http://urbanchickens.org, the color of the eggs depends on the color of the bird’s skin, which can best be seen by looking at their earlobes.  There are only female chickens in this family’s yard, and they do not need a Rooster around to prompt them to lay eggs.

A small door leads from the chicken’s shelter to a fenced-in coop that is formed in an L-shape around the back corner of the garage.  Plastic and metal fencing give the birds plenty of room to move around.  Max loves pushing leaves of spinach through the holes and watching the chickens clamor to get them.  They also eat chicken feed that Max’s mommy gets from a feed store in Troy.

The chickens make little clicky noises called clucking, and when they get excited they coo, a sound that is easily drowned out by the mass chirping of sparrows in the nearby tree.

For a nominal investment in feed and time, the family has an on-going supply of farm-fresh eggs for themselves, their neighbors and for entertaining.  “It’s fun showing up with eggs at a party and telling people they came from our own chickens,” said the family matriarch.  “People think it’s unique.”

But to them it is just everyday living.  For four-year-old Max it is a way to learn about the life cycle, how to care for animals, how to work hard at household chores, how to be conscious about the food he consumes, and how to share with neighbors.  It also saves the family money and gives them something they can do together.

Despite the benefits, chicken coops are prohibited in Ferndale.  By ordinance coops must be 150 feet away from a dwelling, meaning there are few places in the City, if any, they could live.

Ferndale resident Laura Mikulski is paving the way for families like Max’s to enjoy the freedom of raising their own chickens.  Mikulski does not currently own any chickens, but she does get her eggs from a backyard chicken coop in the area.  She hopes to get Ferndale’s chicken coop ordinance changed so she and other interested neighbors can keep the egg-laying birds.

“As an avid organic gardener and compost tea brewer, I’ve thrilled to see my neighbors revive or create backyard gardens these past few years,” she said.  “Their efforts are indicative of a growing movement to eat locally, not only to save money, but to reconnect to our food sources, ensuring the nutritional quality of the produce we consume as well as decreasing the resources needed to get it to our table. Our community increasingly shows an appreciation for a naturally healthy lifestyle coupled with a strong DIY [Do-it-Yourself] spirit- the perfect combination to embrace an ordinance making backyard urban chicken keeping accessible.”

Mikulski has researched backyard chicken movements across the county and in the area, and put together the website www.ferndalechickens.com to explain why she feels the City should change its policy.  The site addresses common concerns such as smell, noise and safety.  It also gives examples of major cities already allowing chicken coops, along with SE Michigan cities of Hazel Park, Madison Heights, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Lansing. The site also presents relevant sections of the Ferndale Code of Ordinances, and a sample ordinance which Council could choose to follow.  Mikulski has presented information to Councilperson Melanie Piana on the subject, and hopes to present her findings to all of Council sometime over the next few weeks.

“I’ve stayed ‘chickenless’ all this time so that I can represent the cause without violating the ordinance, so the more people contact me with personal stories of their own flock, the more I have to present to council to sway their opinion,” said Mikulski.  “We need letters of support from people with chickens, those interested in having chickens, and neighbors next to people keeping chickens.  I’ve already sent out the request to some people who have chickens; all their information will be kept confidential.”

She is also looking for pictures of backyard chickens that she can use on her site.  Laura Mikulski can be contacted via e mail at lmikulski@gmail.com, or by leaving comments on her website www.ferndalechickens.com.