(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, May 15th, 2012 edition)
Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl seem happy. The six week old Buff Orpingtons strut around their sandy front yard, playing like sister chickens do: nudging, pecking, cuddling, running, rolling around in the sand and darting back up the wooden ramp to their luxury penthouse, aka Ferndale’s first legal chicken coop.
Laura Mikulski was the organizer of the Ferndale backyard chicken movement. After meeting other suburban families that keep backyard chickens, Mikulski wanted to bring the option to Ferndale. She researched backyard chickens and lobbied City Council to pass an ordinance allowing them.
After several months of research and consideration, the Ferndale City Council approved an ordinance that allows individuals to have a chicken coop on their property as long as they follow certain rules. Homeowners are limited to three hens. Roosters are not allowed.
The requirements of the ordinance are:
“As structured the ordinance would allow for the raising and keeping of three (3) hen chickens and no roosters. Residents would be required to receive an annual permit which would expire on December 31st of each year. Any applicant receiving a permit is required to schedule an inspection within 30 days of the permit issuance, if violations are noted at the inspection the applicant has 15 additional days to resolve the identified issues. Chickens are required to be kept in the rear yard, structures (coops) must be designed to prevent accessibility to vermin, feed must be secured in enclosed containers and compliance with the Michigan Department of Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals (GAMPS) must be maintained.”
Mikulski believes in following the law, so she waited until the process was complete. She and boyfriend Ben Wojdyla then made the plans. With approximately $500 plus many reclaimed items, the chicken family’s new home took about two months to build
The entire coop area is surrounded with wire mesh that is tight enough to keep out rats and other predators. The coop is topped with polycarbonate sheeting reclaimed from another project. There is a door so people can enter, but there is also access to tend the chickens from the outside: a lever allows them to open and close the door at the top of the ramp to the chicken’s house, and a long top-opening door lets them access any eggs that may have been laid in the nesting area. The door has a magnetic top so it will stay open while they harvest the eggs. To best utilize the space and help provide a layer of shade to the roof of the coop, Mikulski and Wojdyla created a strawberry bed on top.
The doors to the chicks’ house are stained glass cabinet doors, and the siding is made of slats reclaimed from pallets. Everything is decorated to match the home and garage, an aesthetic fit with the rest of the backyard’s landscaped splendor.
On May 15th the couple had their inspection. “Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound,” Mikulski said in her blog www.ferndalechickens.com. “He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges. He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.
“The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December. I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.”
Her advice to people who want to build a coop: “Draw the plan first, but be flexible in building. Consider drainage and ventilation- chickens need to be dry. Build everything at a height that is comfortable for you to work in/with. Be mindful of cleaning issues and form a plan that allows you to clean with ease.”
Finding the chickens wasn’t hard, Mikulski just looked on Craigslist. When she got them back in February she kept them in inside the house until the coop was complete. “When they’re done growing they’re going to be big birds,” she said, noting that she specifically sought out Buff Orpington chicks because of their mild-manner and their heftiness once grown.
“The ladies won’t lay eggs for a while, and when they start it might take a while before the eggs come out fully developed. Sometimes they come out without a shell. Sometimes they’re just tiny. Sometimes there could be ‘fart eggs,’ which are eggs without a yolk inside.” Once they girls do mature though, they will likely lay about one egg per day.
“I just love being able to come out here and watch them. It’s so peaceful. The littlest things make them so happy,” Mikulski said. Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl enjoy eating seed and leafy veggies. They also love rolling around in the sand and dirt. They even get along well with the family dog Hurley. “He’s never seemed bothered by them in the least,” Mikulski said.
For much more information on backyard chickens, check out www.ferndalechickens.com.
For official City of Ferndale ordinance information and more, go to www.ferndale-mi.com.