I’m a man of few words, so, I thought that I would put some down on paper. My wife and I have requested that the city council consider changing the city ordinance to allow citizens in city limits to own backyard chickens. We are asking that the people who can make this change approach the idea with an open mind. We have made some mistakes, as you will learn deeper in this writing, but there was no ill intent behind our actions.
I grew up in a small town in Iowa that does not have all the rules and regulations that Independence has. I did not even consider to ask for permission to have chickens in my backyard. Clearly my fault. I am not making excuses. I just want the people of Independence to at least know the truth of the situation.
In March, a friend mentioned something to me about getting chickens to raise. He has chickens himself and said that they are quiet, clean, and little work. Since I am allergic to cats and dogs and my children have begged for pets their whole lives, I thought that maybe this was the opportunity to make that possible for them. My wife and I thought about it and decided that it was something that we could do. We did not go to the city and ask for permission. Our fault.
On March 8, we purchased five chicks from Farm and Fleet. We brought them home and set up a small temporary confinement with food and water and heat for them in our dining room. Chicks are happy, children and even my wife and I are enjoying their presence. Then on the evening of March 13, one of the chicks stops playing and starts making a clicking noise. The chick dies overnight. My children are upset enough by this that the next day they make poems and draw pictures of their fallen chick named Peach. They hold a ceremony for Peach when they get home from school.
In an emotional moment, I asked my wife to get us four more chicks. I was worried we may have more Peaches in the future. Now we have four chicks that are one week younger than the other four. At the beginning, there is quite a difference in size and action, but after a few weeks that all fades away. We have a flock of eight funny and active chicks.
April comes and the chicks have grown to a point where they have to be moved outside. I built a coop out of scrap lumber (another mistake) that I had and fenced in a “play” area for the chicks. I have my daughter paint the coop red like a barn and we move the chicks to their new home. At this time the weather still is a little brisk, so the chicks need some heat. I lazily installed heat lamps (another mistake) in the coop for the heat source. My wife proceeds to talk to the neighbors that she sees out and about.
April 18 arrives. I hurredly clean the chicken coop, because I wanted to get to my oldest sons track meet. My son has a very good 400 hurdles run. I am excited and happy for him and his achievement. I get home and tell my wife about the meet and soon it is 9 p.m. and I am ready for bed. We go to bed and laying there, I hear a weird noise.
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I get out of bed and walk to the dining room and see the chicken coop engulfed in flames. I yell to my wife to call the fire department and I run out the door. I grab the hose and start dousing the coop while my wife takes the chicks to our screened area. By the time the fire department gets there, the fire is out and I’m standing in my underwear soaking the coals.
I want to thank the fire department for their speedy response. They were there extremely quick. We do have a very good fire department. The fire just wasn’t as bad as it initially looked.
While I am in the house putting on some clothes and examining the chicks, my wife is informed that we are not supposed to have chickens inside the city limits. She was also told that she was lucky that the city fire chief hadn’t learned of them earlier. I’m not sure what kind of threat this was, but was not happy with the intimidation being put on my wife.
What do we do? My wife’s aunt and uncle have chickens on their farm, but don’t have room for ours. We decided to build a temporary coop to house the chickens until we can make arrangements for them. The coop we made can be moved by two men. This is seen by the mayor and some city council members as an act of defiance. We should have taken the chickens out of town at this time, regardless of what arrangements needed to be made.
April 22. Earth day. A city police officer arrives at our home to issue us a notice of violation of city ordinance. We have 30 days to remove the chickens from the property. No problem. We respect the rules and will abide. The thing is, we like the chickens. We would like them to stay if at all possible.
My wife asks our city council representative to look into our situation. He does as we ask and puts the topic on the meeting for May 1. We attend the meeting and learn several things: One of the neighbors we had not talked to was not a fan of our chickens and had complained. I understand. Another thing that we learn is that if we would like to have a farm we should buy a farm. Easier said than done, but I’m looking. We realize that we have a tough hill to climb.
My wife requests to be put on the public forum for the city council meeting on May 8. We gather information about the many cities in Iowa that have adopted ordinances and print off copies of a few for examples.
May 8. The city council meeting. My wife’s turn for public petition comes and she walks to the podium. She gives the speech she had prepared and passes around the information we had printed for the council. She also passes around signatures from five other neighbors who said they were fine with us having chickens. I recommend that you go to the city website and watch the recording of the meeting.
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From here on there are a few things that stuck out to me. Apparently another neighbor joined the complaint — not sure what neighbor or the basis of the complaint, but news to us. I always thought that we had acted as neighborly folk, but I’m learning we are more of a menace to society than I was aware.
The mayor was extremely upset that we had defied city ordinance after we knew we couldn’t have chickens and rebuilt them a home. I can’t argue with that, but as I wrote earlier this was a temporary means for us as we do have 30 days to comply. We didn’t ask for 30 days, the ordinance doesn’t give us 30 days, the police department did. I believe that we are in our rights to take those 30 days to make our arrangements.
The other thing that struck me was when a council member told my wife that what we were doing is what is wrong with society. What are we teaching our children? I agree that if you don’t like a rule, just disregarding it is not the course of action you should take. It is not like we are asking to open a prostitution ring in downtown or make it legal to sell drugs on the corner. We are simply asking the city council to consider changing the ordinance for backyard chickens. I think that we are teaching our children that there is a process to go through when you feel like your rights and freedoms are being stepped on. We are trying to do the right thing by going through the proper channels. Did we approach it correctly? No, but I already mentioned that we made mistakes.
All we are really asking for is a chance at an open minded discussion. We will conform to the ordinances set in place by the city and move on.
• Kevin Mueller is a 38 year old substation operator, father of three, graduate from East Buchanan High School, who has lived in Independence since 2005.