A little bird has been circulating around town, asking whether or not chickens will be allowed to live in residential areas.
The Dickinson Planning and Zoning Commission shot down that little bird Wednesday morning.
Ellery and Anna Dykeman, both ministers in Dickinson, moved to the area about two years ago and have had chickens in their backyard for about a year and a half.
Animal Control drove by their home and noticed the chickens walking in their yard one day. They alerted the family that they were not allowed to have chickens in their area, so the couple brought the issue up to the commission to try and amend the land use laws.
"We have discovered and found that having the chickens are a wonderful part of our family that provides food," Ellery Dykeman said. "They're pretty fun pets. Our kids learn a lot about where their food comes from, and the process of being connected to that is really powerful."
Some urban areas around the nation do allow backyard chickens, though this is less prevalent in North Dakota, said Walter Hadley, city planning director. No other major cities in the state allow the birds, said Commission Chairman Gene Jackson.
But Ellery said cities in Minnesota-including Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul-have allowed backyard chickens and installed a licensing or application system in order to keep owners in compliance. He suggested there simply has not been a city in North Dakota to try it yet.
"Or, Mr. Chairman, a lot of us grew up on farms," Commissioner Scott Decker said.
Commissioner Shirley Dukart was opposed to the idea, noting the city has trouble enforcing dog ordinances as it is.
"I know. I grew up on a farm for 17 years," she said. "They have lice. They smell. There's a lot of problems that you can create with that many chickens. If there was only one person having six chickens, it may not be an issue. But if you have more than one [household having chickens] it becomes an issue."
The Dykemans proposed allowing a maximum of six hens per household, a number that would keep down the noise and smell of the birds and would be less likely to facilitate the spread of diseases. They said hens were only as loud as a normal human conversation, around 60 decibels. Roosters are the aggressive, noisy birds.
Ultimately, no commissioner pushed the proposal forward. But the issue could be readdressed at a later time.
The Dykemans have not decided if they will continue trying to push the issue, but did note there is support in the community for backyard chickens. Their neighbor's grandchildren, children from the nearby preschool and Girl Scouts all come to see the chickens and learn about them.
"We keep hearing about the different people in the community that are wanting to do backyard birding," Anna Dykeman said. "We want to do it respectfully and in dialogue and in conversation with the city and not be rogue. But on the other hand we do have a voice that we can use, and why not try?"
Animal Control had told the family that they could keep their chickens so long as they were pursuing the issue, but they are unsure what they will be able to do now.
Chickens are not on the special use list under the city's land use laws and are therefore not allowed, Hadley said. So long as it does not specifically say that chickens are allowed, they are not allowed.
Hadley said he thought several of the commissioners grew up on farms and noted some of the resistance to the idea may come from people who moved to cities in order to get away from farm life and farm animals.
He said if the Dykemans decided the continue championing their cause, they should have other residents of R-1 zoning areas sign a petition to show the commissioners that there is a significant portion of the community who supports the idea in order to get them to entertain the issue.