Are the chickens coming home to roost in Woodward?
If Kathy and Scott Ollivant get their way with the Woodward City Council, backyard birds will soon be allowed within the corporate limits of this town of a few more than 1,000 souls.
“I will try to present this at the next city council meeting in January,” said Woodward native Kathy Ollivant in an online petition she posted before Christmas. “I know other surrounding cities like Perry, Madrid and Granger can have chickens inside the city, so please help me change the ordinance so we can have and keep chickens in the city of Woodward.”
The petition has so far attracted 20 signatures.
Precedent does not favor the Woodward family. As recently as April 9, 2018, the Woodward City Council rejected three petitions for in-town chickens, including one from Nick Praska of 214 N. Cherry St., who told the council he has two girls in 4-H, and he asked to keep four to six chickens in his backyard for a couple of years.
The council was unanimous in turning thumbs down on Praska’s petition, and not even the girlish tears of his daughter Claire, 11, could prevail upon the august lawgivers.
Woodward City Council member Todd Folkerts, now the town’s mayor, was absent from the April meeting, but members Mary Bustad, Jim Gough, Dave Luke and Ashvin Patel were united in opposing the requests from Praska, Danielle Gohr of 703 Ironwood Ave. and John Ruhland of 310 E. Third St.
Luke said he once built a chicken coop for his step-daughter, and they had constantly to fend off wild animals seeking to eat the eggs and chickens.
The council was not alone in opposing the introduction of barnyard fowl. Melissa Piper of 201 Pine St. spoke during April’s open forum against allowing poultry within the city limits, noting the council’s previous rejections of similar petitions.
“Keep Woodward livestock free,” she said.
Piper also pointed to section 55.05 of the Woodward Code of Ordinances: “It is unawful for a person to keep livestock within the City except by written consent of the Council or except in compliance with the City’s zoning regulation.”
In spite of last year’s denials, the Ollivants intend to bring the question before the city council at their Jan. 14 meeting. Their online petition has met with both support and opposition on Facebook.
“This will not be happening,” said Terry Luke of 601 N. Maple St., brother to the Woodward City Council member. “Other people have asked for this in years past, and it didn’t happen.” Luke said a chicken produces a noisome stench and “brings in predators to town more than we have now.”
“And most of all, disease,” Luke said.
His mention of disease reminds all livestock lovers of the catastrophic 2015 epidemic of bird flu in which more than 43 million chickens in 15 states were destroyed as a result of the outbreak, including about 30 million in Iowa, the nation’s largest producer of eggs.
In replying, Scott Ollivant noted the many virtues of chickens, and he answered Luke’s Facebook objections one by one.
“I’m not for sure what disease you think hand-raised hens are going to produce,” Ollivant said. “As far as the smell, there really isn’t a whole lot when you have just a few. And besides that, what about the cows down the road that produce smell and the dogs that crap in the yard and pee? What about all the toxic stuff that gets put in the air from the airplanes and fertilizing fields that smell?”
“I just wish that the people that are being negative about it should maybe do a little bit of research,” Ollivant said. “If it’s not on their property and they don’t live by you, why would they care about what’s in my backyard?”
Positive reactions to the Ollivants’ petition appeared to outnumber negative reactions. Gohr, whose petition for yard birds was rejected by the city council last April, said she will support the Ollivants’ efforts.
“Yes! I’m signing this,” she said. “With anything else, if granted, having chickens would be a learning curve for any and all involved. However, if people are responsible, it should pose no risk to those who do not wish to have them.”
Ruhland also struck out with the city council last year, but he similary supports the Ollivants this time around.
“I am glad you are doing this,” he said. “They totally blew me off when I went in to talk about it.”
Some Facebook commenters shared experiences from other, more chicken-friendly locales. Suzanne Moran of 17538 T Ave. near Woodward said her son raised chickens for several years in Ames, where the ordinance limits the number of hens and does not allow roosters.
“No problem at all,” Moran said, “and all the neighbors were very supportive. Just thought I’d share.”
Others reported similarly happy outcomes. Pam Tinker Ruhland said she has “several friends in other towns that raise backyard chickens without any issues,” and Amber Tolzin said she “can’t imagine why my hometown wouldn’t allow chickens. Even areas within the Twin Cities allow them.”
Scot Snyder of 306 E. Second St., a newcomer to Woodward, said he was similarly puzzled by the prohibition.
“It really surprised me that chickens are not allowed as I just moved from Des Moines last year, and it was not a problem there,” Snyder said.
Ronald Schappaugh said the chicken raising in Ames “is well regulated, with inspections and enforcement of all aspects of the city code,” but he noted, logically, “If it is approved on one property, then that would open the door to other properties.”
Kathy Ollivant said she does not expect her Woodward neighbors to flock to the raising of backyard chickens once a few people are given permission.
“I am wanting this for all properties in the city of Woodward,” Ollivant said. “It’s not like ever homeowner is going to go out and get pet chickens. There are a few persons in Woodward that would love to keep pet chickens. It’s not like the whole town’s backyards are going to have pet chickens.”
Ollivant also said chickens “are not really considered livestock anymore. They are now considered pets and companion animals and are used in schools, nursing homes and other places as therapy animals.”
The notion of a therapy chicken appeared to exceed the patience of the long-suffering Terry Luke.
“I’m so sick of hearing about the damn chickens,” Luke said. “Just shut up, and go to the city council.”
Paying honor to Woodward’s own pecking order, Luke said, “I’ve lived here in town all my life, and I feel I can voice my opinion whether you like it or not.” He said while he opposes keeping chickens in town, Luke will still love the tender birds even if and when the council permits them to be locally grown.
“I will promise you one thing,” he said. “If I have a chicken show up on my property, it will be in the frying pan.”
The next meeting of the Woodward City Council is Monday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Woodward City Hall at 105 E. Second St. in Woodward.