What’s Fair When it Comes to Fowl?

Portrait of chickens on a white background.
Portrait of chickens on a white background.

Attend a Gillette City Council meeting these days and when the time comes for public comments, there will be at least two or three citizens making a case for chickens. Right now, they’re a hot-button issue in Gillette.

To that end, Ward 3 councilwoman Laura Chapman held an informal ‘Chickens and Coffee with Councilwoman’ gathering Monday morning at The Local to get a better understanding on the issue and where residents stand. Chapman set up in a corner with a cup of coffee in hand as she invited opinions about the issue either in favor or against.

“I’m a novice about chickens,” Chapman told the handful of participants, “but I know this is an issue people are very interested in, and I want people to be heard. I want information.”

Councilwoman Laura Chapman, center, addresses Kim Fry and Rebecca Paul at the Chickens and Coffee with Councilwoman gathering Monday.
Councilwoman Laura Chapman (center) addresses Kim Fry and Rebecca Paul at the ‘Chickens and Coffee with Councilwoman’ gathering at The Local Monday.

Currently, it is against the law to keep chickens inside city limits, according to City of Gillette Communications Manager Geno Palazzari, who noted that backyard chickens have come up a couple of times in the last 10 years, but the issue has never made it to a vote, as there’s never been a majority on the council to move it forward.

In that sense, Gillette is a bit of an outlier when it comes to legalizing fowl within city limits as many other Wyoming cities including Buffalo, Casper, Cheyenne, Cody, Laramie and Rawlins all have ordinances in place, according to the omlet.us, allowing a certain number of chickens with varying restrictions. Palazzari said Casper’s ordinance has been used in the past as an example for the council to consider, but noted that a Gillette ordinance wouldn’t likely bear much resemblance to that of Casper.

“What works in one municipality in Wyoming doesn’t necessarily work for others,” Palazzari said.

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Palazzari also noted that there are areas within Gillette city limits where backyard chickens are already legal, specifically areas zoned as rural residential and agricultural. Adoption of another city’s ordinance could adversely infringe on rights some Gillette residents already enjoy, he noted.

Gillette resident Renee Edwards is in support of adding a chicken ordinance and attended Chapman’s meeting Monday morning. She said she wanted Chapman to know that she fully supports keeping chickens in the city.

“There are many benefits to owning chickens,” Edwards said. “It’s about self-sufficiency and knowing where your food is coming from. It’s a guarantee that you can feed your family, either from eggs or being able to butcher them for meat.”

Edwards also pointed out that chickens would be a natural defense against pests such as grasshoppers, which can affect gardens.

Contrary to Edwards, another resident in attendance at the meeting worried that the presence of chickens would attract predators such as foxes, skunks and raccoons. Other issues raised by the group included fencing requirements, waste disposal, the number of chickens allowed per square foot as well as regulatory costs to the city.

“We can’t say there won’t be a cost,” Chapman said. “If, for example, we have to tell a resident, ‘ok, this is the fifth time your chickens have gotten into your neighbor’s garage,’ then it becomes an animal control issue. There’s a cost to that.”

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Chapman told the group that the issue will be discussed at the next council work session scheduled for Sept. 8. She stressed that there is currently no formal ordinance up for a vote, and that it’s simply discussion at this point, acknowledging that the issue could die at that meeting, but said she doesn’t feel it’s “hard no” right now with any council member.

After the informal meeting, Chapman reiterated her purpose in holding the coffee shop session.

“I did this because I know this is an issue that has come up more than once, and that it’s important to people,” she said. “I want people to know that we’re listening.”

Chapman acknowledged that a Monday morning meeting presented challenges to people who might be interested in attending but couldn’t due to work, so she’s scheduled another informal session for Wednesday night at Gillette Brewing Company, beginning at 6 p.m. As with the Monday morning gathering, Chapman said she intends this to be an informal event where people can feel free to stop in to state their feelings and have their concerns known.