EASTPOINTE — An Eastpointe resident with some unusual animals has been given an ultimatum under a city ordinance: get rid of his chickens, or face a fine and/or possible jail time.
Elmer Hurd currently owns five chickens — three hens and two roosters — and has kept them in his yard as a source of fresh eggs. However, an Eastpointe city ordinance expressly forbids residents from keeping chickens and other poultry on their property.
Hurd does not agree with the ordinance, particularly after he realized the city does expressly allow residents to keep ducks on their property.
“I don’t see why you can keep ducks and not chickens,” Hurd said. “I don’t see a difference, other than I don’t eat duck eggs.”
Mary Van Haaren, director of Development for the Eastpointe Public Works & Services Department, said the ordinance was amended to include two ducks per household back in 2009.
“In 2009, a few citizens came before the City Council and asked to be allowed to have a few baby ducks and rabbits around the Easter holiday, and the council thought it was reasonable to permit,” Van Haaren said. “The exclusion for chickens and roosters comes about because they are noisy and generally belong on a farm.”
Hurd said his neighbors have not expressed any issue with his birds, adding that around 12-15 neighbors had signed a petition supporting him keeping the animals. Additionally, he said his roosters usually only make noise when something encroaches on his backyard, and the birds have made no effort to leave his property in the year he’s had them.
He said he initially had gotten the hens as day-old chicks Aug. 29, 2012. He later picked up roosters to protect the birds from stray cats, hawks and other animals that could threaten them.
A city inspector driving by in June heard one of the roosters and gave Hurd a violation notice that ordered him to get rid of the birds within five days, he said, which he ignored. Eventually, this led to Hurd going to court, where he was given the Dec. 2 ultimatum to get rid of his birds.
Van Haaren said Hurd would need to show compliance with the court at that point, and the matter likely would be dismissed. The penalty for noncompliance can be up to $500 and 93 days in jail, she said.
The city also is concerned about the mess chickens can make, Hurd said, though he said that wild birds and other domestic animals can cause the same problems.
“The city says chickens can cause rats, but you can get rats if you don’t clean up after dogs,” Hurd said. “And dogs don’t lay eggs, they bark all day and you have to clean up after them, so I don’t see the benefit.”
Hurd said between the three hens, he can get approximately 900 fresh eggs a year, with one egg per day for each hen except in the winter months. Given that a bag of chicken feed does not cost a great deal, and that the birds also eat insects in the yard, he considers it cost-effective to keep the chickens.
Hurd said that the city of Roseville allows chickens and ducks to be kept by residents. Under that city’s ordinance, residents need to get a permit, can build an enclosure and can only keep up to four hens and ducks total.
Van Haaren said the Eastpointe City Council could amend the ordinance to allow residents to own chickens, though she did not think they had the authority to grant a variance to residents who already own them and want to keep them under the existing ordinance.
Hurd plans on continuing the fight against the ordinance to try and keep his chickens, adding that he knows other residents who either own chickens or are interested in getting some for fresh eggs.
He admits he does not think he would still be able to keep his birds if the matter ends up needing a ballot proposal, due to the length of time until the next election that a proposal could appear on.
“I’ve had them for 14 months,” Hurd said. “If I have to get rid of them, it’s like getting rid of your dog.”