But the county doesn’t allow it for its most rural residents.
Patrick Miles wants to change that. So Miles, a County Board member from McFarland, has introduced a county ordinance that would allow town residents to keep up to six chickens, as long as they’re in a clean, covered or fenced enclosure, meet a number of location regulations like being 25 feed from residences on adjacent lots — and as long as the chicken owner pays a $15 permit fee.
“Quite frankly, I think there are a lot of people keeping chickens basically illegally,” says Miles. “This will allow people to be able to do that in compliance.”
But Miles’ proposal, which will be the subject of a public hearing before the county zoning committee in August, is ruffling some feathers.
Miles says that some town boards are opposing the measure because of fears of plummeting property values, the imposition of “liberal Madison” views on rural Dane County, and bird-borne disease.
“Let me just kindly say I was really surprised at the level of histrionics over the level of health effects,” says Miles.
But according to Berry Town Chairman Anthony Varda, a lot of opposition is coming in the form of another complaint: that it's needless bureaucracy.
“We don’t see any reason to charge $15,” Varda says. “We don’t see why it’s limited to six chickens instead of 10 or 12. It’s creating a bureaucracy for no purpose.”
Varda says his Town Board hasn’t addressed the issue yet, “but we’re going to be.”
He says he has nothing against his neighbors having chickens. In fact, a lot of them already do.
“Chickens have been grown in rural Dane County since rural Dane County existed,” he says.
But he and a lot of other town officials in the county have a problem with bureaucratic “overkill.”
“As soon as you make it $15 for a license, well, maybe next year it will be $20,” he says. “Or maybe we’ll make it an annual license like dogs and then we’ll collect every year for it. And then we’ll collect for every chicken.”
He adds: “It shouldn’t be a revenue maker. They don’t need to know where every chicken coop in the county is.”
A better solution, he says, is to simply change the rule to fit the reality.
“They ought to just change the rules to say you can have chickens,” he says.
And that’s what he says he’ll be pushing for.
“I think if we get a large group against it, maybe they’ll amend it,” he says. “We might just go through the Towns Association and see if we can’t simply get an agreement to change it.”
In fact, if enough towns oppose the ordinance, they can block it.
Miles says he was surprised at the level of opposition to the proposal. He introduced the ordinance after several people in his district complained that they couldn’t legally raise chickens, while most every municipality in the county allows it.
In Madison, residents are allowed up to four chickens if they pay a $10 permit fee.
“It just seems crazy that some of our communities like Madison, Monona, even Milwaukee, allow chickens on a residential lot, but not in our towns, which are in a sense by definition more rural,” he says.