When most people think of pets that a family in Webster City might keep, their thoughts might go to cats and dogs, fish or small rodents. However, Chris Huseman of Murray McMurray Hatchery said more city-dwellers are choosing to house chickens in their backyard.
Huseman and a couple other speakers from the hatchery hosted a program Thursday evening at Kendall Young Library about their new book, "Chickens in Five Minutes a Day." The book, published about a month ago, discusses the benefits of raising chickens, choosing chickens and how to raise them with a relatively small amount of effort.
"It's a very easy reading book and it's very down to earth," Huseman said. "We really wanted to give the basic nuts and bolts of what you're going to need to home chickens."
The title, according to Huseman, has been criticized by several reviewers online because they say you can't just spend five minutes with your chickens each day. However, Huseman explained the criticism comes from reviewers who feel they want to spend more time with their chickens out of pure interest in them, not from having to do additional work. Once you have a proper home built for the chickens, you can spend just a few minutes each day feeding them.
Bud Wood, also of the Murray McMurray Hatchery, touched on the history of the hatchery that has been hatching chickens since 1917. The presentation included some of the history of raising chickens, which included a World War II flyer about the positives of backyard-raised chickens. While larger, commercial flocks are more common now, Huseman said that smaller operations are coming back in style with celebrities like Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey owning backyard coops.
However, many towns and cities have legal restrictions on owning chickens inside their limits. Huseman said this has created communities of closet chicken owners who own coops despite those laws and codes.
"There are very specialized groups of people that even though it might be illegal for them to own chickens, they have them in their city limits and in their yards," Huseman said.
Wood said that he has spoken to the City Attorney of Webster City, Gary Groves, and Groves told him there was nothing on the books about chickens within city limits. However, the hatchery has contacted the city inspection department who cites Chapter 85, Section 85.07 of the city code titled bothersome animals. While the section lists barking dogs, bees, cattle, horses, swine and sheep, the department has interpreted chickens to be a nuisance as well.
"If you want chickens in your backyard, I know there are chickens in Webster City, and I know that if you're responsible and you take care of them, they are not a nuisance," Wood said. "Now, you may not want a crowing rooster, but you don't want a barking dog either."
While chickens are usually thought of as a production or farm animal, Huseman said that many who bring them into their home view them as pets. He said the animals are small in size, low cost, gentle, enjoy human interaction and can help teach children responsibility. Huseman said he and his daughter have worked to raise chickens themselves.
Huseman said that some have taken chickens in as pets more seriously, with leashes and diapers available for chickens. However, the presentation focused on creating an outdoor space for chickens and what the presentation attendees could do to help raise them. The hatchery's book is available online and at Kendall Young Library.