Chicken Chatter

Urban chickens have raised their heads again in Belgrade.

Citizens in favor of allowing backyard chickens to be kept in Belgrade started a petition drive in hopes of collecting the 793 signatures required to have the matter decided by voters a little more than a year from now.

Ashley Fiske is one of four people spearheading the effort, which began in July after citizens asked the Belgrade City Council to reconsider a proposed 2018 ordinance to allow chicken-keeping in town. The council voted down that ordinance in 2018, as it had done with similar ordinances in 2014, 2010 and 2009.

At the July meeting, Mayor Russ Nelson said that because the prior votes were based on what council members perceived to be prevailing public opinion, it would be best for citizens to vote directly on the matter than for the council to deliberate it once again. The majority of council members agreed and voted not to reconsider a backyard chicken proposal.

Since then, the citizens in favor of chickens have been working with city staff and the Gallatin County Elections Department to start an official petition that places the matter on the Nov. 2, 2021 general election ballot. Fiske emphasized that by signing the currently circulating petition, citizens are not voting for or against backyard chicken-keeping, but merely certifying they would like the matter to go before voters next year.

If chicken proponents succeed in collecting the required number of signatures by Nov. 16, Belgrade citizens will have the opportunity to vote either for or against adopting the 2018 ordinance, which would authorize and regulate the keeping of domestic chickens within the city of Belgrade.

If passed, the ordinance would permit residents of single-family homes on lots larger than 7,000 square feet to keep as many as six hens or six mixed-sex domestic chickens under the age of 3 months, or any combination thereof not to exceed six total chickens per permit holder. Roosters would not be permitted.

The complete ordinance is posted on the city’s website.

Fiske said proponents, calling themselves “CoopTroopBelgrade,” have gathered about 100 signatures so far. They hope to devote a couple of hours each Thursday to collect more signatures.

She said CoopTroopBelgrade received a lot of positive feedback about the proposal and no negative 

comments at all. She called the current prohibition on chickens in the city “just silly,” noting that many nearby cities and towns, including Bozeman, Manhattan, Helena and Billings, allow residents to keep backyard chickens.

CoopTroopBelgrade has contacted code enforcement officers in other jurisdictions to find out whether chickens have proven to be nuisances there.

Mike Maynard, an animal control officer in Helena, replied that of the 1,970 animal complaints the city received in 2019, only 12 were about chickens and pertained to lost chickens, chickens at large, and predators or dogs trying to get to the fowl; none of the 2019 complaints concerned smell. He could remember only one or two complaints about smelly chickens in the past 18 years.

Selena Fowler, an animal control officer in Bozeman, has received about four complaints about chickens in the past two years, and none were about “stink.” As would be the case in Belgrade, roosters are not allowed to be kept in Bozeman.

Fiske said anyone wishing to help with the petition drive may call her at (406) 459-9059 or e-mail CoopTroopBelgrade@gmail.com.