The mayor’s reason for no chickens in Belgrade is that they smell, are noisy and diseased, and they attract predators.
A recent anti-chicken letter to the editor by a city councilman even did the math on how many square meters of poop each chicken could produce.
As my mind wandered between the mayor’s anti-chicken rant and the councilor’s poop metrics, I realized this means that within those standards, hardly a single ex-husband, former boyfriend or pooch would qualify to live in the Belgrade City limits.
Currently before Belgrade voters is a ballot proposal to legalize keeping backyard chickens in the city limits. Sounds like Belgrade has forgotten its ag roots. Or even its present-day ag reality.
I bet not more than 60 years ago, many, many residents had chicken coops, roosters, a milk cow and a couple pigs in their back yards. (I know my two great-great-uncles’ Prohibition-era shack was still in the alley parallel to Main Street pre-Urban Renewal. So Belgrade isn’t too far removed from its considerably more rustic roots.)
Maybe the mayor’s ballot argument isn’t so much chicken vs. no chicken as it is country vs. city. (The mayor did say, “If you want chickens, go live on a farm.”)
This is a discussion unthinkable until the last few decades. Maybe everyone is going about this wrong. Instead of shallow lip service to “Belgrade’s agricultural roots,” I propose the city mandate that every resident have at least six chickens, one rooster, a milk cow and two pigs.
Maybe Belgrade needs a concrete reminder that Montana is still an ag state. That Belgrade’s ag roots aren’t something quaint or fit to be on a poster or in the nostalgic past.
The problem with being “discovered” is that you get awash with people who came here because it was “Montana,” but their very presence makes it “Not Montana” ... this is a rural, ag state. It is quinessentially agricultural. The very idea that chickens need to be voted on makes me think that the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse is coming down Main Street.
I propose that to be allowed to live within the Belgrade city boundaries, residents would have to show proof that they own chickens.
Later, the law could be changed to allow residency only if you LOVE chickens.
It’s been a long process, this reality of not even recognizing our own roots and our own reality. One out-of-state transplant at a time, one developer at a time plowing up another homestead farm, and suddenly no one remembers that Belgrade was settled to handle all the grain grown in the Gallatin Valley. Settled by ranchers and farmers who would wonder what in the world was wrong with people who DIDN’T have chickens.
This is still a farm state, and the Gallatin Valley is still a valley of working farms, not just colorful backgrounds for real estate ads.
The reality that Belgrade – and even Bozeman – can actually argue over a farm staple like chickens might suggest that we’ve gone too far in the direction of craft breweries and streets full of out-of-state license plates.
It’s OK to do a few practical things to remind us where our food comes from and who we really are. And if most of the antagonism against chickens is from come-heres and transplants who think food comes from grocery stores or Buffalo Wild Wings, maybe this isn’t where they want to live.
I propose a new motto for Belgrade; “A Chicken In Every Pot; A Chicken Coop In Every Back Yard.”
Vive la Chicken!!
And chicken poop is about as real as it gets.
Karen E. Davis is a staff writer for the Belgrade News.