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Chicken ordinances considered across region as Rochester numbers grow

When Steve and Mary Juenemann’s black lab died, they decided to look into other animals. They landed on Sparkles, Sweetpea, Clover, Lotta and Napango – five hens – and converted the former dog kennel into a chicken coop.

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Graden Junemann and his sister Annika frequently take their chickens out to hold them in the outer enclosure that was their dog's kennel.

After Steve and Mary Juenemann's black lab died, they decided to look into other kinds of pets. They landed on Sparkles, Sweetpea, Clover, Lotta and Napango — five hens — and converted the former dog kennel into a chicken coop.

"We used to come back here to feed the dog. Now, we come back to feed the chickens," Steve Juenemann said.

But the Eyota couple first needed an ordinance to be passed by the Eyota City Council to get a permit to keep the birds in town. Steve went before the council in 2013 to make his case.

"The city did its research, and we as chicken proponents did our research," he said. The Eyota ordinance passed, allowing people to own up to six chickens for $25 per year. Eyota also requires permit holders to put city-issued bands on their chickens in case they get loose — the Juenemanns have Eyota chicken bands one through five.

The city now has five homeowners with chicken permits, said City Clerk Marlis Knowlton. There were a lot of people on both sides of the permit issue, Knowlton said.


"It was a little bit controversial when it passed," she said. "But we didn't have any major fist fights or anything."

Other area towns have been considering urban chickens as well, with varying degrees of success for chicken keepers. Austin recently decided not to craft an ordinance, but the city council said it might reconsider the issue later. Red Wing only allows chickens in its agriculturally zoned areas.

"City council, the planning commission and the sustainability commission looked at the issue several years ago and decided not to pursue any city code changes that would allow urban chickens," Red Wing City Clerk Kathy Johnson said.

Byron recently passed an ordinance that allows residents to own three hens for $20 each per year; five residents have permits now, planning coordinator Janna Monosmith said.

"For the first year, you do have to have all the neighbors contiguous to your lot sign off that they're aware and are OK with you having chickens," Monosmith said.

Stewartville is considering a chicken ordinance now and will have a public hearing before the town's city council July 8.

While there's been a recent uptick in chicken interest in smaller surrounding communities, Rochester has had an ordinance for more than 20 years, since 1992. Kirk Payne was the first person to have a chicken license in the city and, for a long time, was one of the only.

"I thought it would be a simple, unemotional process, but it was an emotional thing," Payne said of getting the ordinance passed. "One neighbor woman said that just knowing chickens were near her house was 'ruining her retirement.'"


The urban chicken movement has taken off in Rochester in the past five years. For the first 15 years or so, the number of chicken licenses could be counted on one hand, according to numbers from the Rochester City clerk's office. But so far this year, 47 people have gotten licenses, which last for two years. The number of active chicken licenses in Rochester comes in at 79, a far cry from Payne's early days.

"The interest in where our food comes from and how our food is raised is growing as people become more educated," Payne said.

He's heard all the arguments against chickens, too, mostly from people who had bad experiences with large groups of birds, he said.

"We welcome other more dangerous, more annoying animals in our urban settings," Payne said. "The people against it here in Rochester, the slippery slope argument is always raised … if we make chickens legal, we'll have chickens running all over the city."

Steve Juenemann said he's heard people bring up noise and smell issues, but he's never heard any complaints from his neighbors. In fact, they seem really curious and will share in the eggs, Juenemann said.

"We know our neighbors on a first-name basis, and we tried to talk to them all before we got the chickens," he said.

Juenemann has been watching with interest as other communities consider chicken ordinances, he said.

"The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned," Juenemann said.


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Graden Juneman feeds some grass to the chickens his family has in their Eyota backyard.

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