Edgewood Family Brings Chickens to Yard, Possible New Law to City
Chris and Amanda Ward's house in Edgewood doesn't look like a farmhouse, or a place where chickens might live. The house on the quiet street resembles all the others. Even in the backyard there doesn't seem to be a difference - except for the black edifice in one corner that slightly resembles a train engine.
"We built our chicken coop to look like a train because our youngest, Brenan, loves Thomas the Train," said Amanda. "We still have to put wheels on it but the boys like it and the chickens seem to like it."
Chris and Amanda didn't just wake up one morning and decide to purchase chickens. This is part of an overall plan to reduce their footprint and provide the family with sustainability.
There are two garden plots in the Wards' backyard that provide vegetables for the family to eat. All three sons, Cooper, 8, Tate, 5, and Brenan, 4, help with the gardening, and Amanda said that Tate is especially diligent.
"We also have a worm composting bin, with 25,000 worms, and we put paper and table craps in there and they provide 'black gold' fertilizer for our garden," explained Amanda. "It is amazing how much they eat. I think it really is a good example of the circle of life."
One day the family was at the Farmer's Market in Erlanger where they buy produce, and asked a farmer about how they would go about acquiring chickens.
"We had heard about some kind of poultry flu going around, and then we heard the price of eggs was going to go way up," said Amanda. "We bought five hens from a farm in Walton, a combination of grey ones and red ones, but I don't know what kind they are. We do know that the grey ones lay the Easter egg type eggs, like light blue and light green and the reddish hens lay brown eggs. They won't start laying at least until they are six months, and then they may only lay one egg a day. A lot of things go into when they are ready to lay eggs. People keep asking us about eggs, but we don't have them yet."
But wait - chickens in the city limits? Is that legal? Turns out there was no law, for or against chickens in the city in Edgewood, when the family contacted the city leaders.
"I wasn't the first to inquire about chickens," said Amanda. "The city decided to put the issue on the agenda, and I was invited to attend the meeting. They seemed very open to the idea of chickens, and they were all very nice. The mayor and city council have been phenomenal in their preparation and research."
Edgewood Mayor John Link was not opposed to the idea, and it wasn't new to him.
"My daughter lived in Crittenden in a subdivision, and she wanted to have chickens," he said. "The idea met no objections here. We wanted to check with other folks in other cities who do have ordinances regulating keeping chickens. The Wards have taken care of the fencing and other things that we might be concerned with. Our ordinance will probably take into consideration the other cities' ordinances, and limit the amount of chickens and make sure they are confined in certain discreet ways."
Edgewood City Attorney Frank Wichmann has not yet drawn up the ordinance because he wanted to see those of other cities. Covington has an ordinance regulating the ownership of chickens and so does Ft. Thomas, while Independence just passed one in January of this year.
"We have had maybe a half dozen people in the last year inquire about keeping chickens," said Brian Dehner, Edgewood's city administrator. "The Ward family contacted us before they bought the chickens, and since we had no regulations we told them we can't stop you. But we have had a complaint from a neighbor who objected to the fact that a drainage pipe is near the coop and it washes feed and straw down into their yard. So then we felt we had to come up with guidelines. We hope to have it on the agenda at our meeting on Monday, August 17."
Dehner said the ordinances from other cities are similar, limiting the number of chickens, prohibiting roosters, spelling out the restriction that there has to be 3 square feet per chicken in the coop, and restricting the distance of a chicken coop from the house.
"Ours would have to have restrictions that apply to lots under five acres," said Dehner. "If you have over five acres you can even have a horse in Edgewood. We will probably have a limit of five chickens, no roosters, and a more aesthetic approach to the size and placement of the coop. We would like to have discussion on the matter Monday night, but also a possible first reading of the ordinance."
The Wards believe that the city is on the right track. They will abide by the rules the city sets down, and in the meantime teach their children that they can get some food other than going to the grocery store. Their chickens have names: Wildcat, Tails, Sonic, Pat, and James, so they are basically pets that will eventually contribute to the well-being of the family.
"James is the runt, and of course he was named for James the Engine in Thomas the Train," said Amanda, with a laugh. "We talk about chickens a lot. I know a lot more about chickens than when we started, and so do the boys. Cooper is already talking about doing a science project on them, and wants to put a web cam on the coop to monitor their actions. We have also discovered the chickens love strawberry stems, and broccoli and mushroom pieces. When we told my grandma about what we were doing, she said, that's my girl! I am the one in the family that no one ever expected to do something like this."
The family would like to reevaluate their little flock in two years, but they want to see what the city thinks first. If the city would outlaw chickens, they would have to give them to Amanda's aunt and uncle. Even though the family has two dogs, the boys have become attached enough to the chickens to be heartbroken if that happened.
But they already have the answer to the question everybody wants to askwho gets to eat the first egg.
"Cooper has the honor of eating the first egg," Amanda said.
Story & photos by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor