Urban chicken controversy in Montana

Missoulachick-1 There's a battle raging in Missoula, Montana over "urban chickens." One one side are people who want to raise their own food and bring a little bit of farm life into the city. On the other are those who say the birds are noisy, unhealthy, and stink. New West Network's Anne Medley and Jonathan Stumpf created a wonderful video documenting the controversy. The piece has the feel of spoof, but it's no joke.
Link (Thanks, Jonathan Weber!)


  1. Not to mention the inherent cruelty involved in raising chickens in confined spaces before murdering them…

  2. @ dagdasamildanc

    If your against eating any meat – well OK…
    Otherwise, the the hen houses in the video are palaces compared to industry chicken farms.

  3. Oh, man – that is entertainment right there! I love how it’s also part skate video for some reason. Works for me.

    I used to have neighbors in a very densely-populated section of the Koreatown neighborhood in LA with chickens, and heard the roosters every morning. It was slightly annoying at first, but I got used to it. I never thought of getting the authorities involved, or even once considered the legality of urban chicken raising.

    I have a feeling that mid-city LA is slightly more ‘urban’ than Missoula. I can’t even tell the difference between the ‘city’ and ‘country’ folk in the video. Montana is a whole different world to me…

    I think the ‘slightly pro-chicken’ guy at the end has the most astute comment. There’s gotta be more pressing issues. I hope…

  4. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, in a house with a half-acre lot. For close to 20 years we raised chickens (for eggs, not for slaughter) and never had any complaints.

    Yeah, roosters are loud and annoying, especially when they’re just learning to crow. We only had roosters a couple of times, when raising chicks. We got rid of them quickly.

    Hens are generally pretty quiet. They’ll cluck a bit and make some noise, especially when they’ve laid an egg, but it’s not in the same league as a neighbor with a drum set. Not even like a neighbor with a weed whacker.

    As for smell, I can’t recall any to speak of. Keep things relatively clean and it’s not a big deal.

    I remember debates locally about backyard compost piles, and how the city wanted to ban any that weren’t in airtight containers. That’s actually about the WORST thing you can do for them – turns ’em into smelly, anaerobic slime. A well-tended compost pile smells… well, ‘earthy’ I guess – certainly not offensive, and not strong. Chickens, too, are pretty inoffensive when cared for properly.

  5. I prefer to have my meat processed in some factory where I can’t see the cruelty. I also prefer my fruits and vegetables to be picked by starving peasants in foreign lands. And, I prefer my clothing made in sweatshops by little childrens’ hands.

  6. @#1

    I always thought murder was defined as the killing of a human being, and furthermore the deliberate killing that being what differentiated it from manslaughter.

    So I think you should have said “before killing them…”

    Unless you’re just being rhetorical. In which case I’ll point out that it’s very tasty murder, as my own rhetorical comment.


  7. I’ve seen some chickens in my Chicago neighborhood and it’s much denser than Missoula/L.A. What’s the harm in a couple chickens? At least they don’t blast reggeaton at all hours and fire off shots out in front of my window. I’d trade some chickens for a few of those guys any day.

  8. At least they don’t blast reggeaton at all hours

    Oh, don’t get me started on that! I think I have that frigging beat permanently ingrained into my neural pathways…

    I think my relative problem would also be dogs. When every second apartment in an 80-unit building has one or more large dogs, I would think that the noise/smell factor affecting the neighbors (me!) is much greater than a handful of hens in a large private backyard.

    I’d much prefer walking by chickens in a closed area on private property than having to hopscotch over steaming piles of dog poop every morning when I walk out the door. THAT should be illegal. Oh, wait…

  9. Good old Missoula. I went to school and lived there for 8 years, and still visit from time to time. I do miss that town. I’m actually surprised that chickens are not currently allowed.

    I also love fresh, local eggs. People have chickens here in the city and it’s great. I try not to buy eggs that come from hundreds or thousands of miles away.

    I think it would be great to have a chicken or two for eggs. But I’m renting right now, so that’s probably not in the cards until I buy a house.

    I got a kick out the video.

  10. A similar issue arose in Bloomington, Indiana not long ago. Here’s how my college friend “Tall Steve” Volan, now a Bloomington City Councilman, dealt with it: by attending the Council meeting in a full-body chicken suit.

    3. How do you stand on chickens in the city?

    Standing on chickens is cruel, even in the county.


  11. I grew up in a rural/city area (the results of an ill-advised amalgamation that put a lot of previously rural areas in the city.) We kept chickens, turkeys and pigs on a couple of acres. My experience reflects what MADSCI says above: apart from roosters, which are good eating at six or eight weeks, the birds aren’t especially noisy compared to other common noise sources (which in our neighbourhood frequently included chainsaws…) They don’t smell bad. And the eggs are like nothing you’ll find on the shelves of a store, at least back in those days.

    Compared to industrial meat and egg production the birds raised by small holders are treated humanely up to the point where they are killed and eaten.

    I’d be curious to know what is really behind this fuss–in British Columbia there is a move afoot to prevent farm gate sale of lamb, which is being pushed by industrial lamb producers. The nominal excuse is that small holder lamb is a health risk, and must be slaughtered in a federally inspected slaughter-house (of which there are one or two in the whole province). Unfortunately for the industrial lamb producers there has never been a case of food disease from farm gate lamb. But what’s a little bit of truth when there’s money on the line.

    It would not surprise me in the least to find that there is an industrial producer behind the current “concern” about urban poultry.

  12. @ #6

    Freshyill, that nytimes article is wonderful. Thanks for posting it. I almost see these oddities as a type of lifehack. Taking a piece of something traditionally seen as rural and moving it into an urban setting.

  13. Just imagine if people start raising chickens in the city. The next thing you know, they will want to grow squash and potatoes. Why do people have to be so weird? Can’t they just go buy a chicken sandwich at KFC or something?

  14. I live in Missoula. Frankly, I’m amazed this isn’t legal. If it goes to vote and the city council listens to the majority, it will become legal; if they listen to the loudest part of the populace, it will remain illegal. The woman who lives near the rail yard is right on the noise, but wrong on other counts: we have a sewage treatment plant and a paper mill very near some residential and commercial areas. Those areas smell the worst in town, not the train yard.

  15. You’d be surprised how chicken husbandry will grow on you. They make outstanding outdoor pets . . . wo long as you don’t mind the fertilizer.

    My neighbors would perform tricks with my “girls” and Sunday drivers would stop to take pictures. We were a regular roadside attraction.

    Motorists were forever asking for introductions to the more friendly of my chickens. A number of them started keeping their own chickens.

  16. @Stephan Lawson – I hope you’re being facetious. Small-scale backyard and rooftop farming, if adopted broadly, could be a valuable strategy for dealing with global warming by reducing food-miles. At the very least, it’s a fantastic way to get fresh eggs at a great price. I’d love to have squash, potatoes, and even chickens in my back yard, but I’m pretty sure the DC rats would tear them apart. I don’t even let me dog go out back!

    One brief comment on the video: the guy who says “most people move to the city to get away from farm animals” is WAY off. People move to cities for access to jobs, education, and other resources, not because they want to get away from chickens.

    And just to add to the list of places that have chickens: Seattle. My next door neighbors in North Seattle had chickens, and I lived in a house with some girls who wanted to get chickens and a goat, but it never quite happened.

    Full Disclosure: I grew up in Missoula (don’t know anyone in the video, though).

  17. Oh, and you can’t buy eggs anything like fresh laid.

    Neep, one of my favorites, would peck at the back door at sunrise until I let her in. Then she’d run to the living room bookshelf, clucking indignantly, and lay one on the next-to-top shelf.

  18. Jesus…

    Of all places in the world for this news article…

    I’d rather have chickens and roosters for neighbors than people who peck at me with what they like and dislike about my lawn, yard, house, ETC.

  19. When I grew up in urban Cambridge (UK) in the 1970s, my parents kept chickens (for eggs), goats (for milk) and rabbits (for meat) in our back garden. We had no complaints from the neighbours.

    My grandfather raised pigs on his nearby allotment- he did have complaints, and eventually had to give it up. He insists that the complaints were from newcomers to the area, as it became gradually more gentrified.

    UK readers may be reminded of ‘The Good Life’…

  20. dagdasamildanc: The definition of murder is “the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought”.

    A chicken is not a person. And they taste delicious. I like eating chickens. Killing them isn’t a pleasant experience, but it is required in order to eat them. Do you have another suggestion as to how we could eat the chickens without killing them?

  21. If the chickens were half as annoying as most people’s dog or cat or children, this might be a valid argument. I have to side with the last guy. I’m sure the city of Missoula has more important issues to deal with. And I’m not just saying that because I have chickens. Where’s the old west spirit of rugged individualism? The ideal of a man making his own way in the world? these chicken-haters sound like the head of the home association crying about my grass being too long. What, are they retired from Chicago?

  22. I’d say that the infestation of most cities with pigeons makes the argument against having chickens on the basis of chicken poop pretty moot. Having a big ol’ chicken coop in your back yard? Maybe. A few birds for the eggs and occasional Sunday dinner? Not so much.

  23. I live in Missoula now and find it hilarious that this issue made it to boingboing. I am all for raising chickens in town. I love fresh eggs and I think a conscientious person can raise chickens humanely still with the intent to someday eat them. The only good counterargument I have heard is of a mother with a child who is highly allergic to chicken feathers. This raises interesting municipal legal issues. Do you license chickens in the city? How much should a license be? Should it be a one-time fee or per chicken? I find the process very interesting.


  24. I am a human being and I am created in the image of God.

    I am made from this earth and I will return to it.

    My soul is from God. I am eternal.

    While alive, I am commanded to use God’s bounty and care for it. Separate me from God’s earthy goodness and I weaken. Demand my servitude and I will rebel.

    I am goodness. I contribute. Show me freedom, I benefit all around me.

  25. Feral chickens in an Astoria cemetery? Nifty! In Brooklyn we just get colonies of feral parrots. (Check out the back side of the elaborate gate and gatehouse at the 25th Street entrance to Green-wood Cemetery. It’s home to a huge communal nest of rainbow sherbet-colored parrots.)

    Lots of people keep chickens in Brooklyn backyards. I can’t imagine complaining; chickens never drag their stereo speakers outside and play stupid music at top volume. Furthermore, the chickens’ owners don’t walk them on leashes to the sidewalk in front of my house so they can poop there.

    For sophisticated urban chickens: Eglu systems.

  26. I lived in Missoula for some years in the 70’s. I wonder if the Oxford Cafe is still there. It was the first (and I think, only) place I’d been where “Brains & Eggs” were a menu item…..I’m wishing now I’d ordered up a few of those brains…I could use them now.

  27. Maybe not, Mjohnston. You can buy pork brains in milk gravy in supermarkets in Memphis (and possibly elsewhere, I’d imagine); I looked at the nutritional information on the label, and one 2/3 cup serving has 1100% of the daily RDA of cholesterol.

  28. Two words. Just two.


    Because all these chicken owners are Clorox clean and first class veterinary experts who can and will detect a suspect animal and get rid of it in a manner approved by the CDC, before it contaminates the next-door-neighbor’s flock, right?


  29. @Speedwell: Bird flu is much more of a concern for industrial chicken farmers, with tight living conditions and poor chicken health. Furthermore, the concerns of bird flu spreading to humans is much more relevant when pigs are farmed alongside the chickens, as the pigs are a much better vector for cross-species infection to humans than the chickens are. I would be concerned more about the chickens than humans with urban chicken farming. It is true that an outbreak could spread throughout the city, but it is more likely to decimate the bird population than the human population.


  30. My wife used this video as a case study example for a presentation on urban chickens at a graduate urban planning symposium.

    As part of her work on urban food planning, we recently launched urbanchickens.org in order to promote exactly this type of chicken keeping. There’s plenty of information to get people started with new information coming all the time.

    If you’re wondering if it’s ok to keep chickens in your city, we have a section all about ordinances that currently has about 30 cities and are constantly adding more.

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