ESCANABA, Mich. (WZMQ) – On Thursday, Escanaba’s Planning Commission approved a draft of a zoning ordinance amendment that would allow the keeping of chickens and ducks within city limits.
The proposed amendment would permit Escanaba residents to keep a limited number of chickens and ducks—with the exceptions of roosters and the invasive Muscovy duck—with an annual license. The sale of eggs and meat would be prohibited, and the amendment includes strict enclosure requirements.
In October, the Planning Commission postponed making a decision on the amendment, recommending further research be done into other municipalities, like Ishpeming, that have allowed the keeping of chickens.
“In [Ishpeming’s] case, keeping chickens in their enclosures and keeping roosters out of town have been the main problem,” said Escanaba Planning and Zoning Administrator Tyler Anthony. “Their zoning administrator reported that no complaints have been made, nor have they issued any permits this year. Ishpeming has issued only ten to twelve permits in total. All the issues on this front are overshadowed by other agricultural zoning problems in their city.”
Planning and Zoning staff also consulted the Michigan State University Extension and the City of Marquette.
Anthony read a quote from Marquette’s zoning administrator, who stated, “The main problem we see is that we believe there are still a lot of people that are not getting permits for chickens.”
Anthony noted that “once past the first few years,” the issues Ishpeming and Marquette faced subsided.
“Chicken keeping has since been accepted by residents in Marquette and Ishpeming,” he said.
A few members of the public wrote letters to the Planning Commission with concerns, like the smell and noise created by the animals. Several residents attended the meeting to speak in favor of the proposed amendment. One cited benefits for children’s wellbeing.
“I have a 17-year-old who’s autistic,” she said. “What does he love? Animals. In teaching him that responsibility on how to care for an animal, I’m also teaching him how to take care of himself.”
Another, who also spoke at the October meeting, said keeping chickens has educational value.
“That’ll give people in town—like I said last month—more of an opportunity to join 4-H,” she said. “4-H seems to be down because not many people in town can have an animal.”
While some in the community have expressed worries about health and sanitation risks associated with birds, a doctor—who has worked in infectious diseases—spoke to the health benefits of keeping chickens.
“Home and farm fresh eggs are without question more nutritious than store-bought,” said Dr. Toskhan Cooper-Shelton, MD, MBA, MS, AAHIVS. “They, on average, contain more Vitamin A, E, D, 75% more beta keratin, and up to 20 times more omega-3 fatty acids. All of the above contribute to a healthier immune system, less rates of cancer, longer life, greater virus and bacteria combatting abilities, and better taste.”
Dr. Cooper-Shelton also addressed concerns from the previous meeting about avian flu specifically.
“Chickens raised outside of the factory farming system generally have better immune systems and are in less crowded conditions,” he said. “This results in less avian flu and other diseases.”
After more than an hour of public comment and Planning Commission discussion, the commission approved the draft of the zoning ordinance amendment in a four-to-three vote.
Afterward, Commission Chair James Hellermann applauded the community for its participation in the process.
“I’ve been doing this for ten years,” he said. “Very rarely do we get anyone show up for anything. There’s 12,000 people in Escanaba. Each one of you are speaking on behalf of 500 – 600 people. That’s a heavy weight in my book. Yes, the letters give weight. They speak the other way, but they don’t touch how many people are here to support.”
The proposed amendment will now move on to the City Council. Click here for more information on the amendment.