Whitefish Is Clucking Over Chickens

By Beacon Staff

Whitefish may soon be joining Missoula in changing its chicken rules. Missoula, after months of heated chicken wars, approved an ordinance last December to allow up to six hens in residential zones. Now, Whitefish is clucking, too, over poultry.

“The keeping of chickens is a common inquiry,” Nikki Bond, a city planner, reported at the Whitefish City Planning Board’s mid-October meeting. But most potential chicken owners find a quick deterrent—an expensive permit compared to the cost of the chickens.

Residents who want to raise a few chickens in their city backyards for eggs, manure, insect control, and companionship currently must pay $990 for a Conditional Use Permit and go before the City Council for a public hearing. Unless hens are specialty breeds, ready-to-lay chickens cost under $10 a piece, and a 50-pound bag of feed sells for under $15.

To support egg layers within the City limits, a flock of Whitefish residents have been voicing their fowl agreement in an online petition that launched on Monday, Oct. 20. By Friday of last week, it had garnered over 75 signatures.

Chickens fall under livestock rather than pets in the City’s ordinances. Where zoning regulations permit livestock, property owners can raise up to 50 chickens per acre. But on most residential blocks, chickens are lumped in the same prohibited category as horses, cows, donkeys, goats, and pigs.

The planning department, by request of the City Council, is developing a proposal to allow up to three hens without going through the expensive permit process. Roosters, due to their noise, would be excluded. “We’d like to keep the ordinance as simple as possible,” said Bond, noting that current ordinances already restrict animals at large and pen cleanliness.

At the planning board’s mid-October meeting, some members raised concerns about property size and licensing for the cluckers. The board will review its proposal on Nov. 20. Chickens will go to the City Council on Dec. 1.

You can catch a video on the Missoula Chicken Wars and read comments in support of chickens at Support Whitefish Chickens petition.