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The chickens have come home to roost

Backyard chickens are now legal in Rocky Top as the result of an amendment to the city’s animal control ordinance last week.

But there are some strict limits and requirements. Only three “female chickens” – hens – are permitted on any lot of less than an acre, and a maximum of six are allowed on lots of at least an acre.

And to help keep them from becoming a nuisance to adjoining property owners, the chickens must be in an approved henhouse during night hours, and their pens must be enclosed to keep them from escaping, or from predators or vermin entering the henhouses.

Anyone wanting to keep chickens must apply for a permit, and pay an annual fee of $25 for the privilege. Violations of the ordinance carry a $50-a-day penalty.

The amendment to the ordinance was drawn up and recommended by the city’s Planning Commission, and the City Council approved the revisions on a unanimous vote during last Thursday’s regular meeting (Sept. 15).

Mayor Timothy Sharp brought up the idea during the council’s May meeting, saying that some residents had approached him about the city changing its codes to allow chicken “farming” inside the city limits.

Before the change, which took effect upon passage of the amended ordinance, no chickens were allowed to be kept inside the city. They were considered “livestock,” which is not permitted under city ordinances, City Manager Michael Foster said.

That prohibition continues for other livestock, which the ordinance specifically mentions to include “cows, sheep, horses, mules, goats, roosters, ducks, geese, or other domestic fowl,” within the city limits, regardless of lot size.

Foster said the current high food prices – which continue to climb – have affected eggs prices, which have led some people to consider keeping their own laying hens.

“When eggs are up to $5 a dozen, there are people who want to raise chickens to get their own eggs,” he said.

Sharp brought the issue up during the May meeting, saying:

“We need to look at chickens, but we don’t need them in the middle of town.”

He mentioned that a city resident had been keeping chickens on his property despite the ordinance, and had asked about getting the rules changed.

But that person has about two acres, not just a regular city lot, the mayor noted.

Foster said the Planning Commission was asked to look at the issue and make recommendations on changing the ordinance to allow chickens inside the city under some circumstances, and forward those recommendations to the council.

The Planning Commission based the Rocky Top ordinance changes on similar rules that are in place for chickens in Knoxville, Foster said.

“A lot of cities allow chickens, but not roosters,” Foster said earlier, considering that they can wake an entire neighborhood by crowing at the crack of dawn.