A mother and son looking at photos of chickens in a backyard homesteading magazine led Eric and Amy Wogen to have chickens in their backyard at 807 First St. in Princeton.
Also helping that happen was the city passing a chicken-keeping ordinance three months ago.
The city had allowed chickens only in its A-1 and A-2 agricultural zones until it passed its ordinance in April this year to allow, through a permit, a limited number of chickens at R-2 zoned residences.
It wasn’t the Wogens who had requested the city pass the new chicken ordinance, but rather a woman who was living in the same residential zone. She told Princeton city officials she wanted to be able to have chickens in her yard not only to produce eggs but also to eat grubs and insects in her garden and provide natural fertilizer.
The city Planning Commission, with assistance from Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman, then researched chicken ordinances in other cities and came up with one to recommend to the council. The ordinance that the council approved has a permit system with the conditions spelled out. They include a maximum of four chickens per residence and that none may be a rooster. Other restrictions cover the type of enclosure and run area, cleanliness and storage of chicken feed.
The woman who initially asked the city to pass the ordinance never did seek a permit.
Eric Wogen admitted last week that he was already in violation of the ordinance for having five chickens at his place and said the family will have to find a new home for one of the hens. The Wogens got their chicks through the Farmers Co-op in Foreston. Eric Wogen said the vendor added an extra chick to the order in case one chick did not survive. All five chicks not only survived but grew faster than what Eric Wogen said he expected, ending up being full-size laying hens within three months.
“It’s fun watching them grow,” said Eric and Amy Wogen’s son Beck, 9, who is in charge of watering and feeding the hens. Besides chicken feed, the Wogen children bring the hens table scraps and grasshoppers.
The idea of having backyard chickens at the home originated with Amy Wogen and Beck. The two had been looking at a backyard homesteading publication and saw photos of chickens and became interested in having them, Eric Wogen said.
Once all of the Wogen family members were on board with the idea (the couple also has two daughters Elsa, 6, and Gloria, 3), they went about preparing. The family found plans on the Internet for building chicken coops, and picked a design. Eric Wogen and his father-in-law Roger Leider built the coop. It is closed in with mesh wire on the bottom part for the chickens to run in and an enclosed upper part to roost in.
“It’s been a good experience,” Eric Wogen said, adding that he likes the city’s rules on having backyard chickens. “Basically, it’s how to be a good neighbor when you have some chickens.”
But if he could change the ordinance, he said, he would lower the $250 permit fee. Eric Wogen suspects the size of the fee has kept more people from seeking a permit to have chickens.
The Wogens’ five chickens consist of three Orpingtons and two silver laced Wyandottes. Eric Wogen said the Orpingtons are the more docile of the two breeds but that one of the Orpingtons will be leaving in order to meet the ordinance’s limit.
Eric Wogen said the two breeds are “hardy” and that he thinks they will be able to survive winter in the coop’s upper part. He added that he will have to install a heat lamp up there in the winter, figuring that otherwise the chickens won’t be warm enough to lay eggs, which they have not yet begun doing.
There is another side to having livestock: what to do with them when the owner no longer wants them. Livestock animals traditionally end up in slaughterhouses, and Eric Wogen indicated last week that his family had not yet come to grips with that idea for their chickens.
“It remains to be seen if I can sell the family on butchering the chickens after they’re done laying,” he said.