Steve Lindner

DEWITT — The DeWitt City Council is facing the ultimate question: What comes first – the chicken or the ordinance?

DeWitt City Administrator Steve Lindner says he knows the answer.

“The fact is, we have some chickens in town,” Lindner said. “We haven’t permitted any of those, but they are here. And we’ve started to get some calls about the ones we do have.”

Lindner and the council scratched the surface on what it would take to implement an ordinance that would either make chicken ownership legal or outlaw it.

Lindner said it’s best not to wing it. Other cities in the area, he said, already permit chickens, and he promised to examine some of their ordinances and craft something that matches.

Current city code bans the ownership of livestock, which includes cattle, goats, swine, large flightless birds, poultry, or equine unless given “written consent of the city health officer.”

The law says those who are permitted to own livestock must keep buildings, enclosures and yards clean and free from “filth and stagnant water.”

Those who do have livestock are required to keep an annual permit for the animals.

“Will we have inspections or an annual fee of some sort?” Lindner asked. “Or do we just say no to chickens?”

Council members were not vocally opposed to the idea of chicken ownership at the Oct. 5 council meeting, but did shell out some concerns.

“It’s the roosters and the cackling,” said council member Garey Chrones.

Lindner laid out some details he’s seen from other ordinances, and said most ban roosters within city limits. Typically, he said, livestock ordinances ban roosters in addition to cattle, goats, swine, or other fowl.

“I wonder if the cities that do permit them, have they had problems?” asked council member Kurt Ketelsen.

Lindner shared an ordinance from the city of Waverly, near Waterloo, that permits hens in its city limits. The ordinance gives specifications on coop design, chicken feed storage, and prohibits chicken slaughtering or the sale of backyard-raised eggs.

Waverly charges $25 for an annual chicken permit; residents there can house four hens on their property.

“We don’t want to create an enforcement problem,” Lindner said. “We’ll do some more research … and I’ll seek some feedback from other cities.”