Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

In many Wisconsin cities a permit comes before anything else. Chickens and eggs come much later in the process.

Amanda Munz believes she was the first person to obtain a permit in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, following the city’s approval of a chicken ordinance this past summer. The city also approved comprehensive guidelines that must be met to meet permit requirements.

“I grew up with chickens and they’ve almost always been part of my life,” said Munz, who shares the daily care of her chickens with her husband and their three children. “What I love about chickens is that it really helps us become more self-sustaining. We also garden and compost, and chickens really fit well into that lifestyle – reducing our impact and growing our own. We use a lot of eggs and this is one thing we can take out of the commercial chain, which is important for us.”

The quality of their little flock’s eggs can’t be ignored.

“Our eggs are so much more nutritious than those raised on factory farms,” she said. “They taste better. We eat them often, and it’s no problem to go through the four eggs we get every day.”

Keeping poultry also provides valuable therapy.

“Everyone in our family loves chickens, and we learn so much by having them,” she said. “The birds themselves are quite intelligent and have amazing personalities. We’ve spent a lot of time with them since they were chicks. We hold them. We pet them. Anytime we like, we can run out and sit with them.

“Raising chickens really makes us happy.”

Chicken momentum grows

The ability to keep chickens is gaining momentum across the state. There are about two dozen cities in Wisconsin that allow people to keep chickens in the city limits. That’s according to chicken-animal pen creators at omlet.us and other sources. In Dodge, Columbia and Sauk counties cities that allow raising chickens – with a permit – include Baraboo, as many as six chickens, roosters allowed; Columbus, as many as four hens; Fox Lake, as many as four hens; Portage, as many as six hens; Reedsburg, as many as four chickens in zoned areas; and Wisconsin Dells, as many as six hens.

Wisconsin cities in the three counties that have recently considered allowing chickens include Mayville and Waupun. Cities that prohibit keeping chickens include Beaver Dam and Horicon.

Dave Laatsch has been involved with chickens since age 4 on his parents’ farm near Jefferson, Wisconsin. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison he majored in poultry science. He’s worked in the poultry industry throughout his 34-year career as an agriculture instructor and FFA adviser at Beaver Dam High School. He worked two years after retirement for UW-Extension in Dodge County. He continues to raise pedigreed show birds at his home north of Beaver Dam on Highway W.

From his perspective, chickens are less trouble than a lot of other animals.

“Are they more of a nuisance than a dog that barks 24 hours a day?” he said. “I don’t believe so.”

Laatsch is clear that keeping chickens is more a labor of love than an economic driver. There is little payout.

“If it comes down to pure economics, it makes little sense,” he said. “I don’t think that anybody really raises them for the purpose of being competitive with the local suppliers of eggs. That’s not a real factor.”

Chickens take work

George Koepp, a UW-Extension agriculture educator in Columbia County, warns that raising chickens takes a substantial commitment of time, money and effort.

“The first question that needs to be asked is what is your goal? Why do you wish to raise chickens?” he said. “It might be to provide fresh eggs for the family. Just understand that feed costs alone may be more than any income from selling eggs.”

Some municipalities prohibit the selling of eggs and/or butchered chickens from a home location.

“Consider the effort required to care for these animals,” Koepp said. “They need to be fed, watered and checked on two to three times a day – sometimes more often during a hot summer or a cold winter. They need housing and protection from the outside elements. They need protection from predators, which are numerous.

“Feeding and watering equipment is needed. The equipment needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. These facilities can become pricey. You also need a plan for disposal of litter, manure and occasional mortalities. Poultry are subject to viruses, diseases and several types of parasites.

“It’s more about learning the life cycle of the animal, the companionship that they provide and the accomplishment of having a product after completing a task. Children learn where their food comes from, that there are everyday chores that are involved in producing that food rather than getting an economic return. It’s a valuable experience whether it’s in a city backyard or anywhere else. Those are valuable life lessons no matter how you look at it.”

Under ideal conditions a hen can produce from 220 to 250 eggs a year, Laatsch said. Most hens live for a year to a year and a half before being processed for food. Hens kept as pets can live for seven to eight years, although they stop laying eggs at four to five years.

Visit fyi.extension.wisc.edu/poultry for more information.