Stepping out the door of his Nicollet Island home, Peat Willcütt crunched through fallen leaves, making his way toward the sound of clucking and crowing.
He reached into a bucket, pulled out a handful of feed and sprinkled it before a crowd of chickens, who eagerly picked at the ground.
“I love the general ambiance of having the chickens around,” he said. “There’s just kind of a nice thing about watching them run around all crazy and do their thing.”
Willcütt, a 24-year-old recent University of Minnesota graduate, raises a group of more than 30 hens and roosters and a slew of other animals with 10 nearby households. On top of providing eggs, meat and manure for compost, they’re just fun to have around, he said.
He’s one of many who partake in the growing trend of keeping chickens in the city. There are currently about 120 people who hold permits to raise chickens in Minneapolis and 86 more applications are in the works, said Connie Bourque, administrative analyst with Minneapolis Animal Care and Control. In 2008, there were 80 permits, almost double that of 2007.
In actuality, there are between 1,000 and 2,000 chicken farmers in the metro area, Willcütt said.
Some attribute the uptick to the “locavore” movement, as more and more people strive to be knowledgeable about the origin of their food. About 90 percent of those who keep chickens do so for companionship and eggs, chicken supporter Mary Britton Clouse said.
Careful what you wish for
The trend has major consequences for those whose jobs are to ensure that all chickens in the city are cared for.
Britton Clouse runs Chicken Run Rescue, an organization that provides temporary care and arranges adoptions for homeless chickens. In the past seven months, she’s gotten 222 calls from people seeking homes for their unwanted chickens. In the past, they would get between 30 and 40 inquiries the entire year.
Many who decide to raise chickens because they want to eat local don’t invest in the appropriate shelter, veterinary care or food and ultimately hand them off to shelters or abandon them, Clouse said.
“They need to remember that they’re dealing with a living creature that’s extremely sensitive and intelligent,” she said.
Those interested in keeping chickens in the city must apply for a permit and get approval from 80 percent of their neighbors within 100 feet of their property.
Although there is no limit on the number of chickens a single household can have, MACC takes special precaution when inspecting the premises of large flocks, Bourque said. In addition, it’s more difficult for those with a lot of chickens to get their neighbors’ consent, she said.
A number of groups in the city have begun to offer city chicken farming courses, including Chicken Run Rescue and the Linden Hills Co-op.
The Seward Co-op has been offering courses since they opened their new location 10 months ago. Event coordinator Claudia Rhodes said they have been very popular.
“They’re really cropping up,” she said, adding that she’s seen quite a few chicken coops near her home in Seward. “It’s become a popular pastime for people who like animals in the city.”
Cynthia Fetzer, owner of Camden Pet Hospital, taught attendees at one of the classes how to care for their chickens’ health. It’s important to get regular internal and external parasite checks and make sure chickens have a nutritional diet and that newcomers are not carrying contagious diseases.
Fun for the whole family
Last October, when Heidi Huebner got a call from the post office at 6 a.m. to pick up her chicks, she could hear them peeping in the background.
A year later, the 33-year-old Longfellow resident, her husband and two daughters adore the chickens, which are more companions than pets, she said.
While her family gets three to six eggs a day from their chickens, Huebner said she cares more about maintaining a sustainable lifestyle in which she knows exactly where her food comes from.
“It was a transformation for our family to have a more intimate experience with our food,” she said.