- March 12, 2013
Backyard chickens are walking on eggshells in Maitland, with the City Council set to decide whether the city’s feathered pets will be allowed to roost in the city on a permanent basis or be forced to fly the coop.
The city’s 18-month backyard chicken pilot program, which allowed a limited number of residents to house up to four hens in backyard coops within city limits, ends next week, leaving the Council to decide on Monday if they want to make the practice permanent or send the hens packing. The debate has pilot program participants egging on the Council to not chicken out and keep the program in place for good.
Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil falls on both sides of the fence, as a chicken keeper and a Council member. She said she doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers, but can’t think of any reason why chicken keeping shouldn’t be allowed in the city. She said her three hens – Fifi, Chicopee and Olive – have become part of the family, just as much as a cat or dog would.
“They really are pets,” she said. But better than a dog or a cat, she added, they give something back: a plethora of fresh eggs.
Goff-Marcil is one of only six city residents to apply to house chickens, despite the 50-household limit allotted by the pilot program. Maitland’s Community Development Director Dick Wells said that of those applicants, four households are still actively keeping coops. There have been no bad eggs so far, he said, with each coop passing code enforcement inspection and no complaints filed by neighbors regarding their new feathered neighbors.
Goff-Marcil keeps watch over her flock as they freely roam her fenced-in lakefront backyard. She hand feeds them leftover cold spaghetti – an unexpected favorite chicken treat – and laughs as the hens chase each other around as Chicopee carries a day-old Publix croissant in her beak and Fifi and Olive ruffle around her in circles pecking for a bite.
“I don’t think people know much about [backyard chickens],” she said. “I don’t think they know how much fun it is to have them.”
Goff-Marcil said she was inspired to start her own coop by her mother, who was the first to apply and install a coop in her backyard when the Maitland pilot program was launched in the fall of 2013.
Ninety-year-old Hilda Goff said keeping chickens keeps her young, gives her something to care for now that her own nest is empty and her children are grown, and takes her back to childhood when she grew up with a much larger flock on her family farm in Ocala.
“It’s just a way of life that makes my life better…I wake up everyday with a happy heart,” she said. “They’re my favorite pets.”
“They’re always happy and, of course, they’re always acting like they’re hungry,” she said with a laugh.
Her four hens – Irene, Cindy Lou, Lady Bird and Sparkle Plenty – keep her heart and belly happy, she said, keeping her stocked with an average of two eggs a day.
“It’s like Easter every day,” Goff said as she glances out of her dining room window – clad with chicken-patterned curtains – out toward her coop where her daily egg hunts take place.
Goff and Goff-Marcil agree that the Maitland backyard chicken-keeping ordinance is stricter than they’d like it to be. The ordinance mandates that those looking to house chickens must pay a $50 application fee and take a chicken-keeping class.
“For a cat or a dog you don’t have to pay $50 and go to a class, but you do for a chicken,” Goff-Marcil said.
Mayor Dale McDonald, who helped hatch the ordinance as a then-member of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, said he hasn’t heard any cackling from residents complaining about the chickens and doesn’t expect the program to get scratched.
“As long as they’re not intrusive … I don’t have any ax to grind with the chickens,” he said.
For now, Goff and Goff-Marcil are keeping all their eggs in one basket, hoping on Monday the City Council members don’t put up a squawk, and agree to keep backyard chickens in Maitland.