Rock Springs Residents Divided Over Backyard Chicken Debate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A dispute launched by a barking dog has led to spirited debate among Rock Springs residents over — chickens.

On Tuesday night, the Rock Springs City Council was to vote on whether it would begin a review of a proposed ordinance that would allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards.

However, two city councilmen told Cowboy State Daily that they thought the proposal would probably be defeated, although by a narrow margin.

Ward II Councilman Tim Savage told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that the issue surfaced about a month ago when resident Mackenzie Bertagnolli was found to have 12 chickens in her backyard in violation of city ordinances.

“(The owner of the chickens) called 911 and complained about her neighbor’s dog barking and I can imagine the dog was going crazy because she had 12 chickens,” Savage said. “Animal control comes in and talks to the neighbor about her dog and she told them that (Bertagnolli) has 12 chickens.”

Bertagnolli was told to rehome the poultry and she moved the chickens to an area north of Rock Springs, she said in a post on the Facebook Page “Sweetwater County Rants and Raves.”

Bertagnolli said in her post she had the chickens for two years and they never caused any problems.

As a result of the incident, Bertagnolli is trying to convince the council to pass an ordinance allowing city residents to raise up to 15 chickens so she can sell eggs.

In her post, Bertagnolli urged interested residents to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Other cities in Wyoming, such as Cheyenne and Casper, allow residents to have up to six chickens. In Cheyenne, a person is required to get permission from their neighbors before obtaining chickens, though.

In the last month, Savage said he has regularly received calls and emails from his constituents about chickens, with the majority of the messages he has received opining against allowing chickens in the city.

“I’ve gotten some really long emails from people, I mean pages, where people are talking about the avian flu, how chickens attract rats, mice and bugs, the smell and the noise they cause,” he said. “Whereas the pro-chicken people are saying that if you don’t want chickens, you’re taking food off of their kids’ plate. I don’t know how expensive eggs are going to get, but I can’t imagine they’re going over $3 a dozen.”

Ward I councilman Tim Robinson said his constituents’ reaction to backyard chickens is more evenly divided, but those against raising poultry in town slightly outnumber those who support it.

“You can find arguments supporting both sides of this debate, especially when you look at cities like Cheyenne and Sheridan, where they don’t have that many problems with chickens,” he said. “As for the noise complaints, I’ll just say I worked as a cop for 30 years, I never responded to a chicken call. I did respond to an alligator call, badgers in town, coyotes roaming around, but barking dogs more than anything else.”

Some have raised concerns about the potential spread of avian flu from chickens to humans, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that there is a low risk for humans with the current strain found among domesticated poultry.

The Facebook group “Sweetwater County Rants and Raves” has seen a major divide between those who support and those who oppose having chickens in the city, along with an uptick in photos and memes posted by people who see the humor in the debate.

One post contained a photograph of a UFO-shaped chicken coop while another featured a video from Australia showing chicken racing. Another meme showed a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken that read “Backyard chickens, been feeding families for years.”

“RS should get chickens so we can have chicken racing,” wrote the poster, identified as John de Boss.

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