Fowl play on the west side of Rhinelander
Jenny Van Order has never considered herself a trailblazer but she has four, dusky black chickens that prove otherwise. Jenny is the first person in the city of Rhinelander to take advantage of a new ordinance that allows in-town residents to tend small flocks of chickens.
In fact, this enthusiastic urban homesteader was instrumental in getting the ordinance passed that allows chicken tending within the city limits.
“I’ve really gotten into urban homesteading and wanted that to include being able to raise chickens,” said Jenny. “I knew it would be somewhat of an uphill battle but I was determined to try and get permission to do it.”
Jenny was raised in Rhinelander and has always loved growing her own food. In fact, the small yard that surrounds her quaint and cozy home on the west side of the city is packed with grape vines, a flourishing garden, herbs and flowers. It was only natural to include chickens in the mix especially after she visited other cities that allowed backyard poultry.
“I have friends who live near downtown Madison and their yard is five times smaller than mine and they are raising chickens,” she said. “And there are towns all over Wisconsin that allow backyard chickens such as Eagle River and Merrill.”
Jenny also thought getting the ordinance passed would make the city a more attractive place for young people and those turning toward more sustainable lifestyles.
“It’s about being progressive and forward thinking,” she said. “So many times kids grow up in Rhinelander and then they move away. I think getting this ordinance passed could make a big difference with that.”
Jenny worked with Rhinelander Fire Department Chief Terry Williams and Alex Young, a Rhinelander city councilman to create the ordinance.
“Alex and I went to high school together so we are buddies and Terry was just wonderful to work with,” she said. “They have both been so supportive.”
Some of the provisions of the ordinance include no roosters; up to four birds allowed; no slaughtering of chickens; no chickens in front yards and there is lengthy language on coop dimensions and how far they must be setback from neighbors. Another inclusion in the ordinance is that all surrounding neighbors must be notified of the project and any objections would be subject to a committee meeting. The cost of the permit is $75 and there is a yearly renewal fee of $25.
“I’m hoping as time goes by and there are hopefully no complaints, that maybe the permit fee will go down so more people can afford to have their own chickens,” said Jenny.
Before a coop can be constructed an applicant has to present a plan to the city’s inspection department and then someone from the department will come out and do an inspection to make sure all bases are covered. Birds have to be contained in fenced-in coops that are tastefully constructed.
Once Jenny had her permit in hand she started on her project. Her father, Steve Schramke, built the coop.
“He’s my hero,” she said with a smile.
Then Jenny, along with her husband, Ivan, fenced in the area around the structure. Jenny acquired four attractive Black Rock hens from Steve Richardson (also known as the Chicken Man, especially at the many Farmer’s Markets he participates in) and they have been happy and contented city residents since earlier this month.
“I was so excited to actually have this dream come true,” said Jenny. “I love sitting in my backyard and watching my birds. It is so much fun and the eggs are so worth it.”
Jenny’s chickens have inspired her so much that she started a Facebook page, Backyard Chickens of Rhinelander, to encourage other urban homesteaders to consider the possibility of having their own flock. In fact, she will be featured in the nationally known magazine Mother Earth Living in the near future.
“I would love to help other city residents get started if they want to have chickens,” she said, “whatever it takes to promote urban homesteading and living sustainably.”