Resident who lobbied for ordinance is enjoying the benefits of backyard chickens

Date: September 6, 2018

This story is featured on page 9 of our 2018 Fall Print Newsletter

In our largely rural township, even a family who lives in a subdivision can have a piece of farm in the backyard. 
That was Jill Wood’s goal when she began lobbying for the Domestic Chicken Ordinance — two years before the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors adopted it on July 18, 2016. Her friend Peter Buckland, who chairs the board,  encouraged her to pursue it on behalf of any  resident who hoped to raise domestic chickens.  “We need someone to get it started,” he told her.
Wood and her three children already had a large vegetable garden in the backyard. Now they are eating fresh eggs for breakfast every day. The six chickens in their care — the maximum number allowed by the ordinance — lay 2 – 3 eggs a day in their nesting box.

Two years have passed since their baby chicks arrived by overnight mail at the downtown post office, warmed by tiny heating packs.  

“Our mail carrier said everyone in the post office was excited when they arrived,” Wood said.
“You have to teach them how to drink as soon as you get them,” she added. “We also made a little playground for them.”

The Wood family’s chickens are more outdoor animals than they are pets, but they might as well be members of the family. Each has a name. Her oldest child and primary chicken helper—daughter Ana—knows which chicken lays each color egg. 
Maam’s eggs are pale brown and freckled; Goldie lays small pale eggs; her sister Evie lays a small, slightly darker brown egg; Trixie lays big pale eggs that are about three inches long; Athena lays green eggs and Honey’s eggs are chocolate brown.  

Wood had a premonition about when they would lay their first eggs, and she was right. Goldie and Evie, both smaller chickens called  bantams, actually laid their first eggs on the same day. The chickens take pride in laying their eggs, which they demonstrate by clucking. 

Keeping chickens is not without surprises and, at times, disappointment.

Full grown at six months, the black, blue and green chicken with a yellow baby turned out to be  a rooster. Because roosters can be aggressive and loud, the Township’s ordinance prohibits keeping roosters. “Scratch,” as they called him, had to go. A friend who was able to keep a rooster took him off their hands.  

Sadly, the family also lost the chicken they called Patsy to a hawk. “We’ve done everything we can to keep our coop safe from predators,” Wood said, “but it was definitely a lesson about the circle  of life.”

The family is diligent about keeping the coop clean, and the chickens are healthy and loved. They chatter in anticipation of getting watermelon rinds as a treat and cuddle when they are held.

From the beginning, the chickens have been a Wood family project. “We did some research and a ton of reading together,” says Wood, who brought the kids with her to the Board of Supervisors meetings where she proposed the ordinance update, and when she met with Director of Planning & Zoning Ray Stolinas and Lindsay Schoch, the Township’s Community Planner. “I wanted the kids to learn how government works,” she said. “Everyone was very helpful.” 

The Ferguson Township Domestic Chicken Ordinance allows residents living in residential districts  to keep up to six chickens, provided you meet certain criteria and obtain a permit.

View the Domestic Chicken Ordinance

If you have any questions about the regulations or want to get a permit to keep chickens, call the Township at (814) 238-4651, or visit at 3147 Research Drive, State College