COPPERAS COVE — The chicken fight began in February after Sgt. Shane Rawlings, with the 206th Military Intelligence Company, received a notice to remove his five pet fowl.
He violated the city’s zoning ordinance because fowl are considered livestock and not permitted in a residential area. But the idea of owning pet chickens originated far from Cove, Rawlings said.
“It came about while I was deployed and trying to finding something to do to de-stress when I returned stateside,” he said. “It was also a way to teach my two sons where their food comes from. I don’t consider my pets as livestock and I think the city is wrong.”
It’s not about reducing a grocery bill, either, said Chelsea Rawlings, in support of her husband’s fight.
“This shows the kids that pets can give back. The chickens eat leftover scraps and we’ve saved so much on waste,” she said. “We keep a garden, too, and use the chicken poop as fertilizer. It all goes hand in hand.”
On Tuesday, the Rawlingses took their grievance to the Copperas Cove City Council meeting, where more than eight residents spoke in support of keeping chickens as pets, which is a growing national movement.
In fact, some nearby cities support the idea. Georgetown’s ordinance states that fowl on residential properties are allowed as long as there is a separation from residences and businesses.
Austin’s code is similar and further states that coops are to be securely built, adequately sized and maintained in a sanitary condition.
However, the Copperas Cove Code of Ordinances has no language pertaining to having fowl as pets, and only vaguely refers to chickens. Article I. General Section 20-7, states the definition of a domestic animal means any head of livestock or any domestic pet; and a domestic pet is one that’s kept for pleasure rather than utility, and is bred and raised to live in or around the habitation of humans and is dependent on people for food and shelter.
Chapter 3 under Animals and Fowls, further states livestock means all domesticated animals … including but not limited to chickens. Under Farm Animals, it states that animals other than household pets … including chickens, are permitted to be kept and maintained … for education or recreation.
However, it is unclear why the City Code Enforcement Office stated that chickens are agricultural animals and not zoned for residential property, even though his fowl are domestic pets, Rawlings said. He also built chicken coops in his backyard to house the fowl.
“The city code leaves the issue open for interpretation,” he said, “and I would like to add to the code a pet exemption for chickens.
“My chickens are pets and they’re not noisy, dirty, smelly, nor do they carry or cause disease or attract pests, and they don’t need a lot of space,” Rawlings said. “I don’t see what the problem is. It’s better than having a dog, which requires more work.”
Rawlings’ neighbor Brianna Randolph agrees.
“I like chickens and we get eggs from them,” she said, referring to the fact that the Rawlingses share the chickens’ eggs with her family. “I have two dogs and they are loud. When I (visit the Rawlings’) it’s so quiet and I welcome that. I grew up in Kempner around chickens and I don’t see what the big deal is. It shouldn’t matter if they’re not bothering anyone.”
For such a small city, Cove should embrace the idea of chickens as pets since its more rural, Chelsea Rawlings said.
Kevin Keller, the city’s spokesman, said residents voiced their concerns very professionally during the council meeting. “Their voice was heard by the council members, mayor and city staff,” he said. “Council has directed the city manager to conduct a council workshop session on the matter, so that will be planned for a future date.”
The Rawlingses had a petition signed by neighbors in support of their fight and received a lot of positive feedback online. Even if he’s not allowed to keep chickens as pets, he will still fight to change the city’s code, Rawlings said.