HARKER HEIGHTS — Since Billy and Kyong Tipton moved to Harker Heights in 1972, the city’s population has grown from 4,500 to almost 28,000 people in a 15-square-mile area, making it denser than Temple, Belton and Oklahoma City.
But the couple is still fighting to maintain Billy Tipton’s rural hobby of raising chickens.
“We have to change as the city changes, but we still need a little freedom,” said Billy Tipton, 76, who lives on West Dove Lane. “Part of it is to have chickens.”
He recalled his hometown of Kelso, Ark., which consisted of a cotton gin and a country store when he left in the mid-1950s.
“You can take a country boy to the city, but you can’t take the country out of the boy,” Tipton said. “The country is still in the boy.”
But the chickens are out of the coop.
After rooster-raising neighbors asked animal control inspectors why they couldn’t raise fowl if the Tiptons could, the officers sent both flocks packing in early June, with the Tiptons’ cooping up on a family friend’s property in south Killeen.
Now, a 360-square-foot, wire-roofed, latticed, sprinkler-lined hen house sits empty along the Tiptons’ back fence.
An ordinance requiring 250 feet between chickens and surrounding homes caused the fowl action and cut into Tipton’s hobby, he said.
City Manager Steve Carpenter can waive the required distance to no less than 75 feet, and Tipton’s waiver application has been submitted.
Why have the Tiptons fought for a month to raise chickens?
“Do you raise a dog for any purpose?” Billy Tipton said. “You feed them, and you give them water. It takes the place of things that other people have, that we don’t have, we don’t want. ... It’s a halfway hobby.”
Tipton’s enclosure is within 75 feet of a neighbor’s house, Carpenter said.
“I think there is a place in the yard where you might be able to get that 75 feet,” he said.
But the hen house is immobile, poled into concrete.
The application remains on the table, and must pass through animal control, Police Chief Mike Gentry and Carpenter. If anyone denies the request, the Tiptons can appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which could overturn the ruling if a hardship is demonstrated.
Along with distance, another component of any waiver decision is neighbor opinions, Carpenter said.
The closest neighbor is indifferent to chickens, as long as they’re quiet.
“I like them fried,” said Rick Alton, who lives on West Ruby Road. “We didn’t even know he had any chickens. … I don’t care as long as it doesn’t wake everyone up. Mr. Tipton has always been a good neighbor.”
Next-door neighbor and three-year Harker Heights resident Joshua Besse said clucking hens would be relaxing and remind him of his Alabama farm.
But some residents are opposed.
Lemmie Barrow lives diagonally behind the Tiptons. He told surveying animal control officers he didn’t want chickens nearby, because their eggs could intensify his snake problem.
“My landlord said, ‘If it’s one, it’s two. They’re breeding,’” Barrow said.
Tipton said the city was cooperating with him, but he isn’t satisfied.
“If somebody takes away a little of your privilege, you don’t feel good, whether it’s chickens or what,” Tipton said.
“If they was to ... say I couldn’t have a boat parked here, I’d have to get rid of it, but I wouldn’t feel good; and it’s my boat, it’s my property.”
Tipton has invested roughly $500 in his chicken supplies, he said.
“I’ve got to eat a lot of eggs to pay it back.”