As the region dealt with its first snowfall of the season Tuesday, Oct. 20, Oliver Tracy was running into the backyard to check on the chickens.

Oliver, 8, likes helping his mom, Emily Tracy, take care of the chickens they raise in their Ward 1 neighborhood. He and a couple friends from the neighborhood dash through the snow to open the coop and let the chickens out into the yard while Tracy dumps a bowl of food in the coop.

Tracy’s chickens have been something of an open secret in the neighborhood for a few years. While chickens have been allowed in areas of Cloquet zoned farm residential, chickens were prohibited in other areas of the city.

That all changed during the City Council’s meeting later on Tuesday. After years of back and forth on the issue, the council approved an ordinance change that allowed chickens on quarter acre lots throughout the city if they obtain a license from the city.

To obtain a license, residents would need to obtain the approval of 75% of the property owners or occupants living within 100 feet of their lot and pay an initial licensing fee of $50. An annual renewal fee of $25 is also required.

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The ordinance approved by the council would allow up to five laying hens on quarter acre lots in all five zoning districts of Cloquet. Roosters remain prohibited, and chickens may not be raised for meat or slaughtered within the city limits. Coops are also required to be secure, well-ventilated structures with a roof and must also be at least 25 feet from residential dwellings on adjacent properties.

Mayor Roger Maki and Ward 5 Councilor Kerry Kolodge said they would have preferred the lot size was limited to a half acre or bigger, but the limited number of eligible properties would likely cause the issue to come back before the council sooner rather than later. Kolodge was also adamant that the lot size requirement not be further reduced.

“I would hope to see that this doesn't get below a quarter acre, no matter who comes to the council with the petition,” Kolodge said. “I prefer the half acre and so do other people, but I'd like to see this be kind of a final vote on the lot size to the best we can predict.”

Oliver Tracy, 8, cuddles a chicken Tuesday, Oct. 20, outside his home in Cloquet. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)
Oliver Tracy, 8, cuddles a chicken Tuesday, Oct. 20, outside his home in Cloquet. (Jamey Malcomb / Pine Journal)

The issue has come before the council multiple times in the past 10 years, most recently in 2019, but did not find support. However, over the summer, the issue began to gain momentum in the city when Tracy started a petition that gained more than 1,000 signatures asking the council to amend its zoning ordinances to allow chickens throughout the city.

Tracy praised the council for its action and touted the benefits of chickens, both for practical reasons and for mental health, particularly as people struggle to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone's mental strength is being put to the test,” Tracy said. “With less human-to-human interaction, our pets may be the next best thing to fulfilling our needs of companionship and company. What better time than now to encourage the ownership of chickens. They are peaceful, low maintenance animals who provide a sense of purpose, as they depend on you ... Along with the ordinance change comes an element of hope, a true gift from our leaders. And it's definitely a bonus to be able to come out of the closet as owning chickens within city limits.”

Tracy’s children have enjoyed playing with the chickens, sometimes carrying them around on their shoulders, taking them sledding and just chasing them around the yard. The animals also teach kids personal responsibility in helping care for and cleaning up after them.

“This was something that needed to go through for many reasons,” Tracy said. “The obvious include egg production, food waste reduction, promotion of a healthy lifestyle and entertainment. The most important reason, however, is for the therapeutic aspect. I am grateful that our city council has chosen the allowance of these harmless little bringers of joy.”