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Michigan girl inspires changes to township's animal rules

By Jackie Smith/The Times Herald (AP) • Mar 27, 2018 at 6:30 PM

PORT HURON — Avery Baker just wanted to raise a few chickens, but her family's Harsens Island property was half an acre shy of the minimum allowed to raise livestock recreationally in Clay Township.

So she wrote Township Supervisor Artie Bryson hoping to inspire some change — and she did.

A year after Avery's letter in March 2017, when she was age 9, the township is tweaking its rules for recreational animals. An ordinance change was approved by the planning commission in February, The Times Herald reported.

After it goes through St. Clair County's Metropolitan Planning Commission, it will return to Clay for township board approval.

"There are always so many, and I've always seen people getting them," Avery said, talking about a trip to a Tractor Supply Company store where she saw chicks. "And there's some farms on the island, so that was making me want to produce some eggs."

The now 10-year-old said she wanted about eight chickens to produce eggs for "probably baking and cooking a lot of things."

Flipping through a kids' book about chickens with her mom, Jennifer Baker, Avery said she'd gotten the idea to write Bryson from her parents.

"I actually didn't take it seriously. I thought he would just write her a letter and say, 'Oh, Avery. That's just the ordinance and there's nothing we can really do about it,'" said Jennifer Baker. "I didn't think that he would say, 'Well, maybe she's right. Maybe we should change it.' I didn't think he would take it that far. I think it's great."

"I just told her, if it was something she was really passionate about (she should)," Baker added. "All he could say was no. But he actually said yes."

As is, Clay Township's animal ordinance allows up to 25 chickens on properties that are at least 2 acres in size.

Proposed changes would allow residents to keep up to six chickens on properties smaller than 2 acres. Those changes, however, would keep the general 2-acre rule, while allowing residents to keep certain numbers of recreational animals or pet livestock for non-commercial purposes.

The 2-acre rule also allows for up to 10 turkeys and geese; one horse, mule, donkey or cow; and two goats, sheep, hogs and other similar animals.

In her letter, Avery told Bryson she and her mom had visited the township office after locating "the perfect coop" and how she was disappointed to find out the rules.

"And since you are a township supervisor, I thought that if you have more than 1 acre but less than 2, you should be able to have 1-15 chickens because I think that is just not fair!" she wrote. "I get that if you want free-roam chickens you need 2 acres, but I just don't understand. So can you please talk it over with the other supervisors and see if you can get the law changed?"

Bryson read the letter aloud at a township board meeting last spring.

A letter in reply to Avery that April outlined the options and invited her family to a planning commission meeting where the change was discussed.

"I remember growing up as a kid. I had chickens and pet ducks and that stuff," Bryson said earlier this month. "I think it's good to have the option, as long as they have (enough) property and no issues with neighbors. And I think the planning commission made sure of that. Urban farming is becoming more and more popular."

Avery said she had not yet decided what kind of chickens she wanted. And while she planned to give them names, she said she probably wouldn't think of them as pets.

She said she was surprised to learn a lot of things in preparation for getting chickens.

"There is a lot of work involved and you can get different ages of chickens, and there's a lot of different types," Avery said. "There are a lot of things they can and can't eat. There's certain types of vegetables that they can have, and each different type has different eating habits."

Dave Struck, the county's executive director of metro planning, said they are currently reviewing Clay Township's ordinance changes. He said it'll be on the commission's March 21 agenda.

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