A citizen-led initiative to allow backyard hens in Robins, Iowa, was rejected by the City Council in August 2023. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

ROBINS, Iowa — Chickens won’t be crossing the road into Robins anytime soon, but quashed efforts to allow backyard hens in the town of 3,300 people might lead to broader change.

Advocates who asked for an ordinance change that would have allowed Robins residents to keep a small number of hens were flatly turned down when the Robins City Council voted 3-2 against the measure last month.

Mayor Chuck Hinz noted at the Aug. 7, 2023, meeting that the city has an ordinance on the books — domestic animals such as sheep, horses, cattle, goats, swine, chickens, geese, turkeys, pheasants and ducks can be kept on properties with more than 5 acres in the city — which “works fine” and doesn’t need to be changed.

Public Safety Coordinator Dick Pilcher said that he had “done his own survey,” noting that he
walks a lot and talked with several people and found no interest in changing the ordinance.

Both seemingly disregarded the meetings since March, when advocates began asking for a change to allow up to eight hens per property, with no roosters, and a petition drive that collected more than 200 signatures.

Among other points, the petition noted that chickens provide families with fresh eggs and nutrition-rich fertilizer.

Other Iowa cities, such as Cedar Rapids, Palo and Iowa City, have made changes to allow backyard chickens in recent decades, with most using a permit process.

Related: Chickens allowed “free range” in North Liberty

In addition to those who advocated for the change in prior months, four residents spoke at the Aug. 7 meeting in favor of allowing backyard chickens, with none opposed.

“Urban chickens are a progressive way of the future as more families are looking for ways to add self sustainable practices into their daily lives,” said Allison Sorensen, one of those who had advocated for the change.

Sorensen said the group was advised that the measure couldn’t be brought up again with the current City Council, as they denied their request.

In addition to Pilcher, council members JD Smith and Marilyn Cook opposed the measure, with Dave Franzman and Roger Overbeck voting in favor of the change.

The group may return next spring if new council members are elected, Sorensen added.

That might happen, as at least one of the backyard hen advocates so far has filed to run for the Robins City Council, with another, perhaps, in the wings.

Tyler Turner decided to run, not just because of the council’s denial of the citizens’ request, but after attending a number of meetings “was really turned off by the attitude and behavior of the council and in particular the mayor.”

“It took six months just to get put on an agenda to have a discussion around chickens where it was shot down in two minutes,” Turner said. “I would like to see some new blood on the City Council, whether it’s me or someone else. Robins needs some new perspectives. I have experience on boards and committees, but zero experience at the city government level, and I think that is actually what Robins needs right now. Somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing will ask questions and more importantly, listen. I think that would be a big change from the current council as everyone’s minds are made up before any issue is taken up and the default is to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.”

More: Iowa City couple transforms cow pasture into farmstead and dream home