Des Moines should end fowl offal

Photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn via Upslash.

Patrick Kean’s new Beaverdale neighbor told him they planned to get some chickens.

“I was thinking two or three birds,” Kean said.

The neighbor instead installed a chicken coop with about 20 birds.

“It’s right next to my back stoop,” Kean said.

Kean looked up city code for rules governing ownership of fowl.

He found the code confusing.

One section of the code seemed to say no birds were allowed. Another section of code seemed to say no more than two birds. Yet another section indicated no more than 30.

Kean sent me the passages of city code he went over. They confused me, too.

I suggested Kean email the mayor, city manager and the entire council. I found that got a quick response in the past.

I incorrectly suggested Kean call the Des Moines Community Development Department. When I called them, they told me the city’s animal control unit handles enforcement on those codes.

Chris Wilber of animal control called me back. He clarified the code.

Des Moines allows up to 30 birds on a property less than one acre. You can own up to two different species – say ducks and geese.

Roosters are allowed, but “you have to shut them up,” Wilber said. “How you’re supposed to shut up a rooster, I don’t know, but apparently some people think you can.”

Any area the birds have access to must be 25 feet away from the nearest neighbor’s house.

If Kean’s measurements are correct, his neighbor is likely violating city code. All he needs to do is call animal control and file a complaint.

My question is why he has to deal with this at all.

I get it. Not everybody in Des Moines is so privileged as to be me, an unemployed morbidly obese white guy who only wants chicken slathered in buffalo sauce on cheap wing night at Jethro’s.

There are many people with many cultural traditions in Des Moines. Some of those people raise chickens at home, even in urban spaces.

And I understand there are hobby farmers who believe raising their own eggs and meat is healthier.

This notion reminds me of a line by comedian Mike Lawrence about eating free-range chickens with his mom.

“Oh, Mom! You can really taste the hope of escape in every delicious bite,” Lawrence said.

I admit my bias against chickens. I hate them. I grew up in rural Madison County on an acreage about a mile away from a major egg production farm.

A hog farm wasn’t too far away.

Which smell of animal feces we got at our home depended on which way the wind blew.

People grouse about the smell of hog farms, which livestock farmers call the smell of “money.”

Well, that money stinks enough to water your eyes and choke you on a hot summer day.

But as bad as hog feces smells, I would have that scent chemically recreated in a perfume lab and wear it as a cologne rather than grab a whiff of chicken feces.

Pardon the achingly obvious pun, but fowl are the most wretched offal.

I tolerated these odors in Madison County because we lived in the country. We had no business complaining about the egg farm than a suburbanite who moves to the country does complaining about dirt clouds on gravel roads.

This is the way of things in the country. If you don’t like it, move to the city.

Because in the city there aren’t supposed to be gravel roads or chicken farms.

I know 20 or 30 chickens do not make a large-scale operation. But they do make a stink.

Kean said the odor was strong over the Memorial Day weekend, which was wet. He worried about the smell on warmer, dry days.

He should. Chicken poop smells terrible.

The Des Moines City Council considered a modification to this ordinance a few years ago.

All of the “I should be able to do whatever I want wherever I want” types showed up. A good number of “I just want to enjoy my property without the stink” people did, too.

The council tabled the issue. I lost track of it after that when my former paragraph factory sent me off to other things.

The gist of the council’s argument back then was to strike a balance between city residents who don’t want to deal with farm smells and city residents who want to pretend to be farmers.

I argue the city should tighten up the code. Windsor Heights allows no more than two birds. That strikes me as reasonable.

But since I always want Des Moines to be more open-minded than Windsor Heights — a city where the residents actively oppose sidewalks — I’ll say six birds.

You can have three pairs of bird friends 25 feet or more away from the neighbors.

Any more chickens than that, I suggest people go shopping for land in rural Madison County.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at


  1. Joyce Schneider says:

    Totally disgusting to have chickens living next door! If someone wants to raise chickens move to a rural area. I recall the ‘foul’ smell of a chicken house next to a family home. Des Moines City Code needs updating!


  2. Rhonda Gammell says:

    Wanted to donate by mail but cannot locate mailing address. I’m Old School; don’t do Pay Pal. I do know how to do emojis. 😉


    1. Daniel P. Finney, 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, IA 50311


  3. Bridget Brass says:

    Chickens don’t belong in city neighborhoods.


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