DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — The Olson family of Dubuque welcomed five new members last week — Gavin, Red, Little Darling, Shade and Copper.
They mostly stay outside and eat bugs, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reported.
Less than two weeks after the Dubuque City Council unanimously voted to allow residents to keep hens for egg production without acquiring a conditional-use permit, the family of four became one of the first in the city to set up a chicken coop. It sits in their backyard on Grove Terrace.
Because of their close proximity to Carnegie-Stout Public Library, Christine Olson said the family’s new feathered friends have drawn a lot of attention.
“We have had lots of people walking by asking questions,” she said. “But that’s OK. It’s an educational opportunity.”
Christine and her husband, Tim, had toyed with the idea of raising chickens for several years as the city redefined its stance on the issue, but they were waiting for the right time and opportunity. It came more quickly than expected.
Olson’s friend Candy Streed raised chickens at her home in Waterloo, Iowa, for the past two years, but was forced to find a new home for the five chickens.
After some searching, she found the perfect match in the Olsons.
“They had really become like pets to her family, and she wanted them to go to the right home,” Olson said. “She had a lot of offers to take one or two of them, but she wanted the whole group to go together.”
The 30- by 48-inch coop at the Olsons’ home was constructed in less than an hour. It includes two fenced-in runs — one 4-by-8 feet and another 4-by-6 feet — that allow the chickens to stretch their legs. The structure is portable, allowing the family to easily move it around their yard. This provides the chickens with fresh grass and bugs, prevents them from damaging one part of the lawn and provides fertilizer throughout the yard.
Growing up in New Jersey, Olson’s family had a large garden and grew a lot of their own food, something she has continued with her family in Dubuque.
“I think that it is important for kids, and everyone, to understand where our food comes from,” Olson said. “The choices we make has an impact on our health, environment and community.”
Olson’s children Dean, 12, and Lena, 7, have taken a major role in caring for the chickens.
“They are both really interested in it,” Olson said. “My son has some sensory issues, really doesn’t like dirty things and is afraid of most animals, but I was amazed that he is going out there and helping feed and care for them. It has really helped him open up a lot.”
It has only been a week, but Olson said the hens have already become like family.
“I didn’t really think that we would see that, especially this quickly, but they really do all have their own roles and unique personalities. They are wonderful birds.”
Cori Burbach, sustainable community coordinator with Sustainable Dubuque, said a handful of people have contacted the city about following in the Olsons’ footsteps.
“We are encouraged that the people interested are asking the right questions,” Burbach said. “The most important thing is that we want to make sure people know how to take care of these animals and are talking to their neighbors before making a decision.”
The city is planning classes to help those interested in raising chickens educate themselves. To sign up for the class, contact Burbach at firstname.lastname@example.org.