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Where farm meets city

n City of St. Helens discusses allowing goats in city limits; chickens, rabbits, ducks already present


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Week-old chicks at Columbia Electric Feed and Seed in St. Helens make themselves comfortable under lights. Store owner Doug Ganson says the chicks go quickly each year.Chickens and rabbits are already allowed within the St. Helens city limits. Now some residents are asking, “Why not goats, too?”

At the St. Helens City Council work session April 3, Councilor Ginny Carlson presented an e-mail she’d received asking the council to consider allowing the “livestock” animal inside city limits.

Keeping farm animals in urban spaces has become more and more popular throughout the Pacific Northwest. One group in Portland has even held “coop tours,” ferrying people through the city to look at different urban farmers’ take on the simple chicken coop.

For St. Helens resident Sally Gump, who has kept chickens for the last four years — they strut contentedly around her landscaped yard, clucking and warbling at each other — it’s all about the fresh eggs. She’s very much in favor of the city allowing goats, too, although she’s not sure she’d add one to her own yard.

It’s not the first time the goat question has been raised, said Mayor Randy Peterson. During his tenure as mayor, the question has come up a handful of times, but the city has traditionally stuck to its city code which prohibits the keeping of livestock, bees, more than three adult dogs, exotic animals and wildlife within city limits. Roosters, with their tendency to crow loudly early in the morning, are also not allowed.

Hens, ducks and rabbits, in limited numbers, are permitted. If people want more than the allowed three chickens, for instance, they have to request an animal facility license from the city.

But chickens are one thing. Goats are another.

“For the most part, most of the lots in town are small lots,” Peterson said. “So there’s really not the room.”

Also, with tight budgets across the board for all city departments, there’s the question of who would handle goat complaints.

“We’re probably going to have fewer people to do that,” Peterson said. “It’s just kind of a logistical issue.”

Goat on a rope

Goats, with their odd rectangular pupils, their head-butting, leaping, curious, winsome, sometimes-destructive, sometimes-useful ways, draw a mixed response from St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh who calls himself a “recovering goat owner.” Even thinking back on raising male goats is enough to make him shudder.

Uncastrated male goats, he said, are terrible, terrible animals: They smell nasty and often behave badly. Female goats are different, and he understands the appeal.

“It’s a growing trend,” he said.

Still, echoing Peterson, opening up the city gates to goats might be complicated.

“If you have good people who really want them, who are managing them well, it probably won’t be a problem,” Walsh said. “But some people just want a goat on a rope, thinking it will mow their lawn for them.”

It probably won’t — though it might go for everything else, Walsh said.

Nearby Scappoose has what Walsh terms a “good neighbor” policy when it comes to livestock in city limits. If the animal is not living in squalor, is well maintained and not creating any noise, at-large or smell nuisances, Scappoose residents are free to keep it.

The system seems to work. The Scappoose Police Department says officers respond more often to human garbage, high grass and vehicles complaints than to chicken complaints.

Walsh expects the goat question to move forward in St. Helens, though the council will need to think carefully about wording if they decided to allow goats.

“When you start getting prescriptive about the size of the lot, the type of the shelter, what kind of fencing ... someone could have all these factors and it can still be a problem,” he said

A simpler life

A fluffy pile of pale yellow, week-old chicks settles down for a morning snooze in boxes at Columbia Electric Feed and Seed in St. Helens.

It’s not hard for the average person to get started raising chickens, said owner Doug Ganson. They need feeders, water, lights and a warm place to bed down. Feed might cost anywhere from $20 to $40 a month. Every spring, he orders hundreds of chicks and ducklings and has seen an increased number of people coming in to buy them.

Gump built her own coop. It has multiple levels with a lower caged area for keeping young chicks, when she has them, and then straw-filled nesting areas for the mature, egg-laying birds. On an average day, her birds will lay at least two eggs each.

“You don’t really make a profit at it,” she said about keeping chickens in the city. “And they can really scratch up your garden, but they’re great for slugs and bugs.”

They’re also soothing.

“If you like having a calmer lifestyle, it’s relaxing to just sit out here and watch them communicate with each other and interact,” she said.

On the topics of chickens, ducks, goats, gardens: “I think people are now doing it because it’s a simpler part of life,” she said. “They’re thinking about what they’re eating and how they’re living.”