Growing Birds in the Garden City


Why did the chicken cross Missoula Ave? Perhaps to say hello to the new neighbors, Quail and Duck! Yes, in October, Missoula City Council Members voted 8-1 to expand the existing rule of owning chickens in Zootown to include quail and ducks. The new regulations will allow you to have up to ten quail, or up to six chickens or ducks.

I live outside of city limits, so my eight adopted chickens rule the roost. But for folks in town that want a little bit of country, fowling up seems to be the fad these days! So what is the allure of these quacking, squawking, silly looking birds?


Adoption day: a great gift from our friends Laurie and Jim. Photo by Jen Slayden

For me it may be sentimental. As the kids leave the nest, I’m feeling the need to fill it back up with outdoor creatures. I don’t know anything better for my ego than actually winning arguments when I am being talked back to! Plus, their eggs are DELICIOUS! The fact that I can just go out to the backyard and pick up my breakfast from the coop has been an amazing benefit. I now have a place to throw scraps besides the garbage or compost, and next spring I will have wonderful fertilizer for the garden.


We repurposed an old garden shed and made a “chick” walk out to the outdoor garden. Photo by Jen Slayden

For some folks, the love runs really deep, as with Erika Voss Hickey and her family.


Photo by Erika Voss-Hickey

“I’m in love with our chickens. We love them, my kids are very comfortable with them and hold them often, which I think is key to having them in your yard. It is good to have a socialized chicken. They love people and generally make a bee-line for the back door, looking for snacks, when one of us heads out back. They don’t need much food (we feed them a lot of scraps), water, scratch and love = happy chickens. We’ve lost a few to neighborhood dogs, old age, etc. And, they give us delicious delicious eggs. We live outside of city limits, so we haven’t any restrictions as to how many we can have. We’ve just found that 5-7 is manageable for our family of four. Our chickens are free range, we don’t keep them in a run, they roam our backyard eating bugs, greens, etc. We do have to fence our garden, they will wreak havoc in a garden. Their poop is amazing compost for our yard, they eat our weeds, and they are just very entertaining to watch – like tiny dinosaurs.”


Photo by Erika Voss-Hickey

Of course, in town, regulations are a bit more strict for bird keepers. Male species are not allowed. Primarily this is to control the population, but also because not all neighbors want that country feel in town, and a rooster waking neighbors up every morning can get awfully annoying!

I won’t go into details regarding all the regulations for keeping fowl in town, but it is important to know the City of Missoula Ordinances and buy a permit for your birds. Also, keep in mind that if you are a property owner you may have restrictive covenants or homeowner association regulations that need to be checked. If you are a renter, you must receive permission from the landlord/tenant to keep fowl.


Photo by Erika Voss-Hickey

Keeping chickens seems easier to me than owning our dog. We have to run or walk our dog. Our chickens run in circles. Nonetheless, I encourage you to educate yourself regarding how to keep chickens healthy and happy. There are a lot of great resources available online, and important information about coops, feed, space, and how to care for your flock. Here is a great website that leads you to some of the best articles on raising chicks.


Photo by Erika Voss Hickey

When is the best time to get chickens? Many people opt for the spring, when the little chicks arrive. I opted for autumn, as our adoptees were full grown chickens. I am not worried at all about the cold winter ahead. Chickens, like all of us Montana humans and animals, are hearty and they don’t need sweaters. You just need to make sure that they get enough feeds and poultry grit.

As my friend Kathy Klinge, reminds us with the following rant:

“Okey dokey. Pet peeve time here. All those ‘cute’ articles about knitting sweaters for your chickens to keep them warm in the winter. Complete bull**** folks. The average chicken has over 8500 feathers that can be fluffed up to trap warm air and body heat. Listen carefully. By putting a sweater on a chicken, you are actually interfering with their bodies natural ability to keep themselves warm. I’ve had hens for 9 years now, and have never lost one to the cold. Nary a sweater to be seen in my flock.”  


Photo by Erika Voss Hickey

The only issue I’ve had was a couple of hens with bigger combs getting frostbite on the tips. Never had a bird shivering or huddling for warmth. I did insulate my chicken coop, but the only heater is for the water. The biggest issue for them in the winter is moisture.”

She adds, “Keep your coop clean and dry and you should have no problems.”

Now that sounds like something I would say to my teenagers.


One of my favorites- meet Oreo. Despite the name, she will never be eaten! Photo by Jen Slayden.

Happy Nesting,



Jennifer Slayden bioJen Slayden wears many hats: Mother, Real Estate Agent with Main Street Realty, teacher for the non profit music program Center for Music, UM alumni, runner, and supporter of all things local. Her RealChange program dedicates a generous amount of her Real Estate commissions to be given back locally to organizations of her client’s choice. You can find her on Facebook, or give her a call at 406-370-0300.