CAMDEN, Maine — It was a royal homecoming for six of Sarah Ruef-Lindquist and Peter Lindquist’s chickens, which had been banned since February from their cozy “poulet palais” in the couple’s Mount Battie Street backyard.
With soft clucking and squawking barely audible over Friday morning’s torrential downpour, one of “the girls,” as Ruef-Lindquist affectionately calls the hens, hopped into her favorite wooden box and settled into the business of laying an egg.
It was a homey, everyday moment — but it took five months and one ordinance change in order to happen.
“I wanted to get chickens because we wanted to do something to reduce our carbon footprint and eat locally,” said Ruef-Lindquist, who is a consultant for nonprofit organizations.
She got that, and more: the chance to be a pro-backyard chicken lobbyist after town officials started enforcing an ordinance that banned animals other than household pets from living on property of less than 2.5 acres.
Their half-acre lot didn’t fit the bill, and so the couple’s dozen chickens headed down to stay with friends in Bremen until the situation could be sorted out.
On Tuesday, Camden residents voted 557-384 to approve a zoning change that allows up to nine small farm animals on lots of less than 2.5 acres.
“I’m crowing,” Ruef-Lindquist said after learning of the outcome of the vote.
Their friends wanted to keep some of the chickens, so they split up the hens and only half came home.
Ruef-Lindquist raved about the chickens’ delicious, organic eggs and the hours of entertainment she gets watching them peck around their pen.
The Camden vote is the latest in a spate of Maine and national decisions to allow chickens in more urban neighborhoods. “Urban farming” is a growing trend, and Maine communities including Portland, South Portland, Falmouth, Westbrook and Biddeford — along with slightly larger places such as New York City and San Francisco — allow chickens.
Though some people have had questions about potential noise, odor and health problems that could be raised along with the chickens, Ruef-Lindquist said that her hens’ 8-foot-by-10-foot shingled shed is kept tidy and odor-free.
“We just can’t imagine a better way to create a local protein source, improve the environment and build community than having chickens,” she said.
Roosters are still forbidden under Camden’s ordinance to live on smaller in-town lots, and the selling of eggs or meat is prohibited.
Ruef-Lindquist’s neighbor Susan Dorr said now that chickens are allowed on smaller lots, she’s going to start her own small flock.
“We are thrilled with the outcome of the vote,” Dorr said. “We are very excited about the prospect of having chickens, now that they’re legal.”