TERRELL HILLS — Beth Tuder and her family own fine-feathered friends named Birdie, Mona, Loco, Goldie, Hawk and Raven.
The Tuders have raised chickens on their property since 2016, and said they’ve done so responsibly.
But, a neighbor’s recent complaint about the birds sent the Tuders to City Hall hoping to change the rules on owning poultry inside city limits.
So far, municipal leaders have scratched the idea, telling the Tuders to get rid of the animals. However, the Tuder family and other local chicken owners learned from the city it was OK to form a residents’ committee to explore the matter further.“I wouldn’t say that the door was permanently shut, but at the present time there doesn’t appear to be any interest amongst the (City) Council to change the ordinance,” Mayor Anne Ballantyne said.
The Tuders aren’t giving up, though. The family includes husband Dmitry, daughter Mila, 11, and son Grant, 10.
Beth Tuder has launched an online petition — https://tinyurl.com/y5pcn6kl — proposing a revision to the city’s animal-control decree. By August, it had nearly 800 signatures.
“We are big into clean eating and loved the idea of self-sustainability,” she said. “Eggs from backyard chickens are much healthier and (more) nutritious than store-bought eggs. Most chickens that produce eggs for grocery stores are raised in inhumane conditions and force-fed unhealthy products to make them produce eggs.”
Tuder said her fowl are more like pets. They’ve even taught her offspring responsibility, thanks to chores that include gathering eggs daily, she said.
“The kids also learned about farm-to-table meals and that eggs don’t grow on grocery-store shelves,” she added.
The family started raising chickens after visiting New Braunfels Feed & Supply, picking six chicks for their original backyard flock.
The children raised the chicks in a bathtub until the birds were old enough to relocate to a custom-built coop welded for security.
The coop area included a garden, as well as a wooden house to shelter the avians and hand-carved roost bars.
Eggs produced by the chickens have been beneficial during the COVID-19 outbreak, when early on supermarkets lacked supplies.
“We felt fortunate that we were able to self-sustain during the pandemic,” Tuder said. “We were also able to provide friends, family and neighbors with eggs when the grocery stores were out. We have not bought eggs at the store for almost four years.”
However, the Tuders’ adventures caring for chickens abruptly ended this summer when a neighbor raised objections with the city. Officials ordered the removal of the chickens and their coop.
“The (police) officers told us that they are aware of people owning chickens, we just had someone complain,” she said.
It’s unknown how many Terrell Hills property owners raise chickens, but this is the first recent report of a filed complaint leading to action. According to Tuder, other local chicken owners aren’t speaking for fear they, too, will come under scrutiny.
In a July 13 meeting conducted over Zoom, Tuder addressed the council, which considered — then rejected — a proposal to lift the prohibition on maintaining the animals.
She had recommended the town mirror San Antonio, which allows up to eight hens and one rooster, although Tuder said a no-rooster rule would be fine.
Terrell Hills’ animal-control ordinance, last updated nearly 30 years ago, permits only domestic dogs and cats. Neither Alamo Heights nor Olmos Park allow backyard poultry, but Tuder said some Olmos Park residents raise chickens.
Tuder tried telling the council about the perks of keeping chickens, such as their waste can provide garden fertilizer.
She added chickens are no noisier than barking dogs. In addition, she and her family have worked to minimize odor from the coop area.
Ballantyne said there are different viewpoints to consider.
“I can understand the neighbors’ concerns about noise and smell if their neighbors don’t take great care of their chickens/coops,” the mayor added. “One of the issues is that we don’t have the personnel to devote to making sure coops are kept clean, etcetera. We would rely on neighbors to call about neighbors – and sometimes that is very awkward.”
Supporters said it’s time for the city to embrace families who practice sustainability.
“Shame on Terrell Hills for not updating our old code to reflect the changing views of families wanting to create a better world,” a petition signer wrote.
As of deadline, the Tuders’ chickens were roosting at a friend’s home, but the birds can’t stay there indefinitely.
“We miss them very much. We miss our fresh eggs and hope to gain support from the city of Terrell Hills to update the ordinance from 1992,” Tuder said.