OGDEN• Judging from their happy meandering within the bounds of their fenced-in backyard pen, Terry and Dana Macarthur's seven hens have no idea they're illegal.
Up until early September, neither did the Macarthurs.
Terry Macarthur, 62, is a disabled Vietnam veteran who after several months of debt reduction and an extensive real estate search, finally qualified for a mortgage and found the right house.
The couple didn't ask for much. The house had to be livable and to have enough acreage for their brood of two Ameraucana , two Lavender Orpingtons and three Speckled Sussex chickens. The Macarthurs closed on their home in July and then spent about $500 on fencing and coop materials.
Real estate agents didn't inform them that Ogden had a ban on backyard fowl. And before long, someone connected to the marketing of the vacant house next door called the city about the family's fluffy cluckers.
Last month the Macarthurs received a notice from Ogden's code enforcement office that they had 15 days to lose the chickens. After that, fines would kick in beginning at $125 per day and doubling over time.
"There's no way I can turn around and sell the house and go somewhere else," Terry Macarthur said, adding that before closing he had checked Ogden's ordinances on the city's web site and they appeared to allow backyard fowl if certain guidelines are followed.
Apparently those statutes were outdated but still on the books and online. However, Ogden had since installed zoning regulations banning backyard chickens but those rules did not get posted online until late September after the Macarthurs' situation.
In 2010, an attempt to allow urban chickens in Ogden drew controversy and failed to pass in a 4-3 city council vote. But there is now a new council member and new mayor, and several Wasatch Front cities have approved backyard fowl as part of a nationwide trend toward city-dwellers growing their own food.
"Salt Lake has allowed it, and they have older neighborhoods with lots that are similar in size to ours," said Councilwoman Amy Wicks, one of three members who supported the option two years ago. "It seems like there's not a week that goes by that I don't get a call where someone asks when they're going to get to have chickens."
Councilwoman Caitlin Gochnour also cast a yes vote in 2010 and would like to see the ordinance come up again for further discussion.
"I think it honors the whole western spirit of being self sufficient," Gochnour said, "and it can be done so that it doesn't infringe on neighbors."
However, Councilwoman Susie Van Hooser remains largely opposed to the idea because the city lacks the ability to enforce any limitations.
"I'd love to have chickens but I wouldn't do it to my neighbors," Van Hooser said, noting that a creek flows through her backyard and the fowl would attract "every varmint in the world."
Salt Lake County allows urban chickens, and Diane Keay, an environmental health supervisor for the Salt Lake Valley Health Department, said she would prefer that they did not.
"One family benefits from the eggs, while the rest of the neighborhood deals with the rest," Keay said, noting that rodents are attracted to chicken feed and raccoons enjoy eating the chickens.
As for the Macarthurs, they say that other families in the neighborhood also keep chickens. They've worked to raccoon-proof their coop and recently added a greenhouse behind their home, with plans for a huge garden next year. Their flock will provide manure and eat the insects that will be attracted to their irrigation waterway.
They both plan to fight to keep their chickens, even if it means taking the matter to court. In the meantime, the couple fears they'll have to temporarily relocate their birds to keep them out of the hands of code enforcers.
"People stash guns and drugs, I'm going to have to stash my chickens," Dana Macarthur said. "And that's just ridiculous."