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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
The Zundel family keeps chickens on their property in Lehi.

Most city or suburban dwellers believe a friendly golden retriever, a pint-size hamster or maybe a frisky ferret (for those who are a little more adventurous) are perfectly nice family pets. The Zundels of Lehi incorporate animals into their family on a more practical level.

Over the years, a varied assortment of farm animals have been part of the Zundel clan, though they lack the accommodations of a typical farm.

Making room for unconventional pets in the various places they have called home, the Zundels have kept bees on their 0.17-acre Sacramento, Calif., property and added chickens to their 0.53-acre North Carolina property, as well as their current 0.4-acre property.

Next up, the Zundels have planned a move to South Jordan, where they hope to expand their animals to include goats, turkeys and ducks.

The family members think of themselves as small farmers and "homesteaders" and have committed to an old-fashioned way of life.

Private family farms of past generations "prevented a lot of the problems we face dealing with 100-acre mono-crop farms that battle soil fertility and pest problems," wife and mother Tessa Zundel said.

The Zundels home-school four children younger than age 8, and always planned on owning farm animals because of their belief in sustainable agriculture, as well as their love of animals and desire to instill a strong work ethic in their children.

Dabbling in classes on organic vegetable farming, animals kept for meat, beekeeping, sheep shearing, orchard growing, cheese making and composting, the Zundels are among an increasing number of people committing to a sustainable lifestyle.

But the Zundels' farming endeavors are on the more invested end of the spectrum; most urban and suburban small farmers settle on raising chickens or small vegetable gardens.

Lillian Angelovic of Salt Lake City has kept two hens as pets for the past three years, though she said she and her family live in "a neighborhood (where) you would not expect to find chickens."

Like the Zundels, the Angelovics home-school their children and see their chickens as a teaching tool, but their main motivation was to have a new, fun experience for the family.

"Chickens are so funny. They're hilarious to watch, and it's just relaxing," Angelovic said.

Originally hesitant about how the neighbors might react, Angelovic said the chickens have actually strengthened neighborhood ties, as curious children come over to check out the unusual pets, and fresh eggs can be offered to neighbors.

The chickens are not as loud or smelly as expected and even seem to be lower maintenance than dogs or cats, Angelovic said.

Salt Lake City regulations require an annual permit of $5 per animal, with a maximum of 25 chickens. The law also states that chicken coops must be inspected once a year and must sit at least 50 feet from a neighbor's dwelling and 25 feet from the owner's dwelling.

Angelovic said she thinks these laws are superfluous and unfair.

"The whole system they have set up seems like a total pain. … They don't do this for dogs, and I've seen dogs in horrible conditions," she said.

Other farm animals are less warmly welcomed under city zoning regulations.

Angelovic said her neighbor kept a goat as a pet until a few months ago, when animal control took the animal away after receiving complaints.

But Marsha Maxwell, another chicken owner from Draper (where goats are permitted in certain areas), said she sees her neighbor frequently walking a goat down the street on a leash.

Maxwell said it seems that chickens, various farm animals, and especially miniature goats seem to be a trend in her neighborhood, which has many larger plots of land.

Animal licensing is dependent on city ordinances, as well as specific zoning of an area, said Humane Society of Utah chief investigator John Fox.

He agreed that owning farm animals such as goats and sheep has become more common in the past few years, though they are illegal in most residential areas.

Where goats and sheep are legal, however, Fox said he doesn't see anything wrong with people having them as pets.

"Occasionally, we see problems where people get goats and they eat up yards or people get concerned when they see them without shelter. Otherwise, we don't see much of a problem," Fox said.

Most problems at the Humane Society of Utah have come from people purchasing newborn potbelly pigs and not realizing that they will grow to be 300 to 400 pounds, or from people illegally using roosters for cockfights, Fox said.

He also notes that when city or suburban residents own chickens that stop laying eggs, they must take them to an agricultural area if they opt to slaughter them.

Such areas include South Jordan, where the pioneering Zundel family plans to move in April.

Tessa Zundel said she sees the animal codes of Salt Lake County as too restrictive, and she hopes to work toward having laws changed to be more flexible about the number and type of animals permitted in her future neighborhood.

The animal "point system" now in place in South Jordan "tends to show a lack of connection with small farm animal people and an undue amount of mistrust that those keeping the animals will not naturally concern themselves with humane, clean conditions for the animals and the neighborhood," Zundel said.

And despite some stigmas about "wacko chicken people," Zundel said her neighbors' reactions to the farm pets have been completely positive.

"The noise even the hens made worried me for a time until, when I asked my neighbors if it bothered them, they either said, 'What noise?' or 'No, I love that sound — it reminds me of my grandma's farm,' " Zundel said.

For more information on owning livestock or chicken in your city, contact local government officials.

General information on animal laws can be found at www.animallaw.info, and laws regarding treatment of animals can be found at www.utahhumane.org.