Duck, duck, no: Commerce City voters draw line on backyard animals at chickens and bees

Bees buzzed through at the ballot box. Chickens got the check-off.

But ducks got dumped.

By fewer than 100 votes out of more than 10,000 cast, voters in Commerce City decided ducks shouldn’t be part of the city’s backyard animal mix. Each animal got its own question on the ballot for Tuesday’s election.

The unofficial results, as of Friday, show many voters made discerning choices. Don Johnson was among those who singled out ducks for denial.

“Ducks are not like chickens,” said Johnson, a resident of Buffalo Run, as he walked into the Bison Ridge Recreation Center with his wife. “When they go to the bathroom, they leave large piles.”

In Commerce City’s results, bees did the best with a 64% approval rate. Chickens got through with 58% support. The ducks’ result: 49.6% yes, 50.4% no.

The bees’ and chickens’ bases of support are well established.

“Bees have become a hot topic, as their importance to the ecosystem is better understood,” Mayor Benjamin Huseman said. “The push to allow hens in the community came about during the period (last winter) when egg prices saw dramatic increases, and more residents wanted the opportunity to raise chickens and supply their own fresh eggs.”

But the bees and chickens won’t necessarily be allowed in backyards everywhere in the north metro city — many neighborhoods’ homeowner associations have bylaws that ban backyard animals.

Over the last 20 years, numerous communities in Colorado have passed laws allowing residents to keep various animal types on their properties. All three of the state’s largest cities — Denver, Colorado Springs and Aurora — allow backyard chickens, though roosters are typically prohibited.

Nearly a decade ago, Wheat Ridge and Arvada approved backyard dwarf goats. Both Colorado Springs and Lafayette allow pot-bellied pigs in addition to poultry. Aurora last year added ducks to its list of permitted animals.

The backyard animal movement received a boost at the beginning of the pandemic, when people were marooned in their houses under a deluge of government stay-at-home orders.

In Commerce City’s election, where duck doubters edged out enthusiasts by a mere 0.8 percentage points, there’s a feeling that the animals are louder and smellier.

“Ducks are pretty noisy if they’re contained,” said Naomi Mendoza, who lives in the Reunion neighborhood and voted down both chickens and ducks. “And people are not familiar with duck eggs.”

It’s that limited familiarity with the species in general that resulted in ducks getting the big webbed middle finger from voters, speculated Brittany Kammerzell, who owns Duckberry Farm in Berthoud.

“People are more accustomed to a weird neighbor having a few chickens. And bees are in trouble and on the forefront of everybody’s mind,” she said. “I feel like ducks seem more like livestock to people. It’s a little weirder (and) harder for people to accept.”

Kammerzell keeps about 20 ducks, including the popular Muscovy, on her 2-acre farm. They’re joined by 16 chickens and two bee colonies, which, all told, encompass about 100,000 of the treasured pollinators. She sells duck and chicken eggs, along with honey.

Ducks, Kammerzell said, sometimes get a bad rap from people who don’t know enough about them.

“Ducks keep themselves cleaner (than chickens),” she said. “Ducks are healthier and have fewer health concerns.”

That includes fewer instances of mite or lice infestation.

The male ducks — known as drakes — aren’t that loud. The hens are louder, she said, but usually only around feeding time.

“Drakes don’t quack,” she said. “They just make a raspy sound. They’re super-quiet.”

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Kammerzell also said ducks don’t tend to “tear up” the landscape, as chickens do. And most domesticated breeds of duck can’t fly, “so you won’t typically have them flying over fences to visit neighbors.”

Dave Williams, a new Commerce City resident who recently moved to the Front Range from Grand Junction, voted for all three animal species on Tuesday’s ballot.

“I like chicken eggs, duck eggs and honey,” he said. “Duck eggs are even better than chicken eggs.”

Back at the Bison Ridge Recreation Center, Roleen Johnson took a different tack with her ballot on Tuesday than her husband did. She said no to backyard bees, but yes to chickens and ducks.

“I just think they’re cute,” she said of the fowl. “I think everyone should be able to have them.”

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