Over the last several years, Wright County has witnessed a significant increase in the number of hobby farms in townships. Whether it be families with a horse or two, those who raise chickens for eggs or as pets or those with children in 4-H or FFA, the numbers are growing.
However, several small hobby farms are not in compliance with county zoning regulations. Wright County Feedlot Program Administrator Tracy Janikula said that hobby farms often don’t have the acreage to adequately handle livestock.
“We get a lot of complaints from neighbors in those areas,” Janikula said. “There are farms less than four acres that can have poultry, but those come with several restrictions. If you have livestock animals on the farms, even small farms, you have to comply with feedlot regulations.”
All properties must submit a Notice of Construction or Expansion of a Feedlot prior to bringing livestock on a property or if expanding beyond the number previously reported to the county. The notice is required even if no construction takes place. A copy of the Notice is available on the Planning & Zoning website page https://mn-wrightcounty.civicplus.com/163/Feedlot-Information or by contacting the P&Z office.
A primary concern of neighbors of hobby farmers is the proximity of the animals or buildings that house them to property lines.
“One of the biggest issues neighbors have are setbacks,” Janikula said. “Some people don’t check with our office and put their chicken shed 20 feet from the property line. That can work for a storage shed, but there are restrictions in place in our zoning ordinance – it’s a minimum of 50 feet for chickens and 100 for other livestock. New feedlots with 10 or more animal units can be no closer than 500 feet from any dwelling, unless it is the house of an immediate family member.”
Janikula said at the heart of the issue is the definition of a feedlot. Any livestock building and/or lot in which manure may accumulate, a poultry range, or where the concentration of animals is such that a vegetative cover cannot be maintained is a feedlot. Most buildings housing livestock, open feedlots and solid manure storage areas must be 100 feet from property lines. There are exceptions to that setback for a small number of poultry only.
Janikula stressed that those who own a hobby farm or are considering it, should review the county’s feedlot ordinance: http://library.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Minnesota/wrightco_mn/titlexvlandusageandzoning/chapter152feedlots?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:wrightcounty_mn.
“We want people to know what the regulations are before they decide to start a farm not knowing that they aren’t in compliance,” Janikula said. “To some, these regulations may seem a bit confusing, but we encourage people to contact us so they know in advance whether or not they will be in compliance rather than finding out later that they’re not in compliance and have to shut down.”
Most livestock in the agricultural zoning district on four-to-10-acre parcels, and all residential zoned property, are allowed at a maximum density of one-half animal unit per acre with a minimum lot size of four acres. All residentially zoned property, including property zoned agricultural/residential, is limited to less than 10 animal units, no matter the total acreage. Some parcels less than four acres may be allowed poultry, with several restrictions. A farm that is over 10 acres may be allowed 10 or more animal units and must be registered with the County on a four-year cycle. Minnesota Rule 7020.0300 defines an animal unit, and a few examples are as follows: 1 horse, steer or beef cow is 1 animal unit (au); market swine are 0.3 au; sheep are 0.1 au and chickens are 0.003 au if they are less than five pounds. Agricultural zoned property divisions reducing an existing farmstead to 10 acres or less will become restricted to five animal units or less even if there is a history of greater animal numbers. These setback and density regulations are not applicable within city limits, but feedlot registration is still required for farms with 10 or more animal units.
Janikula said the rules and regulations concerning feedlots can be confusing because of their complexity, but said she is willing to answer any questions residents may have about what is and isn’t allowed on smaller hobby farms.
“We’re very receptive to people calling in and asking questions,” Janikula said. “It may not always be the answer they want to hear because the regulations can be pretty strict at times, but most people want to follow the rules and calling us ahead of time can help make sure they’re doing things right before they invest in moving onto a farm.
Janikula can be reached at (763) 682-7334 to answer resident questions. Information on State Feedlot Rule 7020 is on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/feedlots and can be a useful resource for livestock owners.