CHESTER -- Stephen Hunter isn't looking for a pecking war.
He just wants to keep his chickens.
Hunter, a 46-year-old Chester handyman and beef cattle farmer, asked the Chester City Council this week to change an ordinance banning livestock inside the city limits.
Hunter's 23 Barred Rock hens.
Recently, Chester County Animal Control came to Hunter's West End Street home and gave his family two weeks to remove the birds, Hunter said.
The chickens violate the city's livestock ordinance, the same one city leaders unsuccessfully tried to change last year to accommodate a potential home buyer who wanted to keep horses at a barn inside city limits.
"I'm not asking to put horses, cows, sheep, pigs or goats on this property," Hunter told council members this week. "All I'm asking is that you adjust the ordinance to allow me to continue to keep chickens."
Hunter's cattle live on land outside the city, but his hens reside in a red tin-roofed chicken house behind his blue Victorian, the fourth house on the left past City Hall. He and his wife purchased the 2-acre lot five years ago with plans to restore the farmhouse and outbuildings, including the chicken coop.
As part of that restoration, he researched what type of chicken the original property owner kept in the henhouse. That's why Hunter, who serves on the city's historic preservation commission, bought the Barred Rock hens.
"The historic value that Chester has is a wonderful thing," Hunter said. "Chester needs to support that -- not just because I'm asking for chickens -- I'm asking for all parts of Chester to support the historic value of what we have. And I'm willing to do my part on my property."
Hunter told leaders that his chickens lay about 15 brown eggs every day, and he gives most to a children's home in Rock Hill.
He said he has no roosters and doesn't want them. He noted that he's never received a complaint from neighbors about the hens.
"I don't really know why there has become a complaint on this now," he told city officials, adding that he didn't know about the ordinance when he first placed birds in the house. A sheep was staying on the property when he bought the place, he said, although he had that animal removed.
Leaders debated the request for a few minutes during the meeting. City Councilwoman Betty Bagley wondered if the council could make a special exception for Hunter's chickens.
"These chickens aren't out running," she said. "They're not going across the street to (state representative) Greg Delleney's house to make a car stop and slam on brakes and somebody run into them. They are contained."
But Councilwoman Linda Tinker worried that if leaders allowed Hunter to have chickens, they would open the door to less responsible livestock owners.
"You do a great job," she said. "(But) if we change the ordinance to allow it, then what?"
In the end, the council decided to allow Mayor Mitch Foster to ask animal control to give Hunter more time so leaders could decide what do. The extension was granted.
Foster said he expects the council to make a decision about the livestock ordinance at its March 10 meeting.
On a recent morning, Hunter threw scratch grain to his plump black and white birds. He said he bought the house with oaks in the front yard and pecan trees in the back because he wanted a place with land, a place he could restore.
"My thing is," he said, "this has always been a henhouse."