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Keeping chickens is legal in Chicago, no matter what you might have heard. Martha Boyd, the program director of Angelic Organics Learning Center's urban initiatives, could not stress this enough at at today's panel on Backyard Chickens.
This panel was packed. Standing-room only, with small children seemingly tucked into every corner and crevice of the room. Who knew there were more people interested in keeping chickens than eating offal?
Anyway. In 2007 an amendment banning city chickens was proposed in City Council, but—thanks to some quick action on the part of Boyd and other pro-chicken advocates, it didn't go anywhere, although, notes Boyd, they've got some policy suggestions drafted and ready to go should the subject pop back up.
At the panel, Boyd, Joe Bestwina, owner of the Feed Store in Summit, Illinois, and Helen Standen, who keeps two chickens in Oak Park, ran through the pros and cons of urban chicken keeping. Frankly, there weren't many cons. Herewith, some of the main points:
* Raising chickens can be a great learning experience for kids—it teaches responsibility and helps them understand better where their food comes from. But before you bring some home you should honestly assess the kids' maturity, and their ability to both fully participate in taking care of the birds and deal with setbacks should something go awry.
* What kind of yard do you want? If you're worried about keeping things nice and tidy chickens may not be for you. But, also, keep things in perspective. Chickens may be messy but it's not like having a nuclear waste dump in your yard. And to kids, those birds will be the most exciting thing on the block.
* Baby chicks are adorable, and for the first weeks of their life should live in a warming pen in your house. But, can you be prepared for adult chickens in time? After seven weeks you want them OUT of the house. Don't think you can put off building that coop. (Much emphatic nodding from the group here.)
* There is no law against keeping roosters, but roosters are a great way to annoy not just your neighbors but people blocks away, and the panel in general warns against it.
* Speaking of neighbors, those who are dubious can often be won over with free eggs and/or compost.
Want to raise your own? Live in Chicago? Check out the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts Google Group. The Learning Center is also hosting a workshop on Basic Backyard Chicken Care next Saturday, March 20, at St. Augustine College's West Town satellite campus in Logan Square. It's $40 and you need to preregister; last time I checked there were four slots left.