Probably every person who has ever typed up a story on the topic of backyard chickens has written or been tempted to write a lead that involves the age-old question of "What came first: the chicken or the egg?"
But rarely has it been more appropriate than the city of Geneva's discussion Monday night.
Members of the City Council split right up the middle, 5-5, in a straw poll on whether they would be in favor of creating an ordinance similar to one approved by that allows folks in the city limits to keep chickens in their back yards.
Since the city of Batavia said OK to its chicken ordinance, just seven residents have applied for a permit, Geneva officials said.
Geneva resident was the person who asked the City Council to consider making chicken-raising an allowable activity within Geneva's borders. Had it come to a vote on Monday, Mayor Kevin Burns would have broken the tie with a "nay."
"I would prefer that we not go down this path," Burns said. "I will not support directing our staff at this time."
Burns' concerns were primarily with the amount of time it would take to draft an ordinance, change city codes and enforce the ordinance once approved.
Bennett said she would like to raise chickens in her back yard, probably about four chickens in all, so that her family could have fresh, healthy eggs and learn some life lessons along the way.
She also delivered a PowerPoint presentation that dispelled some of the urban myths about urban chickens.
Bennett said backyard chicken eggs are healthier than store-bought eggs, with three times more vitamin E, seven times more beta carotene and four to six times more vitamin D.
She said hens don't make a lot of noise—63 decibels tops, about the sound level of an average human conversation. The amount of odors or pests depends on the sanitary conditions maintained by the owner, she said, and were "no different than a pet."
Bennett's PowerPoint presentation showed a disturbing photograph of commercial hens crammed tightly into battery cages, which she said are being phased out in Europe. "You can't tell me anyone can keep that sanitary," she said.
She said salmonella is less likely in a home-raised chicken egg than in a commercially-raised egg. She noted the 2010 salmonella case in which 500 million commercial eggs were tainted.
Second Ward Alderman Don Cummings said he was convinced.
"When I saw this issue on the agenda, I thought absolutely no way am I going to be in favor of this. They’ll attract predators, they’ll attract rodents," he said. "I’m convinced they are not noisy and that salmonella is preventable. If people want to do this, I’m actually now in favor of it."
Aldermen Chuck Brown, Dawn Vogelsberg, Ralph Dantino, Dean Kilburg and Cummings said they would support an ordinance to allow backyard chickens. Aldermen Sam Hill, Richard Marks, Ron Singer, Dorothy Flanagan and Craig Maladra said they would not.
The aldermen shared some interesting personal experiences that applied to the Monday-night policy conversation.
Singer said he had witnessed rats in a neighbor's chicken coop.
"I lived in an environment where chickens were right next to me, and it was just an absolute mess," Singer said. "I’m really opposed to this issue, even thinking about this."
Brown said he had fond memories of time spent on this grandmother's farm, where he tended the chickens and enjoyed the meals from the eggs they produced.
"I thought it was a wonderful experience. We had no problem, and I certainly enjoyed eating at grandma’s house," he said.
Kilburg said he would support backyard chicken-raising, even though he works in the agriculture industry and was proud that Americans had kept prices almost equal to $1 it cost for a dozen eggs in 1975.
"We probably have some philosophical differences about the agriculture industry. To say that those people are being cruel to animals is unfair," he said to Bennett. "That said, I think there’s a lot of redeeming value to this.
"If your children can benefit, I’m not opposed to it, because I’m pro chicken," he said.
The council took no action Monday night. Bennett said she might wait a year and petition the City Council again. The council also could make a motion at any time to direct city staff to draft an ordinance similar to that of Batavia.
To win a vote, Bennett would have to convince at least one more council member, because the mayor's vote would tip the scales away from the eggs.
"Resource allocation, I think, is key," Burns said. "A large percentage of time spent by (staff) are on nuisance complaints that could be solved by reasonable application of existing ordinances. From the 300,000-foot perspective it's inconsequential, but for the neighbor, it’s everything."