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Geneva Council Split on Urban Chickens Issue

The city of Geneva's Committee of the Whole is evenly divided on whether to support an ordinance to allow backyard hens.

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."

Max August 02, 2012 at 12:29 AM
People didn't always build predator-proof coops in the old days. It shouldn't be that tough to do. As it is, we already have coyotes, foxes, raccoons, etc. in abundance, and this not because of chickens, but because of our warped ideas about not keeping "nature" on its own side of the municipal "fence". Given the fact that nobody in my neighborhood seems to think their own yard is sufficient for their dogs, but has to parade them up and down the street every day, urinating and defecating (the dogs, that is) wherever they like, I don't see how adding a few chickens to the local odors is going to matter much. It might even be entertaining, in addition to being healthier. It might also lead people to understand that coyotes belong in the country, and perhaps then decide to do what it takes to keep them there -- dead or alive.
Bob Loblaw August 02, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Coyotes do belong in the country. That's why if you buy a house in the middle of a corn field (or on top of one), you have pretty much given up your right to complain. Encroaching on a wild animal's habitat is not justification for killing it.
Bob Loblaw August 02, 2012 at 01:54 AM
We're unfortunately having this discussion because some people are content to not care about where their food comes from and think that anything that doesn't smack of the 21st century is backwards and unacceptable. We shouldn't take the basics for granted, nor should we ignore the fact that it is the US way of life, particularly with regard to food production, that is "abnormal" in the context of most of the rest of the world.
Kaitlynn Adams August 02, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Please leave the chicken coops on farms! The backyards in my neighborhood are small and close together. This leads to the effect if one homeowner has chickens then the whole neighborhood will too. Whether you want them or not. Mr. Brown, you should know this.
Bob Loblaw August 02, 2012 at 04:42 PM
I wonder if people posting this kind of thing have ever really been around chickens, and why they think they're somehow more of a nuisance than dogs (or screaming children, for that matter).
Kate Bennett August 02, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Bob has a really good point here. Food prices are going to rise, considerably. Anything with corn, which is almost everything.
Kate Bennett August 02, 2012 at 04:51 PM
I was thinking the same thing. My yard is small. The result is I hear everything my neighbors are doing. That's just the price of living in town. Chickens are quieter and less messy than dogs. 6 chickens produce the same amount of manure as your average dog, and you can compost theirs. Can't compost dog waste.
Kate Bennett August 02, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Hey Bob, if you have a Facebook, come on over to the Chicken Petition page! http://www.facebook.com/TheChickenPetition?ref=hl
Kathy Zang August 02, 2012 at 05:30 PM
We ARE neighbors. There are all kinds of beasties in Templar. Foxes, and coyotes, owls and deer and now turkeys. BTW, everyone HAS noticed the decline in the goose population I hope. This is due to the coyotes learning how to steal the eggs (Per the old Chicago Wilderness Magazine) It started up in Lake County were the population finally stabilized and after research was done, coyotes had learned how to scare the geese off their nests. This has traveled down the Fox since coyotes rapidly learn from one another. Unfortunately, the ducks along the Fox where I watch lost all of their babies, while the goose broods were down to only two. Balance of nature.
Dwight Swartwood August 02, 2012 at 05:30 PM
There is no way you can build a area, coop and raise a couple of chickens cheaper than buy eggs. I grew up of a chicken farm, so I know. It's a novelty now days. Pigs will be next, then cows followed by small horses. There does it end? What about the poop? Chicken poop is not good for ground water. If you want to live on a 5+ acre farm, have at it. But keep it out of in-town living. My wife grew up in a town where everyone had chickens and pigs. It was not nice. Let's keep it real folks.
Kathy Zang August 02, 2012 at 05:31 PM
I do. But I don't know what those hens have been fed unless they are certified organic. Still, I feel much better when eating local farm food. Use less gas to ship things, support the family farm, etc.
Kathy Zang August 02, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I think living close together can cause a feeling of encroachment whether putting up a shed with a permit, or a different fence, or having dogs and young kids playing. I understand this sentiment. Hopefully we consult with our neighbors before we place permanent structures in the yard. That is why we are living in a community, right? So we can have close neighbors? I don't think that chickens make anywhere near the noise of dogs. Their clucking rated in decibels is the same as human speech. And they tend to cluck only when they have laid an egg, unless they are housed inhumanely close and have to fight for space.
Kathy Zang August 02, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I'm there. Nice page. That is an excellent coup too. Looks kind of like the one that William Sonoma sells.
Kathy Zang August 02, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Hi Dwight. I think your point is correct about the cheapness of buying eggs. It is what has been fed to the chickens that bothers me. Yes, it is a novelty. But I don't have to eat pork, or beef, or small horses. I can get organic at a high price, but meat is the high end of producing and is an expensive source of protein. Genetically Modified crops (ie: Round-up Ready beans and corn) are in everything we consume. GMO corn is fed to dairy cows, beef cows, pigs, chickens (and so to their eggs) even farm raised catfish and tilapia. There is no way to escape it unless you purchase organic. We eat this one thing constantly. It is not the way humans evolved to eat. Chicken poop can be put into the compost barrels that are sold around town. Or into your worm beds if you keep them. Dog waste cannot.
Bob Loblaw August 02, 2012 at 08:41 PM
Haha, chicken poop isn't good for ground water? But fertilizers, industrial runoff, motor oil, cigarette butts, dog poop, garbage...these things are all fine. Guano from chickens is an organic fertilizer that is great for composting, too. And since when is producing one's own food a bad thing? It's done this way in most of the rest of the world. And by the way, everything we eat in the US is fed corn. Prices are already increasing on corn-based everything, and free-range eggs are much, much more nutrient rich than factory farmed eggs. And they're cruelty free as an added bonus.
Bob Loblaw August 02, 2012 at 08:45 PM
I'd be much more concerned about the impact on groundwater from large scale chicken and hog farms, especially those positioned on top of major aquifers. The stuff that enters the waterways from the average person's body through waste is much, much worse than the potential impacts on groundwater from three or four hens.
Bob Loblaw August 02, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Vermiculture is awesome. It's disturbing that people are up in arms about the health impacts of fire pits but they're totally content to eat whatever is available at the grocery store, regardless of where it comes from or how it was produced.
Rick Anderson August 03, 2012 at 02:53 AM
There is no such thing as predator proof. Rats and any other rodent are smart enough figure out how to beat whatever is put up. I doubt any chicken raising person will have the capital money to build a kevlar barrier and concrete foundation deep enough to keep one from burrowing a tunnel to get to a rich food source.
Kaitlynn Adams August 03, 2012 at 02:56 AM
The point is....don't put it in my backyard, they are too close together. Why isn't there a co-op for farm animals like there is for the gardens out west of the town.
Anthony August 03, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Most chickens are good 'micers.' There are all sorts of predators in the area - chickens aren't going to increase them if a proper coop is set up. Fox and coyotes look for dogs and cats - should we ban pets? Racoons love trash cans - should we ban outside bins?
Bob Loblaw August 03, 2012 at 04:16 AM
I'm not sure why anyone thinks the arguments about rats and other vermin is valid. Last time I checked every house in Geneva leaves their trash on the curb in an unsecured plastic bin. Out of chickens and rotting food waste, guess which one is the low hanging fruit?
Bob Loblaw August 03, 2012 at 04:22 AM
I made this point further up. Funny that people don't realize that when you make it easier for pests and predators to get fed, they don't go after more traditional prey. If there is an endless supply of garbage and lap dogs that are easily picked off, why go to the trouble?
Kate Bennett August 03, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Rodents can be prevented by keeping a clean coop and collecting eggs promptly.
Kate Bennett August 03, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Why do you object to your neighbor's having chickens? They are low odor, low noise, low pest and even control some pests. They make less noise than 2 people talking, and it takes 6 chickens to create the same amount of waste as a dog. Dogs are honestly a way bigger nuisance animal, and we have plenty of those.
Mitotero August 03, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Everyone screamed about the loss of property owners rights when they attempted to ban fire pits. Now we have a different scenario, and the arguments have shifted from property owner rights to NIMBY issues. Furthermore, the issues are not based on facts, but on peoples perceptions of what they anticipate having a coop near them will be like. Can somone find out from Batavia what their ordinance experience has been like in year one? That seems like the best approach to debate this issue properly.
Kate Bennett August 03, 2012 at 04:45 PM
I actually did speak with Batavia before the Council meeting. They have had only one complaint since passing their ordinance. The complaint was due to a small child accidentally releasing a chicken. This has pretty much been a non-issue in Batavia.
Mitotero August 03, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Kate: Your research has been thorough. Good luck convincing one more alderman and/or the Mayor. I would actually prefer chickens near my house than the barking dogs that live nearby.
Kate Bennett August 03, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Thanks! I think the Mayor is for sure a no-go, but I might be able to scrounge up one more alderman.
Kaitlynn Adams August 03, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Have you researched "histoplasmosis"?
Bob Loblaw August 04, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Have you? If you had, you would understand that it is no more dangerous to the average person than many much more common ailments, and the people that are most likely to be affected are also at the greatest risk for most other ailments - we're talking HIV/AIDS levels of being immunocompromised. Acute benign respiratory histoplasmosis - the type most likely to be contracted from a chicken coop - would require heavy and constant exposure to guano carrying the spores - in a small, ventilated coop, this would be almost impossible (I'd personally be worried for people working on factory farms). Most cases of histoplasmosis are mild, and many are entirely asymptomatic. And just fyi, starlings are extremely common in Illinois and are also carriers of histoplasmosis spores. You probably have many of them in or around your yard at any given time. 50 million people in North America have been infected - you could have it right now and not even be aware of it. In some Canadian and US populations, infection rates are as high as 30%.

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