The Human Services Committee Monday postponed a vote on an ordinance to let Evanston residents raise chickens after some aldermen raised skeptical questions about the proposal.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said “I can’t see that there’s a substantial public benefit to backyard hens,” Fiske added. “I think the people in ’74 (when chickens were banned in Evanston) had it right. We should not vote in favor of this.”

But Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said keeping chickens at home for eggs or as pets is becoming increasingly common. “We’re surrounded by communities now that do allow hens,” he said. “To me, the movement is about sustainabiity, local agriculture and teaching young people about animals.”

The other three aldermen on the committee seemed to have doubts about the measure.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, asked why the ordinance would prohibit residents from slaughtering at home the chickens they raise.

Aaron Solomon, of 2668 Gross Point Road, a member of the backyard chicken coalition advocating for the ordinance, said that’s because many people who want to raise chickens see them as pets and don’t want to slaughter them.

But Paige Finnegan, co-chair of the Environment Board, which recommended the ordinance, said the ordinance would not prohibit owners from using services that would take the chickens away for slaughter.

Jean-Baptiste said he’d thought the goal of the ordinance was to let people have fresh eggs, but now it seems it’s about keepinng chicken as pets.

Finnegan said that “It depends on who you ask — some want pets, others want egg production, and still others want chicken and dumplings.”

Fiske said she “can’t see slaughtering chickens as part of a humane practice.”

But Finnegan said she didn’t feel it’s appropriate to pass judgment on that. There are vegetarians and meat eaters in Evanston she said, and death is part of the life cycle of animals.

Debbie Hillman, co-chair of the Evanston Food Policy Council, said her group wants people to get closer to the source of their food. “This was an attempt to just reconnect,” she said.

Fiske said, “Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry can put you closer to nature to see where food comes from.”

Jean-Baptiste said he was concerned about the tradeoffs — whether keeping chickens would create odor problems for neighbors, or attract rodents or create noise.

Finnegan said that research indicates there need not be any odor or nuisance problems with keeping chickens — and the ordinance would provide the same regulation of nuisances from chickens that are provided for keepers of other animals in the city.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked how many residents want to raise chickens.

Carl Caneva, of the city’s health department, said 10 or 20 people have been at each of the meetings on the subject, but he didn’t know what the total level of interest is.

Fiske asked whether the city’s animal shelter is prepared to handle chickens that might be abandoned or given up by their owners, and Police Chief Richard Eddington said the shelter does have a small number of cages that could be used for chickens.

The ordinance as proposed would let residents keep between two and six hens, but no roosters, and would require the chickens to be registered with the city and have owners pay a $10 annual fee for each one.

But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voiced doubts about whether that would be enough to cover the costs of enforcing the ordinance.

Grover and Holmes suggested continuing the discussions at the committee’s June 7 meeting, with hopes of having more data about the experiences of other towns that have legalized chickens, the potential cost of enforcing the ordinance and the zoning implications of permitting chickens.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Chickens are a gateway farm animal. . next come goats?
    Reading the article about about whether an ordinance allowing Evanston residents to raise chickens and the following quotes from our alderman and various groups could have been easily found in the Onion.

    Why does our City Council waste the time on these ridiculous issues. We have an Eco Center (at tax payer expense) that offers the children exposure to all type of small animals. Why create more headaches and burdens on enforcement officials to appease 10 or 20 people. Go to Whole Foods, already.

    How about lowering the tax burden on Evanston residents.

  2. Yes to chickens
    I am saddened by the severe disconnection we N. Americans have from our food, and the myriad problems caused by our ignorance. Allowing a few hens to become more (legally) commonplace is a step in the right direction.

    I agree that the ignorance around the issues is ludicrous, and that it’s a shame this needs further discussion, but let’s keep working together nonetheless.

    BTW, the Ecology Center does not offer “children exposure to all type of small animals” and the wonderful work they do is hardly analogous to the practice outlined in the proposed ordinance. Please do the research before judging. There is much to be gained.

  3. hens are fine…
    The petition has nearly 150 signers, so it’s not just “10 or 20 people.” Just ’cause it’s a minority who will actually keep hens doesn’t make it wrong.

    “We’re surrounded by communities now that do allow hens,” he said. “To me, the movement is about sustainability, local agriculture and teaching young people about animals.”

    As a culture, this is a way to make green, sustainable food choices, and begin to learn about the amazing benefits of local agriculture. There’s little to compare visiting the zoo and MSI to the experience of caring for pets or livestock.

  4. clarification, please
    I have followed the chicken story and am a bit confused. Could someone spell out the pros and cons here.

    Are we talking about allowing chickens for pets and eggs or are people going to consider them “livestock” and eat them?

    What happens to the chickens in the winter? Do they stay outside?

    How are they protected from wildlife – racoons, coyotes, the neighborhood cat?

    I haven’t formed an opinion one way or the other but am very curious.

    1. I’m not sure if “pros and
      I’m not sure if “pros and cons” is the best way to frame it. The measure will actually update a decades-old ordinance that was instituted when Evanston’s zoning code was still in development and the local food/sustainability movement was non-existent.

      The measure will allow you to have no more than 6 hens (no roosters). You may consider them pets, you can make omelets with their eggs, and you can eat them.

      You cannot slaughter them in the city, however. There are scores of “live poultry” places in the city which will do this for you, if you want.

      To be honest, most people will probably consider them pets and will also eat the eggs. A chicken normally lives for about 8 years and produces eggs for about 4–with the first 2 years being the most productive.

      My sense is that people will probably get a couple, when their egg production dwindles after year 3, get a couple more chicks, do the same thing every 2-3 years. That way you would always have good egg producers around and keep the old hens out of compassion. If you’re not the compassionate type, you take the bird to the city and get it slaughtered.

      Chickens require a structure (aka, coop). These can be about the size of a small accessory shed. Coops will have walls and a place for the birds to nest. This protects them from the elements and they will be fine during the winter. Some folks get a heated water dish to insure that their water doesn’t freeze on exceptionally cold days.

      The coop is enclosed with fencing and the enclosure should be built to protect them from raccoons, coyotes, opossums, etc… You need a thick wire (not chicken wire) and make sure the wire goes at least 6 inches into the ground so critters don’t dig beneath the enclosure.

      Chickens are great. They do need to be taken care of, but they are funny creatures, give you eggs, and–if you are so inclined–are quite tasty (especially when compared to the factory farmed, antibiotics-laced birds that pass for “food” at the grocery).

      They also are small, silent, and unassuming. My next-door neighbor in Chicago had them for years without me even noticing them. He gave me some eggs one day and I was totally surprised he even had them!

  5. Rabbits are already legal…
    Granted, there would be no fresh eggs (over-rated anyway), but rabbits are self-sustaining without the noise of roosters, are just as easy to keep in hutches, much quieter than chickens, cleaner than chickens, cost for feed is about the same, and when properly prepared, much tastier than chicken, and provide more protein per pound.

    So, if it would be legal to home butcher chickens, why not rabbits?

    1. Go for it!
      Actually, I think there is no prohibition on slaughtering rabbits, so go for it! The bird slaughter is explicit in the code.

      I agree with you on the benefits of rabbit. Rabbit is quite tasty.

  6. Fiske trapped in 1974
    I am shocked that in a city as educated and somewhat progressive as Evanston that the issue of hens is even a topic to disagree on. Cities far more suburban and conservative (think Schaumburg) allow hens. I am even more shocked to hear the crazy opinions of Judy Fiske. She makes a living selling pet food to dogs and cats that cause more public nuisances than chickens will.

    Most appalling is her quote “Lincoln Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry can put you closer to nature to see where food comes from.” You are really trapped in 1974 because the whole point of keeping backyard chickens is to have individuals produce their own food. If you have visited MSI recently, you would see that the food exhibit highlights industrial farming of corn and soybeans, and industrial dairy farming. It is in no way representative of a sustainable, organic food movement.

    The opinions of the other aldermen (excluding Mark Tendem) reflect just how far residents have to go to educate our elected leaders about local, sustainable food. Backyard chickens are not even an issue worth discussing- if people want chickens let them have them. I would rather the Human Services Committee spend their time on the inhumane treatment of the feral cats on Grant St. Lets be a city that is at least as progressive as Schaumburg, or Northbrook and allow residents to keep chickens. Since Ms. Fiske is such an animal lover, maybe she could spend some time educating herself about hens and in the future carry chicken feed.

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