Quantcast

Chicken poop: Boon or bio-hazard?

Evanstonians offered clashing views about chicken droppings Monday night as aldermen continued a debate over permitting backyard hens that threatens to outlast the lifespan of a factory-farm bird.

Animal Control Warden Linda Teckler

Evanstonians offered clashing views about chicken droppings Monday night as aldermen continued a debate over permitting backyard hens that threatens to outlast the lifespan of a factory-farm bird.

Animal Control Warden Linda Teckler

City Clerk Rodney Greene told the committee that chickens carry lots of diseases and "are very nasty animals."

And Animal Control Warden Linda Teckler said that even if owners clean up after their birds, "if they put the feces in the garbage, when it gets in the garbage truck’s compactor — it’s not going to stay in the bag."

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, called the health concerns significant, and said the Centers for Disease Control recommends that families with children less than five years of age and people with weakened immune systems not keep chickens.

But Carl Caneva, the head of the city’s environmental health unit, said that if people wash their hands and clean up after their chickens, any health issues can be abated.

Ellen King of the Backyard Chicken Committee

And Ellen King, 843 Ridge Ave., the chair of the Backyard Chicken Committee, said composted chicken manure "is heavn for gardeners. It’s easily composted. Put it into pile with some grass clippings. It becomes very safe and benign and great for vegetables."

She suggested dogs are much more dangerous from a health and disease standpoint than chickens.

Hugh Bartling, a public policy professor at DePaul University and an Evanston resident, said students in one of his classes this winter surveyed officials in more than 20 cities that permit residents to keep backyard chickens.

He said most officials interviewed said their towns had had very few problems with chickens after adopting their ordinances. Most, he said, considered adopting the ordinance to be a net positive for their city. The towns surveyed ranged from Buffalo, N.Y., to St. Paul, Minn., and Eugene, Ore.

Two alderman, Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, seemed strongly inclined to support lifting the city’s 36-year-old ban on hens — a debate that’s been underway for the better part of a year.

Grover noted that not long ago the council went through a stormy debate about whether to permit beekeeping, but after approving bees, the city now has only one licensed apiary.

"I’m not certain how many people will choose to raise chickens," Grover said, "But I don’t expect many will. And those who do will do it well."

"In my family," she added, we’ve had fish and frogs and crayfish, and birds, and one dog who produces more noxious stuff than any checken every could, and who is more annoying to our neighbors."

She said the city can adopt regulations to minimize any harm from chickens. "It’s not a difficult thing to do."

Tendam said a lot of the complaints opponents of chickens raised "are not supported by the facts."

He said the chicken supporters had gathered an amazing amount of information in support of the change and noted that neighboring towns north and south of Evanston — Wilmette and Chicago — both permit chickens.

But Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he thought the ordinance still needs more work.

He said the city’s animal control operation is short staffed and suggested that keeping hens might prove more popular than other aldermen suggest — particularly among some ethnic groups "who came from a place where they used to have chickens."

Jean-Baptiste also suggested that treating a chicken coop like other "accessory structures" under the zoning ordinance and requiring it to be a minimum distance from the owner’s house might not be appropriate — that having a coop close to the house, or even in an attached garage, might be better — notably for keeping the chickens warm in the winter.

With the committee short one member, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, was attending a graduation ceremony, the committee voted to hold the ordinance for further discussion next month.

Related stories

More backyard chicken stories on Evanston Now

 

Editors’ Picks