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Spare chickens from the death penalty?

If an Evanston chicken stops producing eggs, should its owner be barred from killing it?

That was one of the questions raised this week as the Human Services Committee continued discussion of whether to lift the city’s 35-year-old ban on keeping chickens.

If an Evanston chicken stops producing eggs, should its owner be barred from killing it?

That was one of the questions raised this week as the Human Services Committee continued discussion of whether to lift the city’s 35-year-old ban on keeping chickens.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said chickens can live up to 15 years, but their egg production dramatically decreases after two years.

"That leads to the question of slaughtering animals," and whether that should be allowed in Evanston, said Fiske, the owner of a pet supply store who said she has many years of experience with animal rescue and adoption.

But Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said, "We’re a real diverse community, people from the southern parts of the country or who’ve grown up on farms are used to having chickens — but not only for the eggs. They might snap a chicken’s neck in a minute and eat it. Are we going to criminalize that?"

Meanwhile two residents offered the committee dramatically different views on the merits of chickens in residential neighborhoods.

Craig Garfield of 332 Florence Ave., a member of the Evanston Backyard Chickens group, said he isn’t opposed to a ban on roosters — which tend to be noisy and aren’t needed for egg production. He said hens aren’t very noisy and can survive Evanston winters.

Garfield, a pediatrician at Evanston Hospital, said everyone who’s interested in keeping chickens has their own reasons for it. "Nothing compares to fresh eggs," he said, "and it’s important for children to know where food comes from."

"And the fertilizer is the best you can get for the garden, because of its high nitrogen content," he added.

But John Barfield of 921 Elmwood Ave., said chickens "are being shoved down our throats."

"I have to deal already with squirrels and racoons and possums. I have neighbors with five bird feeders. We’ve got coyotes and hawks circling around."

Barfield, who said he works as a public health nurse, said chickens would pose significant public health issues in some areas of the community.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, who is about to take over as chair of the Human Services Committee, jokingly asked if the discussion could be postponed until June, when she’ll no longer be chair.

Holmes also was committee chair during the fractious debate over beekeeping and urged those interested in the issue to "really reach out to your neighbors."

"One of the pitfalls I saw with the bees," Holmes said, was that a proposed ordinance reached the committee with a lot of aspects of the issue not yet fully explored.

It wasn’t clear from Monday’s discussion whether the issue will come before the committee again in January, or at a later meeting.

The move to lift the ban on chicken-raising in Evanston gained traction after the showing earlier this fall of a film at the Evanston Public Library about a successful effort to legalize chicken raising in Madison, Wis., and activists now point to a study of permissive chicken statutes in 25 cities around the country as evidence to support the feasibility of the move.

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