KIRKLAND – When Tiffany and Brandon Wiegartz of Kirkland watched “Food, Inc.” and saw the poor treatment of chickens and how many antibiotics they were fed, they thought twice about what their family ate.
They were surprised to learn that chickens in some places were kept in cages with less than a square foot of living space.Their beaks were also trimmed to keep them from pecking the chicken in front of them.
“That was enough for me to go, ‘yeah, I’m not going to support this anymore,’ ” Brandon Wiegartz said.
So they pored over Kirkland’s municipal code to see if it was legal to raise their chickens in their home’s backyard. They found nothing that said it was illegal, so in May, their seven baby chicks had arrived from Ohio.
Backyard chicken ownership isn’t new in DeKalb County. Several municipalities have
encountered some kind of chicken debate in the last year, but some city officials are still hesitant to throw much support behind it.
The city of Genoa is not one of them.
About a year ago, a resident of a Genoa subdivision brought the matter to the city council. Mayor Todd Walker said the city had no ordinance in place that related to poultry.
Council members crafted an ordinance that limited the number of chickens someone can own, set a minimum land requirement for a person to raise chickens and required that coops be set 25 feet from property lines. Roosters were barred.
Sycamore Mayor Ken Mundy said all those rules seemed like just another headache.
“Frankly, police are not looking for more laws to enforce,” he said.
The issue of owning chickens in city limits has come up before in Sycamore, he said, but the city does not allow it. He said concerns about health and safety, nuisances, fire hazards and people not properly caring for chickens have been the biggest barriers.
Chickens in some suburban yards have been found neglected in sheds, Mundy said. Fire officials also have raised concerns about people placing heat lamps in hay-filled coops in the winter.
“They just belong in the country,” Mundy said. “They really do.”
DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen said the backyard chickens issue came up as recently as two months ago, but deemed it a “dead issue” because it hasn’t received enough support at the Committee of the Whole level to advance the discussion to the City Council.
He said his biggest concerns were noise, attracting wild animals and people not caring for the birds properly.
“I think we have enough other core issues in the community that are hard enough to enforce,” Povlsen said. “I appreciate people who are naturalists, but there’s a reason why chickens have not been allowed in the city.”
Walker said there haven’t been any issues since Genoa’s ordinance passed.
“I think people object to the unknown,” Walker said. “Once people have these, there are no problems.”
The Wiegartzes said many of those concerns have so far been unfounded. They built an elevated coop twice the required size in their backyard, and matched the paint – even the pitch of the roof – to match their house. They also fenced in their yard.
“We were nervous about doing it. We weren’t sure how it go over with the town and with the neighbors,” said Tiffany Wiegartz.
“Some of my neighbors don’t even know I have them yet,” Brandon Wiegartz said.
That’s because the birds hardly make a peep, they said. They also say their chickens are easier to care for than their two dogs.
Although the Wiegartzes look forward to harvesting their first batch of eggs in October, fresh eggs weren’t their only motivation. They wanted it to be a learning experience for their children, Austin, 8, Blake, 5, and Caiden, 2.
“Everything nowadays is about video games and TV,” Tiffany Wiegartz said. “We wanted to figure something out to do as a family.”
Now that the Wiegartzes have their chickens, they said some of their neighbors have become interested, as well, which didn’t surprise them because they feel people want to be more conscious of what they eat.
With increased interest, Kirkland village trustees plan to refine the ordinance that allows chickens.
“It became a fad all of a sudden,” said Village President Les Bellah.
DeKalb, Sycamore and Cortland, and other more rural areas in the county such as Waterman and Somonauk, don’t have ordinances that allow chickens in city limits, although in most places it has been discussed at some point by officials.
Cortland Town President Robert Seyller said the issue came up a few years ago, but didn’t go anywhere. He said the challenge with crafting an ordinance that allows chickens is that some people will likely try to stretch the limits.
“It’s one of those issues we’re not going to address unless we’re forced to,” he said with a laugh. “I tend to be for personal freedoms, but you always have people who take advantage of the system.”