Chicago is putting the “Chi” in chicken. The urban agriculture movement — including raising backyard chickens — is a trend that hasn’t slipped past Chicagoans.
“There is definitely growing interest in raising chickens in Chicago,” says Jennifer Murtoff of Home to Roost, who works as an urban chicken consultant for about 400 Chicago families. There seems to be a healthy curiosity in wanting to know where your food comes from and wanting to be a part of the process, Murtoff explains.
It may be surprising to some, but it’s legal to raise any number of hens and roosters as pets and for eggs throughout every neighborhood in the city, according to Chicagochickens.org. It is against the law, however, to keep pigeons, or to keep any animal for the purpose of slaughtering for food — Chicago has strict laws on slaughtering facilities, which are monitored closely by the state, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Unlike some nearby suburbs that prohibit backyard chickens altogether, in Chicago your chickens don’t have to be registered, have no coop specifications, and roosters are even allowed, Murtoff says. “There are no regulations on the size of your yard, but there are best practices on how to keep your coop and how to properly care for your chickens,” she says.
Your biggest concerns are more likely to be nuisance issues, including sanitation, noise, chickens escaping from their yard and humane treatment, according to section 7-12-100 of the city code.
But the laws weren’t always so lax. In 2007, there was a City Council effort to ban raising chickens in the city, but advocates of the practice banded together to prevent the passing of the law.
Some suburbs are not as laid-back as Chicago in regards to chicken-raising laws. In fact, it is prohibited to own backyard chickens in a hefty handful of surrounding suburbs, including Arlington Heights, Forest Park and Glencoe, and many others come with a slew of regulations.
Here’s a list of surrounding-area suburbs and their general backyard chicken policies (as of March 2014). Be sure to check in with officials before starting out, though, because there are nuances to each suburb’s ordinances and zoning laws:
If you decide to raise backyard chickens, it is courteous, but not mandatory, to keep your neighbors in the loop — educate them or maybe give them some eggs, Murtoff recommends.
She says one of her concerns is that raising chickens becomes a hip phase, like getting a potbelly pig. “It’s important for us to educate the public about how much work it takes,” Murtoff says, “and help to encourage healthy chicken-raising — if anyone is seriously thinking about raising chickens, I always recommend getting a copy of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.”
It’s also important to remember, raising chickens is typically a four- to five-year commitment, and sometimes longer. “I had a rooster named Hot Stuff who lived to be 10,” she says.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re handling your backyard chickens safely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, live birds may carry bacteria, like salmonella, so make sure to wash your hands immediately after touching a chicken and never bring it into your home.