Resident serves as test case for raising chickens
Wendy Vichick holds out a bunch of kale she picked from her gardens to feed to her chickens. | Jane Michaels~Sun-Times Media
With a gentle curiosity, three colorful hens approached a visitor to their corner of a well-maintained Western Springs back yard.
Albie, a Buff Orpington, Rosie, a Rhode Island Red and Annie, a Speckled Sussex, strutted around but kept their distance. They quickly lost interest in the visitor when their owner, Wendy Vichick, held out a bunch of kale she picked from her garden.
“They love fresh vegetables and fruits,” said Vichick, who has raised the hens since they arrived at one day old in June through overnight express shipping. “I give them carrots and apples, and they love corn on the cob.”
Vichick, an avid gardener, and her husband, Greg, applied for a temporary use permit and are serving as a test case as village officials consider revisions to an ordinance allowing backyard chickens.
As approved in March 2011, the measure effectively precludes residents from owning chickens, which must be kept 75 feet from a neighbor’s property. Most lot sizes are narrower.
La Grange officials are watching the test case with interest after a homeowner asked for a change in the local law so that his family, too, could raise hens.
“I know people who already have chickens in town, and I’ve been thinking about it for five or six years,” said Jeff Cogelja of La Grange. “I started building a coop but one of my neighbors said that would make her back yard unenjoyable.”
After trying to respond to his neighbor’s concerns, Cogelja talked with other neighbors and gathered 60 signatures on a petition in support of allowing backyard chickens.
“I grow a vegetable garden, collect rainwater in barrels and recycle, including hauling Styrofoam out to Aurora,” Cogelja said after presenting the petition to the Village Board April 9. “I do things to be earth friendly, and this would be an extension of that.”
Marty Scott, director of Community Development for Western Springs, said he’s received only one complaint about the Vichick’s hens, and that was due to noise.
“It will be interesting to see how this plays out around town,” Scott said. “I’ve not heard any other complaints or opposition. She would seem to be the perfect candidate to be a test case for raising hens.”
Scott is assisting the Village Board’s General Government Committee studying changes to the chicken ordinance, which likely will include setbacks, the number of hens, a ban on roosters, and regulations on cleanliness and enclosures.
The committee is expected to make a recommendation to the board in May, and trustees will then debate and adopt changes, he said. Vichick’s permit expires in July.
Other communities with various regulations allowing backyard chickens include Westchester, Brookfield, Downers Grove, Naperville, Batavia, Evanston and Schaumburg, Scott said.
Wendy Vichick predicts there won’t be a huge surge in the number of suburbanites rushing out to raise chickens.
“It’s not for everyone. You have to be an animal person,” she said. “It’s a major commitment in terms of providing fresh water and food every day, cleaning the coop once a week and putting out fresh straw. I’d recommend a large compost pile.”
Vichick said she hasn’t received any complaints and her neighbors have been very supportive; some offer to care for the hens when the couple is away. The hens lay two to three eggs per day, and she shares them with her neighbors.
“I’m not doing this to be a rabble rouser,” she said. “I’m a big gardener, I have solar panels and I drive a Prius. This is my way of life.”
In addition to the fresh eggs daily, the hens eat bugs and improve the quality of life for the couple. Vichick invited preschoolers from the First Congregational Church of Western Springs recently for a tour.
“They’re not soft and cuddly like a dog, but they’re a lot of fun to watch,” Vichick said.
Ken Koelbedeck, poultry extension specialist from the University of Illinois Extension Services, said there are some concerns about backyard chickens.
“There are a number of diseases chickens are subject to, but for the most part, they are not a health risk for humans,” Koelbedeck. “There have been no cases of bird flu in the United States.”
Bird feed can serve as an attraction to rodents or flies, but protected bait traps can be placed strategically and feed can be secured. Koelbedeck said his biggest concern about allowing backyard flocks is people who don’t know what they’re doing.
“Better do your homework first,” he said. “Google backyard chickens and you’ll get a ton of information.