Bartlett weighing whether to allow backyard chickens

Jennifer Rasmussen was heartbroken last month when she found out the village of Bartlett wouldn't allow her to keep the six chickens she was raising in her backyard.

She only had the chickens five weeks when she had to find them a new home after someone reported her to the village.

“I've seen several other places in town that had them so we assumed that it was an OK thing,” Rasmussen said.

While those chickens are gone, Rasmussen's determination to raise chickens in her backyard remains.

She started a Facebook page called Backyard Chickens for Bartlett, IL, which now has 135 followers, and hopes to convince village leaders to revise their ordinances and allow residents to keep chickens.

Rassmussen and her husband try to be as self-reliant as possible, she said. They have a vegetable garden, and she has been wanting to raise chickens for a long time.

“We wanted our own eggs so we know where our food is coming from and what we're eating,” she said.

Bartlett officials get four to five inquiries a year about keeping chickens, but it wasn't until Rasmussen and a few others spoke at a June 7 board meeting that they began to consider it further, Village President Kevin Wallace said.

Among those with Rasmussen that night was a mother who told village board members how chickens are therapeutic for her son with special needs. She presented several letters from his occupational therapists supporting her claims.

However, their proposal has its share of critics.

Bartlett residents Tom and Sharon Walsh wrote a letter to the village board expressing their disapproval.

“Chickens need to be able to walk around freely and peck at the ground a good part of the day, NOT locked up in a cage environment,” they wrote. “It is inhumane. Would you want to spend your life in a cage environment?”

Trustee T.L. Arends also spoke against it.

“Chickens are dirty and nasty animals,” Arends said during the June 7 meeting. “They stink. They go around and peck everything. To have that kind of thing in my neighbor's yard would be upsetting to me.”

Arends, who said she grew up on a farm with chickens, noted that if people are concerned about the quality of their food, they can buy organic eggs at a number of stores in and around Bartlett.

“If this was meant to be an agricultural community, I think that would have been done a long time ago,” she added.

Several other suburbs have grappled with the issue of backyard chickens. Arlington Heights and Libertyville leaders rejected residents' requests to keep chickens in 2013, but towns including Naperville, Elgin, St. Charles, Lombard and Batavia permit it.

Elgin established a pilot program last year allowing 15 residents to keep up to four hens, but no roosters, for a year. Coops have to be 10 square feet per hen, and located at least 25 feet from neighboring homes and six feet from adjacent property lines.

Elgin City Council member Tish Powell said the pilot program was so successful the city expanded the program and made it permanent.

“We haven't had any problems,” Powell said, adding that any complaints were minor and easily resolved.

Given Elgin's success, Powell believes a pilot program could be successful in Bartlett.

However, Wallace said “a lot more conversations need to take place” before anything comes to a vote.

The village board is slated to discuss the issue again in July. Until then, officials will continue researching other communities' experiences with backyard chickens, Wallace said.

Jennifer Rasmussen's backyard chicken coop sits empty today after Bartlett officials told her keeping chickens is against village regulations. Now, Rasmussen and her husband are working to change village ordinances so residents can own chickens. Courtesy of Jennifer Rasmussen
Jennifer Rasmussen's six chickens were living in the coop in her backyard until she learned the village of Bartlett doesn't allow people to own chickens. After only five weeks with her chickens, she had to find them a new home. Courtesy of Jennifer Rasmussen
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