VIDEO: Northbrook Family Raising Backyard Chickens

The family says the chickens make good pets and delicious eggs. They initially had problems with predators, but a new, very big, guard rabbit is keeping the birds company.

Police aren't always looking for fowl play in Northbrook, but it's happening in some backyards. You might not even realize it, but your next door neighbor could be taking part in the citationable offense of raising backyard chickens. 

"We're supposed to be outlaws," said a Northbrook woman whose backyard coop houses anywhere from five to 10 chickens at a time. 

The woman looks after the chickens with her husband as a hobby and for high quality eggs. She says roaming chickens also help fertilize the backyard, and the birds make great pets for the couple's children.

Since it is currently illegal to raise chickens in Northbrook on a lot less than two acres, the family asked that their identity remain anonymous throughout the reporting process. 

"Responsible people should have responsible animals," the wife said. "The people who want to have chickens aren't crazy, we live in nice neighborhoods, we keep our yard clean, we keep our coop clean."

Last spring, village trustees debated and rejected a proposition to amend the ordinance and lift restrictions on raising backyard chickens. The anonymous couple was aware of the debate at Village Hall and its outcome, but kept their chickens anyway. The wife said her family did not participate in last year's debate.

According to David Schoon, assistant director of economic development in Northbrook, if the village is notified of backyard chickens, the violator will receive a warning, followed by a citation.

In the meantime, Schoon says the village is "not inspecting properties," looking for backyard chickens. 

Perhaps that's because backyard chickens can be pretty hard to spot. 

"They're not loud," the wife said. 

The family informed neighbors of the chickens, though it seems they could get away with keeping it a secret. 

"If no one told me, I would never know," the family's next door neighbor said, who also requested to remain anonymous.

The family's chicken coop is pressed against a fence separating two lots and the neighbor is almost as close to the chickens as the family, but still says the chickens could go unnoticed. 

Free Eggs, Manure 

The family has a few children who play with the chickens and treat them as pets. 

"They're super docile, not a lot of negatives," the wife said. "They walk in [the house] and sit on your head and you can pet them. They're like cats." 

When the children pet or hold the chickens, the birds don't screech or peck. They behave like loyal pets. 

"They all have names and personalities," the wife said. "My kids don't watch TV, they just watch the chickens."

The family buys the chickens from farms across the state, picking different breeds that produce different color eggs. 

"It's almost like collecting," the wife said. 

They are sold as chicks in small, nondescript boxes. It takes a few months before they start producing eggs, but the wife says some breeds produce about an egg per day. 

"My pet makes me breakfast, what does yours do?" she said. 

As a chick, it's very difficult to distinguish gender. So the first few months of owning a bird can be a waiting game until it becomes clear whether it's a hen or rooster. The family prefers to keep hens because they're quieter. Once it's clear there's a rooster in the coop, the family gives it to a farm. The wife said she has not slaughtered any of the chickens for meat. 

Raising chickens presents various advantages compared to other pets — they're quiet, small and their manure aids lawn growth compared to dog waste that can harm grass. They also don't need as much food. 

"They're good foragers and it's nice that they don't have to worry about food for half the day," she said. 

Beware of Coyotes, Jack Frost

Having the chickens presents certain challenges as well, including the attention of nearby predators and coping with harsh weather.

The wife did not add any heat source in the coop, she says her chickens belong to hardier breeds that grow more plumage when it's cold. Instead, she brought in a rabbit — a Flemish Giant named Cheddar.

Everyone seems to get along. 

"I thought he could be the guard dog of the coop," the wife said. "I don't think he can fight off a raccoon but he's always happy." 

"They're not scared of each other," she added.

When the family built the coop and bought their first seven chickens, an animal forced its way into the coop one night and stole two birds without leaving a trace. The following night, an animal got back into the coop and attacked all but two birds. In the morning, the wife found chicken remains spread across the lawn. 

She says the accident happened because a crevice between the coop's wall and roof was not properly secured and a clever animal, possibly a raccoon, could fit its body through the opening. But she doesn't think this problem is unique to chickens. 

"People worry about rats and coyotes, but little dogs, cats and backyard bunny hutches attract those predators too," the wife said. 

Whether Cheddar introduces a new set of challenges is still unclear, but for now the backyard bunny has been living outside with the chickens peacefully and the family hasn't had any predator troubles since that first animal attack. 

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Ed60062 January 14, 2013 at 02:43 PM
I would much rather have chickens in the neighborhood than barking dogs. And chickens make much less mess than dogs walked around the neighborhood by their owners.
Silvio Dante January 14, 2013 at 03:07 PM
If these lunatics lived next door to me, there would be a problem. Why be anonymous when you are so proud of your actions? Take a stand and come out of the closet. Covert chicken raising lunatics. Go buy a 2 acre lot and raise your chickens.
Silvio Dante January 14, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Everything is fine and dandy until a Rooster shows up. That "cock" will be more of a menace than any K-9. Plus, salmonella is a big danger in chicken raising...Hopefully, the Village will not be sued when the owners of the contra-band chicken coop get themselves and their children sick. Wash those hands after playing with the chickens.
Peacocks January 14, 2013 at 07:06 PM
I'd much rather live next to chickens than the barking, pooping dogs that I live next to!
friendlyneighbor January 14, 2013 at 08:49 PM
Lunatics? A little harsh, actually these people are my neighbors and they are wonderful people that would help there neighbors with anything no questions asked. I would rather live next to chickens with kind people as there owners, than a angry unfriendly person. In the big sceme of things chickens are hardly the problem in our neighborhoods today.
Ed60062 January 14, 2013 at 09:01 PM
Frank, I don't think roosters just "show up." The family doesn't keep roosters. Besides, I think I'd rather hear a rooster at sunrise than dogs all day and all night. Disease? Somehow people grew up on farms with chickens and survived; I suspect this family will too. I don't hear you warning about the danger of toxoplasmosis in cats to pregnant women.
Backyard Chicken Advocate January 14, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Most people who have backyard chickens do NOT keep roosters because they are noisier. But hens are quieter than morning doves. Salmonella is usually a problem with the chickens that are not allowed to roam free. Y'know, like the kind you buy in the store. Like the kind you probably cook for dinner. People who are intelligent enough to raise backyard chickens are intelligent enough to teach their kids the need for food safety. But you probably wouldn't know that, would you?
Silvio Dante January 14, 2013 at 11:11 PM
I guess I would rather live next door to chickens than Chief Keef or the innocent Mr. Koh. If we put the chicken issue on a local ballot referendum, what would the people of NBK vote for? That is something I would like to see instead of this covert, rogue, chicken farming. I am just a bit perplexed due to the fact that I cannot have a garden in my front yard but people can raise chickens in their backyards....Does that make sense?
Silvio Dante January 14, 2013 at 11:12 PM
In regards to toxoplasmosis....I think I got toxoplasmosis when I saw how much my water bill went up.
NewsWatcher January 14, 2013 at 11:16 PM
The Northbrook Tower had this story months ago. With names.
Resident January 15, 2013 at 01:20 AM
Found on Northbrooks site-"The Village of Northbrook encourages residents to practice sustainable living principles, including home gardening. Gardens are a great way to beautify one’s property, help the environment and provide healthy food for your family. If you choose to establish a garden in your front yard, please respect the fact that the garden will be in the view of your neighbors and members of the public. As you plan your garden, please be aware of the fact that the Village has safeguards in place to help ensure that the public health and safety is protected at all times. The Village’s intent in establishing these guidelines is to promote properly maintained gardens, and not allow areas to fall into disrepair or otherwise be neglected. Front Yard Garden Guidelines" Arm yourself with the facts before you jump into the ring. A little tidbit on salmonella- dogs can be carriers as well as other beloved household pets like turtles and guinea pigs. You also have a higher chance of contracting salmonella through food while dining out than from a backyard chicken. Read the facts and do your research before you start to assume the worst and throw barbs at people in your community. ps -You don't need a rooster to make an egg so most backyard keepers don't want them either.
Resident January 15, 2013 at 03:00 AM
When you think of backyard chickens Im sure you think of dirty birds kept in tin shacks, right? What if you were taken on a tour of these "new millennia movement" folks with beautiful chic coops that are nicer than most backyard children's playgrounds? Then given some facts on how the eggs from small free range flocks are at minimum 3x healthier for you, facts about their fertilizer, pest control and other pros of chicken keeping. With the right educational tools and being led by a higher standard of examples I believe sustainable living could benefit our younger generations and teach the rest of us a thing or two about healthier living. The world wasn't changed by close minded people. A voice is a voice, anonymous or not. At least someone is speaking up to benefit the many.
Silvio Dante January 15, 2013 at 03:32 AM
LOL@resident...The facts are if you plant a vegetable garden in your front yard, a letter from the village will soon follow due to the complaints of a neighbor (s). Been there, done that. Regardless of the recent compilation of the rules, letters were sent out that one should "register" their front gardens with the village to eliminate such complaints. Those are the facts that I am arming myself as I experienced the dreaded letter from the village. Meanwhile, these chicken coops should be registered as well. Oh, I forgot, they are illegal under village code w/ props under 2 acres. Not in the mood to celebrate people violating village code. I think the whole chicken coop issue is dumb, in all honesty. I would say the vast majority of residents feel the same way and would not want a chicken coop next door to them. Just as they would not want a neighbor raising goats, hens, game cocks, alpacas, or other animals on lots not zoned, or appropriate, for such activities. The rules are the rules. Just as you do not want your neighbor to put up a 12 foot fence when the code calls for a maximum of 6 feet. To all the pro-chicken raising folks out there, I would suggest getting this issue on the ballot as a referendum and putting an end to it. To all the backyard keepers out there, keep doing your thing. Just make sure your homeowners insurance covers chickens. That is a slippery slope with it being against village code. Is the liability worth the fresh eggs?
Silvio Dante January 15, 2013 at 03:42 AM
Resident, I respect your anonymous voice. I simply have my opinion. I prefer EggLands Best eggs personally. Do your thing and educate the world, that is all good. I just do not want to celebrate an activity that is illegal under village code and not really proper to do on a lot under at least 1 acre, in my opinion. I will wait for my invitation to the "new millennia movement" chicken coop tour and potentially reevaluate my opinion after such a tour. With this movement being so underground, how would I even get a tour? Before we change the world in terms of chicken raising, can we find someway to fix the potholes? My village street is full of them. This is an issue we can all agree on. Out of curiosity, how long is the shelf life of these Northbrook eggs?
Laurie Baum January 15, 2013 at 06:09 AM
The Village requires a permit to install a patio or deck. If a coop is built that would be another code violation. If the neighbors know about the chicken ownership and coop, could they be charged with aiding and abetting?! The Village knows who the chicken residents are but are not enforcing the law. The Village has also ignored the front yard garden lady! Her yard is an ugly mess! She is being disresptectful to her neighbors! What will be next?! Cows for fresh milk?!
Resident January 15, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Well, so far you are 8-1 on this column. So, if thats any clue... People challenge laws everyday in America. I support people who step up for what they think is right for our economy and future and do something about it. History has long showed change can be a very positive thing. People need to use their energy to solve REAL problems in the world. Not sit and stir over a few little chickens in Northbrook.
Silvio Dante January 15, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Laurie Baum is correct. So, its 8-2. The Village should not ignore anyone who is not following Village code on their properties. But, the leadership seems to be willing to let certain issues slide. No reason for rules or laws if that is the policy. That is not leadership and I do not agree with that. Code and laws are there for a reason. If Laurie or myself put up a fence, built a deck, or built a chicken coop, we would need a permit. Yet, others in the village can do whatever they like and certain laws are simply not enforced for whatever reason. If @Resident or the others want to continue on their change quest, that is totally fine and I agree that people should fight for the rights they believe in. They should lobby and advocate to get the village to change the codes or else find another village with different codes to raise their backyard chickens. It is as simple as that. I stopped my front lawn garden out of respect for the code and my neighbors and I would expect others to do the same. The threatening letter from the village of NBK also played a role in my decision. Let's use our energy to solve REAL problems in our village. First, fixing these potholes and awful village roads. We all pay a lot of taxes and can all agree that some of these village streets look absolutely awful.
Resident January 15, 2013 at 04:23 PM
Chicago does allow goats and bees. So does Atlanta, and many other densely populated cities. I do find it interesting when it's stated in the comments: "I moved to this city... you go to move to a farm..." when #1 they are not in a city, they are in the boonies. and #2 cities allow it.
Laurie Baum January 16, 2013 at 02:32 AM
Frank, you have mentioned several times that your street has potholes. Are you sure it is a village street and not a county or township rd? Are you in unincorporated Nbk?! You can find these things out. Especially when it comes to the snow removal responsibility.
Silvio Dante January 16, 2013 at 03:36 AM
Hi Laurie, I am 1000% positive that it is a village street. Yes, it is believable that there are village streets in extremely dire need of repair. All the public works people that I have spoken with agree on the condition of the street, yet, say that there is no money available to fix them properly. I wish I could blame this one on the county, or the township, but this is a village street and its awful. Seems like I am not the only one as I have heard numerous complaints regarding the condition of the village streets. The response I received from the village was simple. No money is available, or budgeted, to perform repairs to remedy the situation. Very lovely. Take a few hours and drive around the village. You will notice that unincorporated streets are in way better condition than village streets. It's embarrassing when the county does a better job than the village. Yet, I cannot worry about the condition of my street, or my neighbors when the focus seems to be on chickens these days. I am going to look into getting a goat for my backyard. I hear the milk is quite healthy for you. Do I need a permit to build a facility to house the goat?
Ed60062 January 16, 2013 at 05:36 PM
I think you will be fine as long as you keep the goat in the house. That way no one will know.
Resident January 16, 2013 at 06:39 PM
This is for Frank because he asked: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/06/08/why-you-dont-want-to-buy-organic-eggs-at-the-grocery-store-.aspx also read this one too- its about the benefits of fresh vs store bought etc http://turtlewoman.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-buy-the-healthiest-eggs In terms of how long fresh eggs can last, at longest 5 months. You can always stick your egg in water and see if it sinks, middle of the road or floats. If it floats, toss. I can get into why it floats but thats another long story about gas build up etc. I can't fix your pot holes but I will help lobby for your garden (-:
Silvio Dante January 16, 2013 at 06:48 PM
LOL...That is a good one Ed.
Silvio Dante January 17, 2013 at 02:27 AM
Thanks for the info Resident. I think together we can fix the potholes and lobby for gardens. I wish you luck on your quest to educate the people. You have not changed my opinion yet, but I do have an open mind and respect your position. Some lively debate is always a good thing in a town such as ours.
Stan Golovchuk (Editor) January 17, 2013 at 03:25 AM
I wish more people left comments like this one. Thanks Frank! P.S. Let me know if you get that goat, I'll whip up a story.
Silvio Dante January 17, 2013 at 02:38 PM
Thanks Stan. I was thinking about 2 goats so they do not get lonely. Maybe start a side business and turn my house into a makeshift petting zoo:) We should have a little fun on here and stop being so cruel to each other. State your position, defend it, but always respect and love your neighbors as thyself.
Jennifer D.Hill February 08, 2013 at 07:13 PM
It is truly amazing how each township feels so different about healthy lifestyles and what that means. A good animated childrens movie expresses this well- Over the Hedge. Kids think its funny, but we growups should get the point being made. As far as goat milk goes, it saved my youngest son's life when he was severly intolerent to formulas of all kinds and I had my own production problems. He went from nearly starving at one month to just right at three months only on goats milk and what little I could produce, we keep just 4 does and one buck. and we have meat in the freezer, hide for leather fun, and milk when we start to ween the new babies. the meat is from last seasons little boys. we do live ikn the country but if one was to look up back yard coops, or chicken tractors you can find an endless supply of ideas without needong permits because they don't always need a foundation, kind of like buying a Ziggy's shed and putting it in your back yard on skids. I even read an article about how to keep a pet chicken in your bedroom! No different than a hamster and the pictures showed it was beautiful!!!!


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