The kids grow up so fast. The chickens grow up a heck of a lot faster.
Just five and a half months ago, Wendy Vichick to test how the Village’s new poultry ordinance would hold up in a real-life scenario. Those three little balls of fluff are now three three-quarters-grown hens, contentedly living in their outdoor coop even as temperatures drop, and providing the Vichick home with three fresh eggs every day.
“Usually I find two in the morning and one in the afternoon,” Vichick said with amusement. “Someone’s off-kilter.”
Whether it’s Rosie (the red one), Annie (speckled) or Albie (yellow) who’s the afternoon layer, Vichick isn’t sure. But she is certain that she’s enjoying the experience of raising them.
“They’ve been a lot of fun,” she said. “They’re very curious. You come out here and start messing around in here, they’ll start untying your shoelace. They want to be with you because they know you’re either going to let them out [into the pen] or feed them, and that’s what they like most.”
Vichick’s coop rests against the back of her Lawn Avenue home, shielding the chickens from westerly winds. Around the coop, the Vichicks have constructed a small pen for the birds to roam—along with an accidental bonus in the form of the dirt area under their porch, in which the chickens roll to cleanse themselves.
The area, however—once part of the family’s prized backyard garden—has been stripped bare by the voracious and largely omnivorous trio (who are fed corn, scratch, kale and various vegetables—they’ve only refused green peppers.) Vichick plans to expand the coop in the spring and sacrifice the entire bed.
The benefit, besides the birds’ amiable company: those three fresh eggs. Vichick says she’s used a dozen in meals, given another dozen to neighbors and has a third dozen in the fridge to show off.
Currently, as the hens are not full-grown, the eggs are… underwhelming in size. “We got our first egg, and my husband [Greg] goes, ‘hey, I wanted jumbo!’” Vichick laughed. (The eggs should reach full size along with their producers.)
And how do the eggs fare? “They’re pretty much like normal eggs. The yolk is a little orangier and taller, and there’s less cholesterol and they’re healthier for you.”
The raising of poultry in suburban neighborhoods—particularly compact ones like Western Springs—has been a growing cause among the environmentally-cautious, like the Vichicks (who were also for their energy panels.)
In February, the (with one trustee dissenting) to allow the raising of fowl, but under strict constraints impossible for almost any resident. The Vichick coop is operating under a special temporary license scheduled to be reassessed in March.
Marty Scott, Village Director of Community Development, who helped to grant the temporary license, said the Village has received a single noise complaint about the chickens, but nothing else.
“It’s hard to say what was expected, because we’d never dealt with this before,” Scott said. “We have no basis for this to go on. As far as one complaint coming in, that’s part of what the trustees consider in deciding [in March] whether to make it permanent or move away from it.”
In fairness to the chickens—who are almost always perfectly quiet—they may have had a valid reason for the rare ruckus. Vichick said the occasional hawk takes an interest in the coop, and one morning she woke to find a red fox just outside the pen.
And there’s plenty of work involved besides shooing off predators. The chickens’ straw has to be changed weekly (it goes into a compost heap). Just like with any pet, the Vichicks try to let the chickens out of their coop for some exercise every day. And there are challenges—keeping the water and eggs from freezing, or finding a chicken-sitter when they leave town.
For anyone considering joining the Vichicks in chicken-raising if the Village does decide to allow it. Wendy emphasizes that “location is key, giving them a place to roam… And you have to be willing to give up something, because they’ll just trample any garden area you have. And a place to put the straw—you have to have a compost pile; I don’t know how else you’d do it.
“I don’t think it’s for everybody, and I don’t expect everyone to want these… You have to do some research. You have to be willing to commit to it.”