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Editorials

Our view: Backyard poultry can have place in DeKalb

Aubrey, 4, and Brayson, 3, Malone of Rochelle pet chickens at the petting zoo.
Aubrey, 4, and Brayson, 3, Malone of Rochelle pet chickens at the petting zoo.

A new movement is afoot to allow DeKalb residents to keep backyard chickens on their property. It’s been six years since the idea was last presented to the City Council, where it failed to gain support, but the city now has a new mayor and largely new council members.

A meeting on the plan is set for Wednesday in the Children’s Activity Room of the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St., and the public is welcome.

Keeping backyard chickens has actually become fashionable in some of the country’s largest urban centers, including Chicago, New York City and the San Francisco Bay area.

Generally, we favor allowing people to do what they like on private property. However, there are factors to consider beyond ensuring chickens don’t disturb the neighbors.

The DeKalb council last considered a backyard poultry plan in April 2012. At the time, city staff recommended a limit of five hens to a property, keeping coops at least 35 feet from property lines and requiring birds to be kept on lots 10,000 square feet or larger.

That’s a reasonable starting point.

A brood of five hens can produce two dozen eggs a week or more to help feed a family and probably supply the neighbors, too. But the backyard chicken trend has also led to an uptick in salmonella cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017 set a new record for most salmonella-related illnesses linked to backyard poultry. There were more than 1,120 salmonella cases traced to backyard birds in 2017, the CDC reported, including 42 cases in Illinois.

Salmonella can be found in chicken droppings, and on feathers, feet and beaks, even when birds appear healthy and clean. Eggs from small flocks of chickens are also more likely to be contaminated with salmonella, because they are neither inspected nor regulated.

Requiring an inspection or permit every year or two to raise the birds might ensure humane treatment of animals and cut down on unsafe practices.

If the popular support for backyard chickens is still present, then rules could be changed to accommodate people. Animal husbandry takes effort, however, and it seems unlikely that chicken coops will spring up behind every home in the city.

Those who want to keep backyard chickens should have the opportunity, provided it is practical to eliminate disturbances and other risks.

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