Backyard Chickens in Fox Lake, IL

Sustainable Living Through Backyard Hens

About Fox Lake Chickens

First, a quiz!

Which egg is the HEALTHY egg?

Can you spot the healthy egg in this dozen? Scroll down to see the answer!

What’s the Big Deal?

A Fox Lake, IL village animal control ordinance states that residential areas are not allowed to have backyard chickens.

Why is this so? Are they uncontrollable? Do they present some kind of nuisance?

I submit that they are neither uncontrollable or a nuisance. To understand this, first let’s understand the history of people keeping chickens.

People have raised chickens for more than 3,000 years. Some say even up to 8,000 years. Descended from Asian jungle birds, they were domesticated and bred mostly for cockfighting (though, I’m sure, people all those years ago found their eggs and meat quite tasty just as much as we do). Sometime in the 16th century, chickens were introduced to America from Europe. When cockfighting was no longer allowed in the U.S., they were raised for exhibition purposes. And, of course, as a food staple.

So, what are chickens like?

Well, they have feathers. They scratch around on the ground for food. They poop. Roosters crow and strut, and hens cluck and lay eggs.

That’s about the limit of knowledge most people have about them.

But there’s much more to chickens than this. Their usefulness in time of food scarcity make them a necessity in all parts of the world.  They have a low impact on the environment when kept properly and chicken droppings make great garden fertilizer. They’re pleasant to have around and they teach children (and adults) responsibility and where their food comes from.

A (re)New(ed) Use for your Back Yard

Recently, America has come to recognize…rather, re-recognize…the value of keeping chickens in the back yard. What happened to cause us to abandon back yard chicken raising?  What caused there to be a revival of sorts in these last few years?

After World War II, people began to put less importance on self-sustainability as a key factor in the security of the nation. Instead, they migrated from cities and farms to the suburbs. From the farmers’ perspective, the suburbs migrated to and on top of them. As agricultural lands were gobbled up by cookie-cutter housing developments, small and mid-size farms, many of which raised poultry for sale to local populations, began to sell their land to housing developers.

The new tenants of these suburban subdivisions valued factory farming over small-time farming. Keeping chickens suddenly seemed to fit more with a lower-class, less progressive lifestyle. At one time a necessity even in urban yards, cities and towns across the country passed ordinances banning back yard chickens, classifying them in a separate “agriculture” or “nuisance” category.

Nobody complained, really, or if they did their concerns went unheeded. Factory farming was lowering the prices of farm goods such that it was hard for anyone to make the argument that they needed back yard chickens. “Just go to the store!” people would say, “The meat and eggs are cheaper and you don’t have to deal with the maintenance and slaughter.” Gradually, back yard chickens became a relic of America’s past.

A Time of Need

Fast forward to 2008. With a looming financial crisis, and other economic woes on the not-so-distant horizon, Americans have begun to see the writing on the wall. Factory farming began to be revealed for the cruel and inhumane process it had transformed into from the 1940s onward. In a desperate attempt to keep prices low, small farms had consolidated into larger farms, which became targets for acquisition by Big Agribusiness.

These big firms “refined” factory farming such that chickens are now jammed together in racks of tiny, stacked crates. Conditions in those operations are…well…I’ll let you see for yourself, if you can stomach it:

As you can tell, there are hidden costs to the convenience of low-priced poultry and eggs at the grocery store. Factory farming is the least sustainable method of poultry-raising. But backyard chicken raising, having been the norm for 3,000 to 8,000 years is the most sustainable method.

Rebooting Chicken Raising

Don’t you need acres of farmland to raise chickens?  No. Chickens are small.  Unlike with large livestock, there’s no milking, arranging breeding (unless you want to), dehorning, castrating offspring, or any of that stuff.  Their needs are simple. Water, feed, picking up their eggs, and a few square feet of coop and a small pen sustains two to three hens quite happily.

Which egg is the HEALTHY egg?

TRICK QUESTION! Happy hens lay healthy eggs HIGH in lutein and other vitamins. Brown, local eggs are happy hen eggs. Click the image above to read The Straight Dope for more details.

Happy hens produce healthy eggs. There’s really no secret to that. It’s just common sense. Happy hen eggs are higher in vitamins and lower in cholesterol than those of factory farms.  The risk of salmonella is greatly reduced since the feces control problem of factory farms is non-existent with the right coop setup. There is little to no noise associated with raising hens for eggs. Most back yard chicken raisers don’t even want a rooster as purchasing chicks from distributors online is so easy to do (and nobody really likes to hear a loud cock-a-doodle-doo every morning).

The meat is much better than factory farmed chickens, too! Some leftover food scraps, a mix of different plant scraps and weeds, and some feed is more than enough to build “broiler” chickens up to a healthy weight.  They’ll scratch for the rest in an open area you provide for them.  Even though slaughtering your own birds isn’t for the faint of heart, it needn’t be a job you have to do on your own. As more people begin to raise backyard birds, small-scale slaughter operations will become available near you to do the job. Many of these operations take the time to ensure it is done in a safe, healthy, and humane manner.

As  you could see from the video, the same can’t be said for factory farms.

Rebooting the Community

Another positive effect of backyard chickens is their potential to bring neighbors together again. Currently we live in a 9-5 work world followed by a 5:01 to 12pm entertainment world. There is little reason anymore for one neighbor to ever speak to another. But with backyard chickens, and the dozens of eggs that can be given away (or sold) to neighbors, a sense of community can spring up again where there was none before. As you reap the benefits of chicken raising, your neighbors will be curious to see if it works for them, too. More conversations and get-togethers will inevitably result, leading to a healthier, happier, friendlier neighborhood.

If you think your neighbors might not be so happy about chickens, they will be after you share your bounty with them. Once they taste fresh, colorful, large “happy hen” eggs, they’ll never want to go back to the store for those factory farmed, bland, tiny white ones.

Local Government: “No Chickens! They’re a Nuisance!”

But, you know what?  You’re not allowed to raise even one chicken in your back yard if you live in Fox Lake, IL. Not even if you have over an acre of land, and not even in your house, if you were so inclined. That’s because Fox Lake has an animal control/nuisance ordinance that prohibits it on all but land zoned for agricultural or multiple use.

Oh well, you might say. Can’t fight City Hall, right?  Well, before you give up, consider this.

The Economy

The economy has been in a slump for three years now. Things are not looking like they’ll improve significantly for quite some time. The dollar is in danger of falling out of favor as the world’s reserve currency. Fuel prices are rising, with no signs of stopping, with all the supply-chain problems that implies. People are losing their jobs at a steady rate and competing with hundreds of other people just like them for the ones that are available. The United States is facing its most dire economic downturn since the Great Depression. And, many experts are predicting that’s exactly where we’re headed again based on patterns in the stock market that appeared before the first one.

Your grandparents survived the Great Depression, in part, because they didn’t have bothersome, suburban-era ordinances to stand in their way. Your very existence now may be directly attributable to the fact that, by raising chickens for a little extra food or money, your ancestors didn’t starve to death.

Sure, things could come roaring back to life. But do you really want to take the risk that your money won’t buy even a tenth of what it used to?  Do you really want to be at the mercy of empty grocery store shelves when that time comes? Through no more effort than it takes to grow a garden, you can assure yourself of a steady supply of nutrition right from your own back yard.

That is, if your local elected officials see fit to allow you to do so.  You, and your neighbors, are the key to that happening.

Join Fox Lake Chickens

Exercise your right to have a say in your government. Join “Bring Backyard Chickens to Fox Lake, IL” on Facebook and let’s organize ourselves, peacefully, to change or amend that “nuisance” ordinance to allow us to return to sustainable living. If people in downtown New York City can have chickens, with all that confinement and congestion and with the blessing of their elected officials, why can’t “sub-rural” Fox Lake residents do the same? Answer: There is no logical reason to prevent it.

Sustainable living through growing your own food is not a nuisance. It’s a right.


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