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Give Chicago’s backyard chickens a break

A proposed ordinance would ban roosters and narrow the rules for keeping other animals, such as pigs and goats. It should be heavily revised or perhaps drowned in a gunny sack altogether.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports a hefty increase in the number of background chickens nationwide.
Sun-Times file photo

Over the years, Chicago has made progress in working with groups of residents to draw up sensible rules for permitting chickens and other farm animals in the city.

A lot of good has come from it. People are treating themselves to fresh eggs, right from the backyard. Others are providing havens for abandoned animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports a hefty increase in the number of background chickens nationwide. It’s a way to soften an urban area full of concrete and automobiles.

Much of that progress could be lost, however, if a proposed ordinance is enacted that would ban roosters and narrow the rules for keeping other animals, such as pigs and goats. The ordinance should be heavily revised or perhaps drowned in a gunny sack altogether.

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), who introduced the ordinance with Ald. Anthony V. Napolitano (41st), said he is motivated in part by problems with cockfighting in his ward. But cock-fighting already is illegal, so another ordinance regulating what people can keep in backyard coops isn’t relevant.

Some areas of the city also have a problem with dogfighting, but no one is talking about banning dogs within the municipal limits.

The ordinance not only would ban roosters and limit people to six hens, but it also would require a $25 annual license for each farm animal someone owns. The penalty for violations would be $100 to $500 for each day of a violation. That could be a hefty hit to the wallet and seems like an unnecessary addition to the burden of city life.

Also, many people who engage in urban agriculture are not wealthy and may be working more than one job just to get by. They don’t have time to spend hours in administrative court hearings if they are issued citations.

We’ve been down this road before. Environmentalists encourage people to set aside part of their property for eco-friendly native plants that reduce water runoff and provide a habitat for native species, including birds. But the people reportedly get citations from city workers who mistake those native plants for weeds.

No doubt, there is some room for thoughtfully tweaking the rules. Chicago already bans keeping animals for slaughter, and excessive noise is prohibited. Some additional rules might make sense.

But this ordinance feels like a rushed idea that could cause more problems that it solves. We hope the City Council is careful about how it moves forward.

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