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Will County: Family’s chickens need to fly the coop

KindrGarrabrant her daughter Jerry  12 hold chickens their home WheatlTownship near Plainfield Tuesday June 19 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times

Kindra Garrabrant and her daughter, Jerry , 12, hold chickens at their home in Wheatland Township near Plainfield Tuesday, June 19, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:24AM

WHEATLAND TOWNSHIP — Jerry Garrabrant sold half of her video games, and gave up a lot of time in the air-conditioned indoors, to make her family’s backyard chicken coop possible.

Jerry, 12, has helped raise five chickens in the coop since the early spring, when the birds were only one day old. It was something she wanted to do. Now, county officials are telling her and her family, the chickens are, well, pollos non gratae.

“She made the choice: I would rather be out and close to how things are than sit inside and play video games,” her mother Kindra Garrabrant said.

The Garrabrant family, however, received notice this month from the Will County Land Use Department, saying that keeping the chickens — named Frodo, Haymitch, Susan, Cadbury and Fluffington — is against the law. The family has until Friday to get rid of their chicken coop.

“The property needs to be brought into compliance with all Will County codes and ordinances,” said the notice, provided to The Herald-News by the Garrabrant family. “It is not a permitted use to keep agricultural fowl on property zoned residential.”

But Kindra thinks the current county ordinance is inconsistent, given that her neighborhood is only a few hundred feet away from a farm. Nearby Naperville allows neighborhood chicken coops. Another neighbor, the village of Plainfield, does not currently allow backyard chicken coops, but village officials are having discussions over such an ordinance.

Kindra wants Will County to allow backyard chicken coops in her unincorporated neighborhood, near 135th Street and Plainfield-Naperville Road. She believes backyard chicken coops have value in a community: The activity is educational for kids, the chickens provide fresh eggs, and the process of caring for the birds brings families together.

She also emphasizes that the birds are pets and not “meat” chickens. They will provide eggs — in a clean, healthy environment — where they have room to run in an enclosed area outside the coop, she said.

The coop looks like a playhouse, built with the intention of blending in with the neighborhood and not having an unsightly appearance. Every night, the chickens climb the ramp from the run area back into the enclosed coop.

County ordinance

“The zoning ordinance clearly does not allow that particular use in a residential zone,” said Curt Paddock, director of the Will County Land Use Department.

In residential zones, there is no provision to even apply for a special-use permit for the keeping of agricultural fowl, Paddock said.

Citizens are always entitled to appeal the decision to the Will County Planning and Zoning Commission, Paddock said.

Paddock likened the case to last year’s debate over whether a resident could keep a pet goat in a similar residential zone, in Jackson Township. That family tried to get the Will County zoning law changed to allow pet miniature goats and pigs in rural residential subdivisions. The zoning change remains under review.

Learning lessons

Andrew and Kindra Garrabrant live on Rivercrest Drive in Wheatland Township with their daughter Jerry. This spring, they bought five chickens, each one day old. Jerry wrote a report on backyard chickens and presented her research to her classmates at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Plainfield.

Since the family started caring for backyard chickens, video games have lost their appeal.

“I remember, we were going through games. And we had the chickens. And the games just didn’t seem as much fun anymore,” Jerry said.

Kindra is happy to see her daughter learning so much.

“We’ve taught our daughter how to be self-sustaining,” Kindra said. “She now knows how to raise a chicken from one day old. She’s more connected to her food. She now knows that food doesn’t come from Jewel in the back — there’s not a magic little button back there. She has a real-life, hands-on appreciation now.”

Kindra feels better knowing where her food is coming from. Farm-fresh eggs, she says, are healthier and have more vitamins.

“The health benefits are amazing,” she said.

The family keeps a garden near the chicken coop.

“We grow our own vegetables. We have plenty of fruit trees. We try to be self-sustaining,” Kindra said, adding that her family strives to have less of an impact on the environment.

“It benefits not only us, but our children and our grandchildren and everybody. We feel that’s really important,” she said.

And the experience is good for family togetherness, Kindra said.

“This isn’t just one person, this isn’t just a mom or a dad thing. This is a family venture. Every single one of us needs to be involved,” Kindra said. “Every night, my daughter and I come out here, and we clean up after the chickens, and we water them. So it’s something we do every night together.”

Friends involved

“It’s a new experience for me, and I’m learning a lot,” Jerry said. “I’ve taught many people at my school, all my friends, about the chickens. And I know we’re going to have fresh eggs. And the fresh eggs taste much better than store-bought eggs.”

Kindra added: “Her friends are in amazement. All of her friends want to come over to hold the chickens. We’ve been able to educate other children. We have been able to educate other adults in the neighborhood about the benefits of this.”

One of those friends is Manoa Ramirez, 4, who was holding and petting the chickens during a Herald-News visit this week.

“Chickens are awesome,” Manoa said.

Tiffany Pankow had her four children visiting the chicken coop on Tuesday: Tony Ramirez, 10; Peace Ramirez, 8; Ocean Ramirez, 7; and Manoa.

Pankow spoke of the educational benefits for children.

“It leads them to a sense of responsibility and an incredible work ethic,” she said. “It teaches them a sense of pride, that they’re getting their own food. They’re growing their own food.”

Another neighborhood resident, Zoe Cremer, brought her son, Kellen, 4, to the backyard coop, where he presented The Herald-News with his own hand-drawn chicken poster.

Cremer said of the chickens: “They are a wonderful pet to have and own in a backyard environment. They are very clean. When cared for appropriately, they have no odor. They have the same type of personalities that you would find in even a cat or a dog. They are very personable. I am in full support of it.”

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