ELKHORN — Until last week, some homeowners in rural areas of Walworth County were prohibited from having chickens in their backyards.
However, on Feb. 11, the Walworth County Board unanimously approved an ordinance that would allow up to six chickens to roost on properties zoned R-1, R-2, R-3, R-5, R-5A and C-3.
Although the new ordinance will allow chickens in these areas, there are some limitations to that ownership:
n Chickens are only allowed on single family residences.
n No chickens are allowed in mobile home parks.
n No roosters are allowed.
Town boards and homeowner associations can create more stringent requirements on chicken ownership or outright prohibit it.
Dale Wheelock, a farmer and town of Darien supervisor, was a proponent of the ordinance and said he is happy that it passed.
“There are a lot of people in the county, more than most people realize, who have a few backyard chickens,” Wheelock said.
However, some of those people who owned backyard chickens had them illegally, but they weren’t aware that they were violating a county ordinance.
Wheelock said many people assume they are allowed to own chickens when they live in a rural area.
However, in Walworth County, chickens aren’t just living in rural areas. The city of Delavan allows homeowners to apply for a chicken permit, which allows up to four backyard chickens.
Some larger cities throughout the country also allow chickens, including New York, Chicago and Madison, Wheelock said.
Prior to the county approving the ordinance, town boards were asked to weigh in on the issue. The town of Walworth told county officials homeowners should have chickens.
However, the Geneva Town Board, which covers the Lake Como subdivision, asked the county not to support the change in chicken rules.
Town of Geneva Clerk and Treasurer Deb Kirch said the town board voted 3-1-1 to oppose the county’s proposal. Supervisors Gene Decker, Steve Kukla and Chairman Joe Kopecky voted to oppose the county’s plan and supervisor Merle Loomer supported it. Supervisor James Daily abstained.
Why backyard chickens
Wheelock said most of the people who are interested in owning backyard chickens want to know where their food comes from.
“It is more natural. They want to know where their eggs are coming from,” Wheelock said. “Is it cost-effective? No. You will have a lot of money in a dozen eggs by the time you buy the coop and get the feed.”
Wheelock said the eggs from backyard chickens taste differently from store-bought eggs. He also said the ordinance change will benefit parents who have children in 4-H.
County Board Supervisor Daniel Kilkenny, who also serves on the town of Darien board, said after the meeting that people are allowed to have large dogs on their property, but not chickens.
“It takes six chickens to produce the same amount of waste as one medium dog,” Wheelock said. “The smell, the waste, it really isn’t a problem.”
Kilkenny also said that some people who live in rural areas bought old farm homes, which are surrounded by agricultural land.
The homes are zoned residential and the homeowners weren’t allowed to own chickens.
The old zoning laws also stopped owners of agriculture land from storing chickens near lot lines.
That also changed with the new ordinance.
“If you are zoned ag, you can have somewhere around 15,000 chickens, but if you have one chicken within 100 feet of the lot, you are in violation,” Wheelock said. “That changed so you can have a dozen chickens in a 100 square foot coop, within 20 feet of a lot line.”
Should more cities and villages allow chickens? Wheelock doesn’t see any reason they shouldn’t.
“Well, there are a lot of raccoons and dogs, and loose chickens don’t last very long,” Wheelock said. “It is taken care of.”