Janesville backyard chickens a clucking success

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Jake Magee
Sunday, June 18, 2017

JANESVILLE—A controversial decision to allow backyard chickens in Janesville appears to be a rousing success for chicken-lovers, their neighbors and even the feathery critters themselves.

The city has issued 63 permits since the city council decided in October 2015 to allow residents to raise backyard chickens. Permit holders The Gazette spoke to say they love their country-style pets.

And to many, they are pets -- even if chickens have functional benefits, such as an almost-endless stream of free eggs.

Joshua Upham owns two nearly identical chickens at his southwest-side home. He bought them for $3.59 each from Farm and Fleet when they were 3-day-old chicks.

Upham kept them warm indoors for a month so they could feather, and then he let them outside. Originally, he thought he would keep them until he could butcher them for meat.

“Once we've had them for a year now, there's no way,” Upham said.

The two chickens—they're called Pizza and Pot Pie—have a whole fenced-in backyard to roam. They pull up worms, dig holes and “clean” their feathers with dirt. Occasionally, they mess with Upham’s garden.

They have a chicken coop, where they used to lay eggs or roost in during the winter. It has heaters to keep them warm.

“They don’t like the snow,” Upham said.

Lately, they’ve taken to sleeping on top of the coop. Upham isn’t sure why, but he suspects they want to avoid being attacked by other animals, such as raccoons.

Neale Thompson decided to buy four black Americana crossbreed chickens in August, mainly because he wanted eggs.

“Organic eggs are supposedly $4 a dozen, and I thought, 'Well, then we'll always have eggs,'” Thompson said. “Ironically, it took the wife maybe eight or nine months before she would actually eat the eggs."

Upham’s chickens have their own personalities. Much like cats, they get sassy with each other and their handlers when they’d rather be left alone.

But most of the time, Pizza and Pot Pie hate being apart.

"They are inseparable. Absolutely inseparable,” Upham said. “You can see the personality just because they love each other."

Thompson built an intricate coop resembling his house along with a fenced outdoor area for his chickens. Unlike Upham, Thompson doesn’t consider his chickens pets. He didn’t name three of them.

The one he did name—Brownie, named for her brown head—died mysteriously in March.

"I cried because she was my central figure," Thompson said. "I instructed Brownie … and she would usually follow along more than others.”

Residents who opposed backyard chickens said they worried about foul smells, messes and predators. Upham and Thompson said they haven’t seen those problems.

The chickens do get noisy sometimes, though.

“If one's in there (the coop) laying an egg, and the other's out here, they cause a ruckus. You almost think it's being attacked,” Upham said. “It’s literally that loud.”

Upham tries to quiet the birds when they get too rowdy. So far, neighbors haven’t complained. In fact, they seem to enjoy the chickens, Upham said.

"A couple times she (a neighbor) said how nice it is to be able to see them out there,” he said. "We're really enjoying it.”

Thompson said his chickens are quiet.

"Roosters are noisy,” he said. “Chickens, I don't think they're particularly noisy."

Both Upham and Thompson have had chickens escape, but it was relatively easy to round them up, they said.

The city has received only one complaint in the year and a half since the council approved the chicken ordinance.

An inspector investigated a noise complaint and determined the sounds made by the chickens couldn’t be heard above the numerous other birds in the area, neighborhood development specialist Kelly Mack wrote in an email to The Gazette.

“Safe to say, we aren’t having any issues from the enforcement side,” she wrote.

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