But to land the permits, applicants would first have to face the scrutiny of their neighbors.
The council on Tuesday authorized city staff to draw up rules for a conditional-use permit process that residents would have to go through in order to keep a small number of hens in their yard.
The city does not allow backyard chickens in residential areas, but it had one resident ask in March if a small number of chickens could be kept on the resident's property.
The city's plan commission and the council had asked staff in May to research possible rules and recommendations on backyard chickens.
Under a proposed process, residents could apply for conditional-use permits to keep small numbers of chickens on their property, although each permit application would have to be vetted through at least one public hearing in front of the city's plan commission, City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said Tuesday.
Based on the range of community comments, the plan commission and the city council could then either approve or deny the application.
That process would allow city officials the flexibility to consider requests for chickens, yet allow neighboring property owners to address concerns or argue for or against permit requests, Schuetz said.
"It balances both personal property rights of prospective businesses or residents," Schuetz said. "Requested changes to the community's environment would allow for public input."
Although city staff and the city attorney have yet to draft zoning code changes and formal permitting processes, the permits could allow residents in R-3 and R-4 residential-zoned areas to have a small number of chickens, officials said.
The bulk of residential areas on the city's east side are zoned R-3 and R-4. Other parts of the city have mixed residential zoning.
The council could decide in August whether to put the permit process in place, but before backyard chickens would be officially allowed, the council also would have to approve regulations on chickens, Schuetz said.
The regulations could include criteria for cleanliness, a limit on the number of hens, a ban on roosters and slaughtering, requirements on enclosure placement, and limits on the size and type of confinements allowed, he said.
The permits also would specify a revocation process, Schuetz said. The city has not listed a possible cost for the permits.
In a related measure, the council voted Tuesday to split its conditional-use permit process into three zoning categories: industrial, commercial, and residential. Schuetz said it would allow permit applications to more closely match specific uses.
Backyard chickens are a hot topic in other area cities. Delavan and Beloit could take up chicken ordinances of their own in July, officials said.
Edgerton approved ordinances this week that limit backyard chickens to agricultural-zoned areas, most of which are located on the outskirts of the city. But city rules there leave the door open for any resident to petition for an ordinance change to allow chickens in residential areas.
In other action Tuesday, the Milton City Council approved city staff crafting a commercial conditional-use permit process for mobile businesses.
The city requires a $25 direct seller's permit annually for mobile vendors.
But under the proposed new rule, a mobile business would have to pay $250 to apply for a conditional-use permit.
Like backyard chicken permits, requests would require city council approval and be considered case-by-case through a public hearing process.
The city is still reviewing whether mobile vendor permits would need to be renewed annually or if they could include restrictions such as where the businesses could be allowed to locate.
Mobile vendors that hold a direct-seller permit in the city wouldn't be required to apply for a conditional-use permit until their permit expired at the end of the year, officials said.