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Janesville resident hopes to keep hens in city

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
February 14, 2010
— Last year, Allison Rollette wondered idly if she could raise chickens in the city.

She had planted a vegetable garden and thought chickens would be perfect to provide protein in a small space.


Today, the 31-year-old heads a grassroots Janesville effort with a goal to educate residents about keeping chickens and convincing council members to allow hens in the city.


“I don’t know how I ended up being the spokesperson for this chicken thing,” Rollette said recently with a smile.


Rollette, 976 Industrial Court, went online in October and “uncovered this whole chicken world.” She found chat groups, webinars, podcasts, Web sites. She found that some cities, such as Green Bay and Madison, allow chickens and that Fort Atkinson never disallowed them. She found books and a documentary at the library.


“As I was delving into this, I thought: ‘Holy cow, people are obsessed with it,’ ” she said.


Rollette figured Janesville must have a group devoted to keeping chickens, but it didn’t.


Her initial interest morphed into a passion.


Rollette created Internet sites for chicken lovers to unite. She also posts her research. She has more than 80 friends on her Facebook site, and 24 people follow her Twitter account.


In November, the Gazette printed an interview with resident David Innis. He was contacting council members, asking them to change the ordinance.


“Maybe I would have sat around and done absolutely nothing if not for David Innis and this article,” she said.


Since then, Rollette, along with Innis, has appeared before the council and written letters to council members.


She is urging residents to appear before the plan commission Monday and the city council Monday, Feb. 22.


Rollette said chickens add more than eggs to the urban environment.


-- A lower density of birds means less disease, so raising backyard chickens could decrease the risk of food-borne illness, she said.


-- Chickens eat Japanese beetles.


-- Chicken waste can be composted.


“They really go hand in hand with gardens,” she said.


-- A hen can eat 7 pounds of kitchen scraps a week. That’s a lot of kitchen waste kept out of the landfill, Rollette said.


Rollette wants to dispel myths, as well.


Three or four hens in a yard don’t smell if owners take care of them, she said. That’s true of any animal, including cats and dogs.


Hens aren’t noisy. Roosters, which crow loudly, wouldn’t be permitted under the ordinance.


People say chickens attract predators, but Rollette said predators already are around. That’s why chicken owners must protect their bird in an enclosure.


After hens stop laying, it is up to the owner to decide whether to butcher them or keep them as pets. The ordinance would not allow them to be butchered in the city.


Rollette said she hears people say that chickens belong on a farm.


“Why?” she answers.


Others ask: “If we let chickens in, where will it end?”


She answers: “Why not stop at chickens?”


Not many animals are so well suited to being raised in small places, she said. Hens work in cities, she said, and that’s proved by the cities that allow it.


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IF YOU GO
What: A public hearing before the plan commission on an ordinance to let residents keep a few hens in Janesville.
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday
Where: City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St., Janesville.
What’s next: The commission will make a recommendation to the city council. A public hearing before council members is scheduled Monday, Feb. 22.
Background: The current ordinance allows chickens only in outlying areas and requires that coops be located at least 150 feet from any structure except the owner’s residence. That eliminates most city residents from being able to have hens.

Staff does not recommend that the current regulations be changed. Staff say residents might ask to keep other animals if an exception is made for chickens. Chickens could smell and attract vermin and predators if kept in poor condition, they say. It also would create an administrative burden.


Communities that allow chickens usually cap the number at four. Staff has found in its research that those communities get few complaints about hens.


Chicken champion Allison Rollette has created Web sites for residents who want more information about the ordinance and chickens in general.


To learn more: A Janesville chicken Web site is cojchickens.wordpress.com. Residents can go to “City of Janesville Chickens?” on Facebook. Rollette’s e-mail address is CityOfJanesvilleChickens@gmail.com. Follow her at Twitter at “COJChickens.”

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