Smile Politely

Calling fowl on backyard barns

Photo of chickens in the snow in front of a vehicle. There are six chickens with a rooster in the foreground of the image. The rooster is dark green and brown and the chickens are tan, brown, and black and white. The chickens are looking for food.
University of Illinois Extension

We don’t want to ruffle any feathers here, but it seems at least one local household is making headlines with allegations from neighbors that their backyard barn is a nuisance. Put alongside the now multiple instances of exotic animals on the lam in the region, it got us curious about ordinances and rights pertaining to animal ownership in our county and where the line is between technically legal and morally questionable. 

The laws outside of Champaign and Urbana city limits — that is to say the county ordinances as opposed to city ordinances — are much more permissible when it comes to protecting the rights of people to farm. In fact, resolution 3425, “A Resolution Pertaining to the Right to Farm in Champaign County,” specifically seeks to preserve and encourage the development of land for agricultural use in the county by limiting the circumstances under which farming activities can be deemed a nuisance. 

The Right to Farm Act is, largely speaking, a good thing. Local farms and local food systems are good for the economy and also have a beneficial impact on the environment and sustainability. Central Illinois has a rich agricultural history and protecting our farms from encroaching residential areas is important. We also know that modern homesteading is a growing trend and you can even take classes on various homesteading topics through the University of Illinois Extension.

The problem is that Champaign-Urbana has a few residential zones that span into land unincorporated by the city — the aforementioned backyard barn situation being an excellent case in point. We reached out to Jenny Lokshin, one of the Champaign County board members who has spoken to the homeowner about the issue, to inquire about why the Right to Farm Act wouldn’t apply in this situation. According to Lokshin, “The issue with Right to Farm being used here is that ordinance is meant for residential and commercial zones encroaching on farming areas. The home in question here is in an established residential area, despite being outside city limits. That ordinance doesn’t apply to farming in a residential zone, so we feel it would be difficult to argue this is encroachment.”

Beyond any wiggle room concerning interpretations of the Right to Farm Act, in February the county board passed an ordinance restricting roosters within 1,000 feet of the City of Champaign. On those grounds, the resident is clearly in violation of county ordinances. The fact is, if you live in a residential area in a city like Champaign or Urbana (because they are both cities) you have a responsibility to your neighbors and your community to be respectful and considerate to others with the animals you keep in your backyard. As much time as we’ve spent on the backyard barn kerfuffle, they’re not the only household making questionable choices with animals. 

Urbana has developed somewhat of a reputation for backyard chickens. Some people find it a charming regular topic for the #tsusrt (that’s some Urbana shit right there) hashtag. Others have had to contend with neighbors who unintentionally got a rooster in their batch of pullets and have been annoyed by their crowing at the crack of dawn. For what it’s worth, if you unintentionally got a rooster and can’t rehome it and don’t have the stomach to “cull” it, according to a Facebook comment from one accidental rooster owner in Urbana, Animal Control recommends keeping it in a dark cage overnight and letting it out into the light at appropriate hours. 

Even with roosters being illegal to keep in a residential area, it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t really get enforced unless and until there is a nuisance complaint. Which brings us back to our main point of asking people to be reasonable when it comes to farming activities and animal care in our cities and not try to use legal grey areas as a free pass to fuck around and find out. Here we want to remind you that although outdoor cats are technically legal, we still think they’re not a great idea. We could also point out that the Vermillion county emu still remains at large, a symbol of freedom and the dubious nature of having wild animals as pets. 

Since encountering a questionable animal situation is always a possibility, it’s important to know the proper channels for filing complaints. Vigilante justice is never okay, and it’s best left to the proper authorities to pursue any action. Lokshin shared the following resources for various types of animal and nuisance complaints:

  • Complaints about zoning can be directed to the Champaign County Department of Planning and Zoning at [email protected] or (217) 384-3708. 
  • Complaints about loose dogs and/or cats should be made to Champaign County Animal Control at [email protected] or (217) 384-3798.
  • Complaints about noise in the evening or on weekends can be made to the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department at (217)-33-8911.
  • Complaints about livestock should also be directed to the Illinois Department of Agriculture at (217) 782-4944.

At the end of the day, if you really want a farm you should buy farmland and not try to sneak an entire agricultural operation into a city residential neighborhood. If you do live in the city and want to get into homesteading, agriculture, or urban farming please make sure you are abiding local ordinances and trying to minimize disruption to your neighbors so nobody has to call fowl. One way to do these activities responsibly is to educate yourself on best practices and we think Illinois Extension could steer you in the right direction.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker. 

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