If you live in the Chicago area, down-on-the-farm could be right next door. Many cities across the country are making it easier to own chickens. And WGN’s Ana Belaval had no problem finding a chick chick here, and a chick chick there.
“Morning ladies.” In all her 60 years, Mo Cahill of Rogers Park has been many things. “Let’s go.” Mother, animal lover, a bit of a rebel. (flapping wings) She’s never been a chicken owner until two years ago. She now has 16; 15 hens, and one rooster.
“A lot of the neighbors really, really enjoy having a rooster for an alarm clock. Uh, some not so much.” “You know you can go out there and you can just grab you up a big handful of feathers and give it a squeeze you know and it’s great.” Mo’s chicken coop is unconventional too. It’s her old truck that died at 289,000 miles.
“Nobody’s laying in the trunk today.”Mo says “the girls” love the truck. She can adjust the windows so they’re warm in the winter and cool in the summer. “Hi Ginger, let’s close the door and let you finish what you’re doing honey.” The truck is also their safe haven. “It’s very predator resistant, no coyote would get in here in the night, so. Whatever we got we use. Sustainability is what we’re about here.” “There you go.” Lifelong environmentalist and sculptor Margot McMahon of Oak Park, bot into the backyard chicken business five years ago when she bought Easter chicks for her kids.
“Compared to dogs and cats, chickens are very easy. You get a reward every day. We get two eggs a day. I know that these eggs have Omega 3’s in them. And it’s good protein. I know what the chickens ate. I know they’re getting fresh water every day. And I know that we’re getting good eggs every time we eat.” For the McMahon-Burke family, it’s not just the eggs, it’s the entertainment Penny and Parsley provide. “Oh they’re so funny. They are so funny to watch.” We asked chicken consultant Jenn Murtoff of Oak Park, why city people want chickens? “I think they get chickens, they think it’s this green thing to help the earth. But then they find out these birds are full of personality.” There are enough chicken owners in the Chicago area that Murtoff has started a business; “Home to Roost.” “My mission as a chicken consultant is to help people understand their chickens, and raise healthy happy birds as well as keep the neighbors happy.”
Jenn grew up on a farm in Pennsuylvania and has had chickens since the age of ten. “I’ve had some people who’ve said I’d love to have chickens but I don’t like birds. No, that’s not gonna work.” (big laugh)” Jenn examines Margot’s chickens and gives them a clean bill of health. She also makes house calls and holds hands through the set-up process. She says all you need is a little yard space, a coop, and a run. She recommends buying sexed chicks to there are no rooster surprises. Chickens can stand the cold weather, so don’t heat, and don’t overfeed. We asked Jenn if she eats chicken?“My rule of thumb is I only eat chickens I don’t know.”
That’s another thing Jenn taught Margot. If you name your chickens, you don’t eat them.” Will Mo Cahill eat hers? “Oh we definitely eat ‘em. There’s rooster sausage in that freezer right there. (laughs) This is a farm. We have to stay sustainable.” Back in Rogers Park, Mo’s girls lay eggs in shades of brown, pink, and green. Her ultimate urban farm goal is to build a better chicken. “How’s my Whitey, huh?” She’d like chickens with tougher feathers that she can market for everything from fishing lures to fashion.
“This is Cleo, hello Cleo. They’re all friendly. They all love to be picked up. But there are some of ‘em that are always the first one to hop in your lap.” Whether for environmental reasons, feathers, or just fun; in Mo’s mind, chickens have a higher calling. “The world would be a better place if everybody could hug a chicken when they’re down.” (Laughs) (Whitey the rooster crows) “Ana Belaval, WGN News.”
The number of city chicken enthusiasts began to grow about a decade ago with the “Buy Local Food” movement. There’s a two chicken limit in Oak Park; No limit in the city of Chicago. We hope you will share this story on social media. And if you’re interested in raising chickens in the city, click the many links below.
Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Steve Scheuer contributed to this report.