First Long Grove chicken owner hopes to ease fears
Annette Overman tries to coax her four hens from the shade of a tree in her Long Grove backyard. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Should raising chickens be allowed in Buffalo Grove?
A female chicken is mostly silent, Overman said — it is the roosters who cock-a-doodle-doo, and they are not permitted in Long Grove.
And, without roosters, hens will lay dozens of eggs every week, none of which can turn into chicks. If the hen does not mate with a rooster, she will still lay eggs, but they become only yolk.
Updated: August 13, 2012 6:34AM
LONG GROVE — It caused her sleepless nights, unwanted visitors and a few trips to Village Hall, and it forced her to build a compound in her backyard that she likens to Fort Knox, but Annette Overman got what she wanted out of it: free, healthy and legal eggs.
Overman became on June 28 the first Long Grove resident to receive the village’s newly drafted permit for raising backyard chickens. Having grown up with chickens in the backyard of her house in the city of Chicago, she said she was surprised to discover that the intentionally rural community she moved to would need about a year before allowing her and other hen owners to pursue their hobby.
“The whole situation was overblown and misrepresented,” Overman said. “People were expecting a poultry farm.”
What she has today are a pair of golden-laced Wyandottes (named Ruby and Autumn for their gold feathers) and a pair of silver-laced Wyandottes (whose black-and-white plumage earned them the names Domino and Oreo) in a 300-pound, manufactured coop with a shake-shingle roof. Overman’s permit allows the flightless birds to roam her fenced-in back yard, with the understanding that they should never become a nuisance with odors or noises.
During the process of hammering out an ordinance, numerous Long Grove residents, including one of Overman’s next-door neighbors, cast doubts on the suburbs as a place for animals traditionally associated with farms. Both of her neighbors declined to comment Monday about Overman’s receipt of the first chicken permit; she said she was confident that her new animals would erase all doubts.
“I don’t understand why people have so much difficulty with this,” she said. “They’re pets with benefits. There’s nothing like getting up in the morning and getting those eggs.”
Overman said she grew up in Chicago with that feeling, as her family’s chickens laid breakfast for them daily. In the years following that childhood, she never found a substitute for fresh eggs in the grocery stores.
“They have no substance,” she said. “The yolk is really runny.”
The Overmans moved in 1996 from Prospect Heights to Long Grove, and Annette built herself a vegetable garden. On a 2010 vacation to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, though, she visited the mansion’s backyard chicken farm, and found herself picking up and playing with a few of the hens.
“I’ve always liked chickens — I don’t know if it’s a genetic thing,” Overman said. “That’s when the wheels got rolling in my mind.”
She learned more that summer about the growing trend of raising hens for their eggs in urban and suburban yards. It seemed simple enough.
“If they can have chickens in Chicago, surely, why can’t we have them up here?” she asked. “I’ve got this property, I pay a lot of money in taxes, I want to try this.”
So she bought a coop, dug chicken wire fences into the ground (“My setup is like Fort Knox”) and on July 2, 2011, brought home her first two hens, Trixie and Trudy.
“I was enjoying it,” she said. “And that’s when the issue started.”
Other homeowners in her Le Savanne of Long Grove subdivision had some concerns about the new breed of neighbors, which they brought to Village Hall’s attention. Two more chicken owners in Long Grove emerged, and Overman said that for a few months, she felt closely examined.
“People were driving through our cul-de-sac, looking for our property,” she said.
She complimented village planner Jim Hogue for how he handled both sides’ concerns.
“Jim Hogue was a pleasure to work with,” she said.
In the end, the Village Board approved an ordinance that permitted her to have up to four hens on her acre — and Overman wanted four. But giving Trudy and Trixie a pair of new friends would bring up a social dilemma even more testy than the one she and the other chicken owners had just gotten through. After all, we take the phrase “pecking order” from hen psychology.
“It’s tough to introduce new chickens to a flock,” Overman said. “They won’t get along. They’ll bully them.”
So, Overman gave Trixie and Trudy to friends who live on a farm in Indiana, bought four Wyandotte chicks and has been raising them in a fish tank under a heat lamp. The new flock will not start laying until September, she said; in the meantime, she has planted new bushes to screen her coop from the neighbors’ view, and the four chicks are learning to come to Overman’s hand when she calls their names.
She now expects three or four eggs, and a good feeling, every morning.
“The first permit in the village of Long Grove — to me, it’s historic.”