The smooth feathers on Mei-Mei’s body are of a dark gray, almost metallic color and run all the way down her scrawny legs, looking like fluffy pantaloons.
In the arms of her owner, Charlotte Blome, on Wednesday morning, the giant blue Cochin hen looks more like a lovable, domesticated bunny than what some might consider barnyard fowl. Mei-Mei is one of four backyard chickens at the Blomes’ residence on Ash Street.
On Tuesday morning, Crystal Lake city officials paid the Blomes and their feathered comrades a visit, letting the family know that possessing their four egg-supplying hens within city limits was in violation of city code.
Crystal Lake Building Commissioner Rick Paulson said that the Blomes had to remove the hens or they’d be subject to a $100 fine plus $50 in court costs for the initial ticket.
According to city code, residents within city limits may keep only cats, small cage birds, aquatic and amphibian animals, and dogs.
The city has no limit on how many domesticated animals a person can have, and the county doesn’t either, Paulson said.
It’s not just an issue in Crystal Lake. Residents in many areas still are fighting for their right to bear chickens. The city of Batavia just passed an amendment allowing residents to have up to eight hens in May, furthering the trend of backyard chickens. Evanston passed its own chicken ordinance last September. Northbrook, Naperville, Oak Park and Chicago have similar ordinances.
With these other locales embracing backyard chickens, the Blomes don’t think their city’s rule makes much sense.
“I realize there is an ordinance against the chickens, and we will probably end up complying, but we’re tempted to commit civil disobedience and not comply because it’s smart living,” said Erik Blome, Charlotte’s husband. “Over time people are not going to accept that, they’re going to say this is my place and I’m going to have healthy food available to me.”
Until Wednesday, the Blomes kept their chickens in the garage in a clean, make-shift coop and let them roam in a small patch of their backyard that is cordoned off on all sides by fences so the birds can’t get off the property.
The Blomes say chickens get a bad rap because of the images in people’s minds of factory chickens, which are big, dirty and loud. By contrast, their chickens are lean, clean and docile.
On Wednesday morning, the hens entertained themselves by pecking at gravel, eating scraps and even basking in the warm, summer sun. Erik Blome said they were quiet animals, save for about five minutes a day when they’re laying eggs.
Neighbor Jim Johnson said the Blomes’ chickens made for excellent neighbors, and he said he didn’t have a problem with their existence in the neighborhood.
“They’re hens; they’re not crowing in the morning,” he said. “They’re very good.”
Johnson said that his wife, Susan, talked to them through the fence all the time. Their dog, Beau, also finds them fascinating.
Johnson is no stranger to chickens, either. He said his family has owned the Ash Street home in which he, Susan and Beau have lived since 1940. In the Johnson family’s heydey, he said, they had 100 baby chicks raised right on the property.
“We had a garage, and half of it was a chicken coop,” Johnson said.
Times have changed since the Johnsons had their chickens, however. The Blomes hope that Crystal Lake’s chicken ban can be amended to resemble these other, more chicken-lenient communities.
“We’re not running a farm; we just have three heritage chickens we’ve had for a long time,” Erik Blome said. “They’re clean as a whistle, they’re cleaner than a dog. They don’t make any noise. What’s the issue?”
His wife chimed in, saying, “at the end of the day, they’re just birds.”
To get involved
Visit the Blomes’ website, citizensforchickens.blogspot.com, or email Erik Blome at firstname.lastname@example.org.