Chicago Goatherds, Shepherds and Duck Owners Wary of New Push to Regulate Livestock After Death of Horse

April 17, 2020by Jessica Villagomez, Chicago Tribune (TNS)
Matt Roben feeds his goats and chickens in the backyard of his home in on March 10, 2020. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

CHICAGO — When the temperature finally cracked 50 degrees last month, Carolyn Ioder opened the gate at her back door and let her six goats trot through the Austin neighborhood toward an empty field where they would nibble on hay until sunset.

“Make sure they don’t get hit by any cars,” Ioder yelled at a volunteer helping her wrangle the herd.

On a day a few weeks before the state’s coronavirus stay-at-home order, the goats made their way from the alley and safely crossed the road onto the 15,000-square-foot field for their grazing time. Every now and again, they escape onto the street, but a Himalayan salt rock tied to a rope on the wired fence deters them.

In a city easily charmed by animal tales, including last year’s Humboldt Park alligator, there are no distinct regulations about who can own livestock and where animals can be kept. In the city of Chicago, people can legally house horses, goats, pigs, donkeys, cows and sheep. But, after allegations of animal abuse arose when a dead horse was found at an Englewood home last month, officials are making a push for tighter restrictions.

Currently, other than dogs, only horses and beehives require registration. And you can’t raise or keep pigeons in residential areas.

Alderman Ray Lopez, 15th, said he hopes there is renewed interest in an amendment to an ordinance on livestock ownership he proposed last year that would set minimum standards for care, ban rooster ownership, impose a license fee and require neighbor notification.

“This has been a growing issue for the past 2 1/2 years,” he said. “What was once the occasional is now becoming the constant.”

Lopez said he has heard of residents in his ward who have even housed llamas and a camel. He also expressed concerns over the tight living conditions of chickens or roosters used for cock fighting.

“I’m not against animals or people having animals. I just think we need to make sure we have responsible ownership,” Lopez said.

The intent is not to ban all livestock ownership, but to limit the kinds of animals someone can have on a private residential property, he said.

“We need to define space needed to humanely keep these animals,” he said.

The proposed ordinance, which would be an amendment to the municipal code regulating livestock, is also sponsored by Alderman Anthony Napolitano, 41st.

According to the proposal, Chicagoans could have a maximum of six fowl and two livestock animals. Space regulations under the code would require at least 4 square feet per fowl and no less than 15 square feet per livestock animal.

But livestock owners across the city disagree with the proposed changes. Ioder, who owns and manages GlennArt Farm in the Austin neighborhood with her husband, David, said the restrictions would create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

“He didn’t come and ask people before he came up with these ordinances,” Ioder said. “We work with organizations that certify that the animals are being treated humane. The health of the animals is our utmost concerns.”

Ioder also said she was confused about the space requirements outlined in the amendment. She thinks there should be more space between animals than the ordinance would call for.

“If you have two goats, you need at least 82 square feet per goat and 2 square feet per chicken,” she said. “I don’t know where they got those numbers from.”

The couple said they have housed chickens and goats on their property since 2011.

“We’re a business but we didn’t mean to be. We started as a hobby, but we started making cajeta and cheese to try to make money,” Carolyn Ioder said, referring to a Mexican caramel sauce made with goat’s milk.

The urban farm hosts goat yoga in the summer when the baby goats are born in late spring. The farm also has 25 chickens, many of which were strays that have been given to them.

“West Side has always been the best side,” Carolyn Ioder said. “It’s a wonderful community trying to make it in a situation that’s not easy. The chickens and goats break down barriers. People come during their lunch to just look at the goats and chickens, it’s just so peaceful.”

Calls to the city regarding exotic pets in Chicago were once a rare occurrence, said Jenny Schlueter, spokeswoman for Animal Care and Control. In 2018, the department did not get any calls about livestock, but 2019 saw 13 calls. So far in 2020, there have been five calls concerning livestock.

The department is no stranger to the out-of-the-ordinary animal aficionado. They have taken and housed pigs, chickens and roosters, and in 2019, a monkey, she said.

In Roscoe Village one early March morning, Matt Roben started his livestock rounds by counting eggs. The San Francisco native and self-proclaimed Dr. Dolittle said he never had exotic animals or livestock while he was growing up. Now, after 17 years in Chicago, he and his wife have two goats, six chickens and a duck in their backyard, in addition to their two rats and a lovebird who freely flies around their home.

His duck Nejwa, 2, a French Rouen domestic mallard, weighs 6 pounds, which makes her too fat to fly. His goats, Archie and Elijah, 2, spend the day head butting each other, taking naps and snacking on whole peanuts, banana peels and hay. His chickens, the divas of the group, hate the snow.

“Finding a worm on a nice morning is a favorite activity of a chicken,” Roben said.

All the animals are friends. But ducks sleep with one eye open.

Roben’s main issue with the proposed ordinance is the notification of neighbors, he said. Under the proposal, owners would have to notify their neighbors 500 feet from the residence after seeking a livestock permit.

“It’s an unfortunately misguided ordinance,” he said pointing west from his backyard. “My neighbors three houses away had no clue we had goats until recently. To say you need to tell someone 20 houses away and everyone within that circle, that in my opinion is a lot of unnecessary work to do. If it was neighbors within earshot I could understand.”

Roben said he benefits from having fresh eggs but keeps livestock mainly as pets. His neighbors gawk at his backyard farm and he is often stopped on the street when he takes the goats out on walks.

“I love being able to share my animals with the neighborhood kids,” he said. “They’ll often stop in the gangway to see what’s going on. How often in the city do you get to see chickens and ducks and goats?”


©2020 Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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