Blaire Gibson (left) and Brooke Bestwina show off two fowl friends outside The Feed Store, 5408 S. Harlem, Summit. The store has for decades been the go-to place for local pet owners seeking organic, healthy food for their dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks and other animals. --Photo by Kelly White

Blaire Gibson (left) and Brooke Bestwina show off two fowl friends outside The Feed Store, 5408 S. Harlem, Summit. The store has for decades been the go-to place for local pet owners seeking organic, healthy food for their dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks and other animals. --Photo by Kelly White

Home is where the coop is

Garfield Ridge family raising chickens in backyard

By Kelly White

Born on a farm in Poland, Anna Talaga always had a soft spot in her heart for animals. She came to the United States at the age of 3 but would travel back often to visit the farm and its many animals, ranging from chickens to horses.

Now, living in Garfield Ridge, Talaga has been able to recreate a piece of her history by building a chicken coop right in her own backyard.

“I’ve always wanted to do this, raise my own chickens,” Talaga, 50, said. “Whenever I travel to Poland to see my family, I spend time visiting the chickens. For me, it’s like watching goldfish in a tank. It’s very relaxing and brings me great joy.”

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Anna Talaga shows her backyard chicken coop to two curious young children as part of the Windy City Coop Tour. –Photo by Kelly White

It took some time to convince Talaga’s husband, Boguslaw, who use to joke that the day she purchased a chicken is the day he buys a cow; but now, they have three chickens and their entire family, including Boguslaw are all very attached to them.

“The chickens all have their own personalities and we have a relationship with them, just like how you would to any other pet,” Talaga said. “They like attention and to be talked to and held. They will even sit on your lap if you let them.”

She purchased the female chickens, Beaker, Lacey and Blondie, from a hatchery in Wisconsin as chicks. Currently, there is no required permit within the city of Chicago to own and raise chickens on residential property, according to Talaga.

In May 2020, with the help of her two sons, Matthew, 25, and Lukas, 23, Talaga built an 8-by-4 foot chicken coop and a 4-by-11 foot chicken run, an enclosed outdoor space for the chickens to roam freely, in her backyard.

“It was a nice family project,” Talaga said. “It was something we were able to do together and it really brought us all closer together. Now, we have the chickens and we refer to them as our girls.”

Even Talaga’s senior dog, a Westie Bichon named, Daisy, gets along with the girls. Having the chickens out roaming the yard has also sparked friendly neighborhood camaraderie, Talaga said.

“People passing by will see the chicken and it strikes up a conversation,” she said. “We will let them in the yard and even offer them an egg to take home, if one is available. Having them has brought us closer to a lot of our neighbors.”

The three chickens average two eggs per day, providing the family with plenty of farm fresh egg options for home-cooked meals. Aside from healthy eating, raising the chickens has encouraged more daily exercise.

“They keep me active and outdoors,” Talaga said. “They are up from sunrise to sunset. It’s a lot of work but it’s great and it keeps my mind active, as well.”

Talaga was proud to be a part of the Windy City Coop Tour late last month. The Tour is an annual event that showcases backyard poultry, eco-yards, and urban livestock across Chicago. During this self-guided tour, hosts open their yards to visitors and share their experience keeping backyard livestock in an urban setting.

“The Windy City Coop Tour gave people the opportunity to see what others are doing and how they are raising their chickens right at home,” Talaga said.

For her chicken supplies, Talaga often frequents The Feed Store, 5408 S. Harlem, Summit, a longtime local area store carrying food for a variety of animals, plus cages, bedding, feeders and more. It is there she purchases layer feed for her chickens, along with medications, pine shavings for inside the coop, and mealworms and sunflower seeds for treats.

The Feed Store was opened in 1948 by Joseph Bestwina and his wife, Anna. Today it is run by Bestwina’s granddaughter, Brooke Ann Bestwina, her husband, Joe, and her sister, Blaire Gibson.

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Blaire Gibson (left) and Brooke Bestwina show off two fowl friends outside The Feed Store, 5408 S. Harlem, Summit. The store has for decades been the go-to place for local pet owners seeking organic, healthy food for their dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks and other animals. –Photo by Kelly White

“There has been a huge increase in backyard chicken keeping in the last five to ten years,” Bestwina, said. “We always say, people want to get back to their roots, and know where their food is coming from. Most chicken keeping now-a-days is for eggs and pets. We also think chicken keeping is great for kids. It teaches responsibility, and also teaches children where eggs and chicken from the grocery store actually comes from.

“We are huge advocates for keeping vegetable gardens, fruit trees, compost pile, or anything that can help or improve the environment,” she added.

The pandemic has inspired many homeowners, like Talaga, to raise their own chickens.

“During COVID, last year, people obviously wanted projects they could do at home, and chicken keeping had a huge explosion,” Bestwina said. “It was hard to keep chicks in stock. The first benefit of chicken keeping is eggs.”

Depending on the breed, usually a chicken will lay one egg per day, after they mature at around 6 months of age. Also depending on the breed, they can lay all different colored eggs including blue, green, pink, brown, deep dark brown or white.

However, Bestwina said the benefits of chicken owning do not stop there.

“Chickens can also be very friendly, and are super fun to watch,” Bestwina said. “They all have their own personalities, and people always say, “Watching my chickens is better than TV.”

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