SPRINGFIELD | The next time Gov. Pat Quinn feels cooped up in the Executive Mansion, he can simply look out his window for support.
Located on the heavily landscaped grounds surrounding the 159-year-old Italianate home is a penned-in area home to eight laying hens. The chickens have come home to roost at Fifth and Jackson streets in downtown Springfield as one part of the governor's ongoing sustainability initiative.
In this case, the chickens produce eggs, and Quinn and his mansion guests eat them.
The chickens also recycle plant waste and provide manure for the sprawling gardens, said Herman Lewis, the mansion's master gardener and chief chicken tender.
Mansion director Dave Bourland said scrambling the eggs — with an ample amount of cream — is the preferred method of serving the daily bounty.
On Thursday, as the chickens pecked at early season flowers pulled out of beds near the mansion driveway, Bourland said the coop has quickly become a popular stop among school children when they stop at the home for tours.
"It's really the highlight, much more so than the house," said Bourland. "They all ask, `Why do you have chickens at the governor's mansion?' "
It's part of a national trend that is bringing formerly rural practices back to residential neighborhoods. While the politics of poultry has vexed some city officials, Springfield allows backyard chickens as long as they aren't used for commercial purposes.
The eight chickens living on the grounds were rescued from a woman in a nearby small town who no longer could take care of her flock. Lewis said the former owner calls about once a week to check on the year-old birds.
"I tell her I'm taking good care of her girls," Lewis said.
The chickens live in a donated coop inside a secure fenced-in enclosure near Fifth Street and eat a mix of chicken scratch and vegetation from the gardens.
The hens are a range of breeds, including Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucana, which lay eggs that can be pastel shades of brown, green or gray. Each hen is producing about one egg a day.
But, said Lewis, "We don't have a rooster. They'd make too much noise."