To animal husbandry, or not to animal husbandry? That is the $64 question right now as residents from various municipalities ranging from urban to rural are clucking at their zoning boards wondering whether keeping chickens is kosher, and how they can have their hand in the proverbial egg basket. Last month, Kingston zoning code enforcement officer Mike Madsen approached the Common Council for clarification of the city’s vague code regarding keeping small livestock, and towns such as Rosendale are following suit. Lloyd has chicken-hopeful residents coming forth with petitions not just for variances, but to change zoning.
Whether a resident was raised in their hometown and recalls the days of yore when Grandpa used to fetch fresh eggs from the henhouse, or is more a Sephardic Brooklynite looking for an authentic country experience, newer modalities of eating healthy and being a spendthrift are tugging at the aged threads of the antiquated zoning codes drafted before keeping chickens was country chic.
Town of Rosendale Planning Board chair Billy Liggan said that residents went to the town last year concerned about all the chickens running around, explaining that there is no number assigned to how many chickens one may keep. Liggan added that roughly a half-dozen residents came forth applying for variances after they were sited by code enforcement for having chickens in residential areas. “If a lot of people are coming for a variance, they maybe need to look at the code,” said Liggan. In Rosendale, any coop must be 100 feet from a property line. “You have to be 200 feet across, which is a big size. This is all based on the number of ratio to size to birds.” Roosters, he said, are noisy and restricted, and added that more people look on chickens kindly, than not. Contrary to popular belief that roosters are necessary for increased egg production, they are not, and are typically loud and aggressive.
Newly elected Rosendale Town Supervisor Jeannie Walsh said she has instructed code enforcement officer to hold off on big stick enforcement while the town awaits a response from their attorney, Mary Lou Christiana, who was unable to comment any further until she knew the attorney’s decisions.
What are other towns doing? Town of Saugerties residents enjoy a legal right to farm chickens kept properly 50 feet away from the property line without unduly annoying their neighbors, and village residents can also if the Village Board approves a special application. In Woodstock, 12 chickens per acre is acceptable for parcels of over one-and-a-half acres. Kingston city law dictates that farm buildings devoted to or intended for the housing of livestock, horses, rabbits, hares, guinea pigs, ducks, geese, live poultry or fowls of any kind must have a 200 foot set-back from any street or property line. Gardiner wants ten or less small animals, such as raccoons, mink, rabbits, birds, snakes, geese, ducks, chickens, monkeys, dogs, cats, etc. on two acres, with 5,000 square feet or ten percent of the lot area limit for housing, or whichever is greater.
So what’s all the poop about? Vermin, stench, noise, and unwanted predators hanging around, opponents say. Others argue it’s a necessary right to be self-sustainable.
Roughly 40 people ranging from Orange County to North of Saugerties showed up to a chicken-keeping class hosted by Audrey Reith, the equine and livestock educator from Cornell Cooperative Extension, last week to learn everything from their local zoning codes to animal husbandry, how to build a coop and more. Reith said that though some of the local laws do not necessarily reflect the shift seen in communities’ wants or needs to keep chickens, much of the stringent zoning seems to be based on a proximity to the town’s center. She said that if a resident or a group of residents would like to keep chickens, it’s best to start by contacting the building or zoning departments to find out what the town’s specific laws and procedures are. In the event that the law full-out prohibits small livestock, like the Town of Wallkill, then the resident should inquire about the procedure of applying for a variance. In some instances, she said, neighbors can unite and apply for a zoning or law change. Whichever route a person plans to pursue, she highly recommended being well-armed with a specific game plan covering all concerns to present to the zoning board. The ideal game plan, she said, includes details on manure management, such as how and where manure will be disposed or composted, how and where the hay and feed will be stored, where on the property the coop will be located to ensure it’s not bordering the neighbor’s property, predator management plan (such as fences or Have-A-Heart traps) and more. Reith suggests that if a resident is denied, yet lives in an agriculture district and feels that they should be allowed to have chickens, then they should consider approaching NY AG & Market for support. Lastly, Reith reminded anyone interested in keeping chickens to be mindful of proper hygiene and sanitation practices known as Backyard Bio-Security (which can be listed at USDA.gov), which include changing shoes and washing hands before and after visiting other’s livestock to prevent spreading disease.
James DiStasi of Highland has yearned to do chickens for a while, especially now that money is tight. “I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers,” he said (yuck-yuck). “My wife and I are on Social Security. We can our own veggies. I try to raise as much stuff as I can. Chickens are the only thing that you can make your money on — the feed is not that expensive. If people knew how long those eggs sit at Hannaford’s [grocery], they wouldn’t eat them. They sit in coolers for months. You eat a fresh egg and you know the difference.”
Unlike other Highland residents, DiStasi is not going for a variance, he’s going for a full-out code revision from twelve chickens per five acres, to five chickens or poultry on one-quarter acre (R-1/4 acre) with five feet set-backs and minimum fencing or buffers. No roosters and no chickens-on-the-loose. DiStasi lives diagonally across from the American Legion and on lower Grand Street, on a quarter-acre, with his cousin’s farm of 80 acres backing his property. DiStasi said that he wanted to raise baby chicks, but didn’t want to go against the zoning. “I wanted my kids to find out where eggs come from,” he said. “The thing is that half the kids today don’t even know where an egg comes from.” DiStasi has already begun circulating a petition, and plans to park outside Tractor Supply to get signatures. “I will let people know, and I think I will have a good turn out of people. I know that people in Highland already have chickens. This will make it easier for them.”
Carole Marie LaPorte of Clintondale started Yahoo group Hudson Valley Chickens three years ago, citing that Tractor Supply, Agway and other feed stores unload thousands of chicks every year to people who may not know how to care for them. She has set up her site as a an online community of 900 Hudson Valley chicken lovers who discuss buying, selling, trading, support, Q&A and advice on how to go about contending with local municipal laws. “You can live in the same town as people raising sheep or goats or quail but still not know, so that’s what this group is about,” she explained. LaPorte personally advises individuals to apply for variances rather than petition to change codes if you ever want to see chickens in your backyard.
For more information on your town’s small livestock and poultry codes, you can visit http://thecitychicken.com/chickenlaws.html.
New Paltz also hasn’t been immune to the pull of this backyard, egg-laying avian craze. Both the town and village governments have toyed with allowing poultry in residential areas.
A few years back, the Town of New Paltz developed a proposed law to allow people living in the R1 residential zoning to keep no more than 12 hens and only one rooster – but only on the condition that their yard was two acres or larger in size.
The law also was poised to allow people to keep goats or pygmy goats – again only if their yard was two acres or larger.
According to town councilwoman Kitty Brown, the Town Board is due to discuss the proposed chicken law again in May. After stalling out and being tabled for a few years, the chicken law has returned. The reason: Town Building Inspector Stacy Delarede recently suggested a compromise where chickens would be considered on a case-by-case basis using variances.
Over in the more densely populated village, a proposal from Village Board member Ariana Basco has brought fowl to the board table as well.
Basco said she thought people could benefit from turning an eye to the past. “I feel like we need to re-localize the way we do things,” she said.
Having chickens in the backyard could help people use less fossil fuels – since the shipping would be gone – and it could help with New Paltz’s goal to become a Transition Community. Under Basco’s proposal, roosters wouldn’t be allowed – since those early a.m. cock-a-doodle-doos would annoy neighbors.
Eggs laid by hens at home would also provide residents at least some supply of food during a disaster, like a big storm, she added.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be for our survival,” Basco said.
The New Paltz Village Board was scheduled to discuss a chicken law on May 9. ++
— with additional reporting by Mike Townshend