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A New Dilemma for Westchester Communities: Which Came First, The Chicken or the Egg?

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Chickens can be great pets for kids.
Chickens can be great pets for kids.

By Anne Corey

What activity can you name that is fun, educational, inexpensive, can be done with your kids, teaches them important ideas, takes up very little space, provides local healthy food, gets rids of bug pests like ticks, contributes to compost for your garden and is part of a sustainable, green lifestyle here in Westchester–yet is illegal or highly restricted in some towns around the county?

The answer is raising chickens!

Though we might not remember this, chickens are a part of our cultural heritage.  It seems like in past eras, people had chickens around and they were a part of people’s lives and language.  Something might be “as rare as hen’s teeth,” or as worthless as “chicken scratch.”  People wondered: Why did the chicken cross the road?   Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Many of us grew up hearing the story about Chicken Little, who went around crying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” because she did not realize that what hit her on the head was an acorn.  The point of the story is that if we mistakenly believe disaster is imminent, we may in fact create disaster for ourselves.  But keeping chickens as pets and as sources of fresh food may actually help divert disaster.

More than just food, chickens can provide a real source of happiness.
More than just food, chickens can provide a real source of happiness.

There is a growing movement in Westchester and the Hudson Valley, as well as elsewhere, to eat locally.  Food is fresher if we get it from local sources and the environment does not suffer the pollutants of long-distance trucking when food must travel great distances.  Farmers markets and CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) are more popular than ever.  More people are trying to grow their own food and learning ways of preserving the harvest.  Whereas five years ago it was hard to find canning jars in local stores, now most supermarkets carry jars and other canning equipment as a routine product of the summer season.

So what do chickens have to do with this?  Well, quite a lot, actually.  Have you ever had an egg from a local farm, where the yellow was almost orange and the shell was pale green or spotted in a lovely pattern?  These eggs are healthier than store bought ones and a delicious source of fresh protein.  If you raise your own chickens, you get lots of these eggs.

Chickens and children are a natural pairing.  They are great pets for kids, who love to watch them peck around—or run after them to pick them up.  Children get to see first hand where their food comes from.  And chickens eat ticks and other nasty bugs, while their droppings are excellent fertilizer for the garden.  Some folks do not realize that it is not necessary to have a rooster in order to have chickens that lay eggs.  Chickens are fine without roosters and make minimal noise.

The Rappo family of White Plains started keeping chickens just this past June.  Joe Rappo says that his four chickens are less work and trouble than his cats.  Having chickens is also a great educational tool for his three children.  The pictures show Natasha and Andrew with their chickens in the backyard playhouse—which is not the chicken coop!  The children enjoy running out to the coop to bring in fresh eggs in the morning, an activity they consider themselves in charge of.  Joe believes that the experience his children are having with these chickens will teach them that we don’t just get food from a plastic container at the store.   This will encourage them to grow into adults who are advocates for healthy, local food sources. Joe uses the chicken manure to enrich the compost that he makes and then uses on his garden, so nothing is wasted.  He was relieved to find that his town is not restrictive about the keeping of chickens, although he did check with his neighbors beforehand—and he finds that a dozen eggs will make most people quite enthusiastic about next-door chickens.

Does all this make you want to find out how you can raise your own chickens?  We are listing some websites at the end of this article that will help.  But you will also have to find out how your town regards this activity.  To give just a few examples, if you live in the towns of Ossining, Mr. Kisco, Pelham, North Castle, or Mount Pleasant you are fine, you may raise chickens with no restrictions.  Some towns, like Rye, have ordinances that basically instruct you to keep the chickens clean or far away from property lines.  Unfortunately, others towns have outdated rules that are exceedingly restrictive and would discourage residents from trying to become involved with chickens.  Yorktown has a minimum requirement of five acres and New Castle is even stricter, with a requirement of ten acres or the difficult option of trying to get a zoning variance.  But change is in the air, and perhaps soon all the towns in Westchester will recognize the necessity of giving their residents the option of easily joining this important movement.

Websites to check out:

(This is a listing of the rules for chickens for each town in Westchester)

(Martha Stewart segment about the joys of raising chickens)

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