By Paul Smart
One of the great side battles of modern gentrification wars involves fowl, and more specifically the raising of chickens. We’ve read about legal battles in Rosendale, heard code enforcement discussions on whether Kingston allows or doesn’t allow farm animals, and watched a movement build in Hudson to allow any sort of animals beyond pets. This has led us to look farther afield at the strange fact of Detroit’s urban farming renaissance with no allowance for chickens, while New York and Chicago allow fowl without any real restrictions.
In many places, laws against the keeping of chickens are being rewritten to allow for chicken permits, or scrapped altogether. Several issues are at play: the countering of that phenomenon known as “food deserts” by promoting community food creation via backyard and vertical gardening; the creation of a better waste stream that supports a community’s sustainability through composting; and a realization that it helps to witness food production first hand.
Why’d the laws slip into place in the first place—many in this century? Scott Kellogg of Albany’s visionary Radix Center noted an underlying anti-immigrant sensibility that wanted to punish newer citizens who still held on to home farming ways, along with a latent hangover from our nation’s shift away from rural life and all it represented over a few generations.
But he also said that many of the people most wanting to raise chickens in the Hudson Valley, as well as his city at its northern end, are newcomers to the area themselves. They want healthier lives, grainier experiences, a mash-up of what was once traditionally urban and traditionally rural. Raising chickens is a version, you could say, of small batch ales, plaid, and farm-to-table comfort food.
What’s involved in keeping fowl? Kellogg pointed out how great the feathered creatures are at taking care of any and all food scraps (except coffee grounds); how bigger chickens and ducks are easier for Hudson Valley winters; and how one needs hay to mix with the chicken poo to create a usable compost. Fencing and an enclosure, a heated source of water, and roosting spots are key.
But also a sense of commitment by whoever’s going to be raising the chickens to check for eggs daily, keep an eye out for predators, and make sure basic needs are met. Everyone we spoke with pointed out how chickens tend to stop laying eggs when the light dims each autumn, as well as how much easier it is to raise them with a community. And not get too attached to them as if they were pets. They aren’t.
Most importantly, all we spoke with noted the importance of checking with the “chicken laws” wherever you live. Remember that most places do not allow roosters (which tend to get aggressive as well as loud), require setbacks and/or paid permits, and strongly suggest you get the okay of your neighbors before bringing in your new clucking brood.
As for all those fears about chickens drawing vermin: it’s not true (just keep your chicken feed safe). Counter the fearful by noting how fowl eat bugs, including ticks.
And don’t engage if anyone brings up anything regarding immigrants, or keeping the rural separate from what’s urban. That’s so old, now. Chickens are new!