Sunday, July 1, 2012

More Brooding About Chickens

A reader brought to my attention this article from the New York Times, published on the very day Gossips published its chicken post, about raising chickens in Westchester County: "Poultry Proximity: Plus or Minus?" This statement from the article may have some relevance for Hudson: "In general, the more densely populated towns and villages in the southern part of the county do not allow [raising poultry on residential property]." Or Hudson could follow the example of New Castle where "homeowners on 10 acres or more may raise hens and roosters, and residents on smaller lots may request a variance." The size of a single lot in Hudson is what--26 by 102 feet?


  1. Clearly, Carole you harbor some antipathy for the idea of chickens in Hudson. Fear not -- the proposed amendment to the law does not mandate the keeping of chickens, just permits it under narrowly drawn parameters. As drafted, it requires at least 15' between a coop and a dwelling; given that there are a number of set-back requirements now in place in the zoning code, this effectively means that many properties in the City are likely not candidates for keeping chickens. As you point out, a standard Hudson lot ain't grand. However, many lots would be amenable to legal chicken husbandry and, for some property owners who own more than one contiguous lot, it's nearly a certainty that chickens could be kept within these parameters formed by the intersection of the zoning and animal chapters of the City Code. Many municipalities permit the keeping of chickens -- I'm unaware of any cross-species bug-hopping originating or being reinforced in any of them.

    I'll make one last point about chickens: there is a measure of food justice intertwined in permitting chicken keeping in the City. While many of us can easily afford $4/dozen eggs from local hens at a farmers' market, many -- especially here in Hudson -- cannot. Permitting legal chicken keeping will have a two-pronged effect on this problem: first, it will permit those with enough space to keep some chickens and reap the benefits every morning in the form of fresh eggs; second, to the extent it has any demand-dampening effect on farmers at the local farmers' market, the price of eggs at that outlet will come down. Both outcomes make it easier for more people to afford fresh, local eggs. To the extent it creates an issue for any farmers, well, that's business. I have a lot of sympathy for farmers -- I represent a number of them and work with them on, specifically, business and finance issues. So I don't say anything lightly in this regard. Nonetheless, competition is a foundational principal in our economic system and if backyard chickens force local chicken farmers to adopt more efficient production or distribution systems or otherwise add value to their offerings viz those of others then it's all to the good.

    I got it that you don't want to keep chickens, Carole. And I'm willing to bet you don't want your neighbors to keep chickens either. But, besides Cappy Pierro and the Mayor, yours and that of one or two others here on Gossips are the only negative voices I've heard on this and I've heard plenty in support. But I will make you a promise, if the law is amended as I propose, you'll get the second dozen eggs my chickens produce -- the first will of course be my wife's.

  2. The proposed amendment is not a mandate! Funny!

    Loved the free market Cliff Notes too.

    We say bring on the "chicken husbandry" (even if it's "so Brooklyn," wherever that is).

  3. People with money problems aren't buying $4 eggs at the farmers market, they don't even shop there. They get stacks of free eggs at the food pantry. It's not healthy to eat so many eggs anyway. Two or three a week is more than enough. Seems like a lot of annoyance and public health risk so the well to do can play farmer in their city backyard.

  4. Carole, I can't actually buy into the relevance of laws governing parts of southern Westchester to the small City of Hudson. Those parts of southern Westchester are relatively vast, sprawling urban and suburban centers with close connections to New York City. They are really nothing at all like Hudson.

    Here are stats for the three southernmost cities in Westchester, per Wikipedia:

    * Mount Vernon: 67,292 people; pop. density 39,740/sq mi

    * Yonkers: 195,976 people; density 10,827.4/sq mi

    * New Rochelle: 77,062 people; density 6,973.5/sq mi

    OK, so now compare Hudson: We have about 6,500 people, and a population density of about 3,100/sq mi.

    In other words, the populations of these Westchester cities are vastly larger than Hudson (11-30 times larger) and their density is significantly higher as well (3.5-13 times higher).

    So it's just not much of a comparison.

    And I can't believe your blog just made me look all that up!


  5. Slow Art -- if you're going to critique the arguments, at least read them. No one is arguing that poor people are buying eggs at the farmers' market. Just the opposite. Permitting the keeping of chickens is a measure of food justice for urban poor if they choose to exercise the new-found right to husband chickens. As for the health benefits/risks of consuming eggs -- my understanding is that eggs are considered not a threat to most healthy people viz their cholesterol. But suppose it's not? So what? It's protein and minerals and cheap and wholesome and fresh. Something's going to kill each of us -- might as well be eggs. Frankly, the push-back smacks of elitism and a "don't bother me" attitude more at home in the country-side than in a city where neighbors live cheek-by-jowl (or cheek-by-feather, as the case may be). Again, you don't want to keep chickens? Don't. But why would you impose your decision on others? No one will be permitted to create or maintain a nuisance under the proposed law.

  6. John--The final statement in your comment speaks to the point I have tried to make from the beginning: "No one will be permitted to create or maintain a nuisance under the proposed law." What assurance do we have of that? Our city code is full of laws that, if followed, would ensure that we all lived in a safe, healthy, and well-maintained environment, BUT THEY ARE NOT. If code enforcement is not now stopping people who are keeping chickens illegally, what guarantee do we have that code enforcement will make sure people who decide to keep chickens will do so in a manner that does not create a nuisance?

    I think legalizing "chicken husbandry" in Hudson is courting disaster.

  7. Carole if you or anyone else is aware of a code violation they should inform Code Enforcement. In my experience, limited as it is, they respond in a timely manner. Is it perfect? Of course not. Could it be better? Surely. But "courting disaster?" Really?

  8. The day I moved to Hudson I noticed neighbors keeping chickens. I was thrilled thinking I could too! But someone with more knowledge told me it was against the law, and not long after the chickens themselves were gone. When I got to know my neighbors well enough, I asked the story. Turns out, the chickens had been a “gift” from someone who won them in a contest but couldn’t keep them (and was unaware of Hudson’s law). The couple/ my neighbors only kept the chickens for a time, while looking for a new home for them, because the husband was in a leadership position in the community and they felt they needed to be good examples. They- and I- have been anxiously awaiting a change in City code.
    My point: many people who want to keep chickens in Hudson are responsible citizens, like my neighbors, who did the right thing by giving the chickens away. While they had the chickens, they were also responsible- no smell, no mess, no nuisance. Unfortunately there are less responsible citizens in Hudson who- I don’t want to get started- don’t even dispose of their trash properly, much less could be trusted to keep chickens cleanly, sanitarily. And yes, code enforcement is challenged to keep up with this and other issues. But here’s an idea (probably unpopular): There could be a fee associated with keeping chickens on private property, a “chicken tax,” which would help fund code enforcement to monitor the households who choose to have them. I would be willing to pay.
    Finally, for those who’ve cited information on avian flu and the like, my eyes glaze over at such statistics, and I’m not as diligent as Sam to conduct research, but I’d venture a closer look would reveal most problems with chicken-and egg related illness have come from large-scale production of for mass consumption, not from small backyard flocks.

  9. Sam Pratt submitted this comment on the ongoing chicken discussion:

    I’ve been following this fairly closely, yet I still can’t pinpoint what “disaster” this would “court.”

    (I trust that in your levelheadedness, Carole, you’re not buying into the whole hysterical avian bird flu paranoia that was floated briefly by one art dealer on Hudson Biz.)

    So: How exactly would well-regulated chickens precipitate a disaster?

    And I’ll risk repeat myself in saying again that when there was a rooster roaming around the south side of the 600 block, it’s occasional crowing was 100% charming, not a nuisance to neighboring tenants like myself. Too bad some busybodies had to snatch it up and take it away to parts unknown.


  10. Good idea. There's a dog license fee, so why not a moderate one for keeping chickens? I for one look forward to paying it.