It’s not just farms. Chickens are coming home to roost as backyard coops gain popularity. This past June, the Putnam Valley Grange, founded in 1897, held its first Chicken Summit.
Some people get their birds from mail-order outfits such as Meyer Hatchery in Ohio and My Pet Chicken in Georgia. Others attend a well-known livestock auction in Connecticut. The Feed Barn in Mahopac, along with Tractor Supply in Wappingers Falls, also sell birds and materials. A Tractor Supply representative said that, nationally since 2018, its sales of poultry and poultry feed have more than doubled.
It’s even possible to rent a bird to test the waters, said Terry Raskyn, a chicken cultivator and vice president at the Grange, which will hold its next poultry swap meet on Oct. 14.
When she lived in Garrison, Lydia JA Langley left a lasting legacy by fostering many chicken keepers through her Home to Roost consulting service. She and her husband, former Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley Jr., moved to Long Eddy and established Three Barn Farm after he lost his bid for a second term in November 2021.
Around 20 years ago, Garrison resident Ann Borthwick began buying eggs from Langley and enjoyed them so much that in 2015 she added chickens to her menagerie, which now includes six sheep, two donkeys, three dogs and more than a dozen birds.
She doesn’t trust marketing terms such as organic, cage-free or free-range. “Once you have fresh eggs, it’s hard to go back,” she said. “The deeper I got into the topic, the more I realized that everything to do with chicken production is disgusting and inhumane. We assume that there’s nothing going on in their heads and breed them for wings to eat.”
Borthwick marvels at the birds’ behavior. “They talk to each other,” she said. “They’re very social, show emotion and care for one another. They even have friends; when a best friend dies, they never make any others. They just go off on their own.”
Few chicken keepers cultivate birds for meat, said Raskyn, although she did once turn a cantankerous rooster into soup.
Jessica Jelliffe, who lives in Beacon, began hosting chickens at her house in 2014, in part to teach her child about responsibility and, eventually, how to deal with death.
Like Borthwick, Jelliffe gives them names. “They’re so interesting because of their connection with the dinosaur [they share an amino-acid sequence with T. Rex] and the way they behave,” she said. “They sit on our laps and eat out of our hands. I consider them to be more like pets than barnyard animals.”
After the initial learning curve, people can wade into the topic as deep or shallow as they want, said Jen Wanous, who moved from Brooklyn to Beacon in 2020 with partner Simon Keough and owns eight birds.
“It’s low-maintenance, maybe two hours a week,” she said. “They’re self-sufficient and do their own thing. Consulting a blog post is usually all it takes to troubleshoot.”
She, too, believes each bird has its own personality. “We adopt pet voices when we call their names,” she said. “They look at you, hang out around and run to you whenever they see you, like little friends.” (As with any pet, she is, of course, feeding them.)
The Town of Philipstown sets a limit of 10 chickens on lots of less than 2 acres; Beacon caps flocks at 12 birds; they can leave the coop but not “run at large.” Roosters are prohibited.
In Putnam Valley, ever since town officials took Vincent Piliero’s birds away a few years ago, he has lobbied to reform an ordinance that requires at least an acre to keep chickens and only allows 20 per acre. Piliero wants the town to allow eight chickens per half-acre and four per quarter-acre. Though he circulated a petition, spoke with the supervisor and recruited the Lake Peekskill Civic Association to his cause, the needle has barely moved.
“I know people who have chickens on less than an acre, which is unfair,” he said. “Any change would be easy to enforce, just like other sanitation regulations. There shouldn’t be a blanket rule banning chickens, especially up here in the country.”
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