Backyard Chickens All the Rage in the Big Apple

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- For New York City's 8 million residents, jockeying for space is a 24/7 exercise. Still, hundreds of them are seeking out nooks and crannies of the Big Apple to raise chickens.   

New Yorker Jennifer Lyon sees it as a simple way to return to childhood experiences and connect with the land.   

"It's so hard to get out of the city," the Brooklyn resident told CBN News."It's so hard to get connected to nature - so having chickens is just like a little moment."

"You feed them in the morning; you collect your eggs in the evening," she explained. "It's something really real and it's a tangible part of your life." 

So, why has raising chickens in the backyard become so popular?  CBN News traveled to Brooklyn, where clusters of chicken farmers have sprung up in the last few years to discover the answer.  

New York's Chicken Boom 

Keepers like Martha Lazar explained that chickens are relatively easy to care for. They require daily food and water, of course, and then a weekly cleaning of the coop. 

"It's a lot of fun," Lazar said. "We really enjoy having them and it makes for good party conversation."

"People used to think we were crazy a few years ago, and now it's getting to be more popular and people have a lot of questions about it," she said.

Owen Taylor is the City Farms Program Manager for Just Food, a non-profit group that provides training, coops, and hens for schools and community garden groups in the city. 

Taylor, who is for all practical purposes New York City's resident chicken expert, said he's seen interest in backyard chickens grow exponentially in the last five years.   

Currently, close to 500 New Yorkers have joined the city's online chicken meet-up group, either because they have chickens or because they want to raise them.

Taylor said they cross the demographic spectrum, but their motivation falls into two main areas.   

"People that grew up with chickens are really excited about getting back into it," he said. "And at the same time, people that are interested in local food, sustainable food, are also getting into it."

Across the country, tens of thousands of people are getting into it, according to BackyardChickens.com. Just four years ago, the organization had only 50 members. Now, it has 90,000.   

Chicken Incentives 

There are many incentives for raising chickens. Parents, and especially those who are city-dwellers, like chickens for their kids. 

The droppings make great fertilizer for gardens. And one point of perhaps unanimous agreement - the eggs are unlike any other.

Maria Mackin, who has raised chickens for seven years, said home-grown chickens produce a superior egg.   

"Even if you get organic eggs in the grocery store, you will notice the difference just in the raw form, and then you will taste the difference," she told CBN News. 

"It's like a creamy, buttery taste, whereas a store egg -- even an organic store egg -- will taste a little mealy and flat-tasting," she said. 

If there's a point of debate within the chicken community it's this - just how to view the fowl. For some, they're pets. For others like Mackin, they're not.   

"For me, they're livestock," she said. "We eat them. When they get too old, we'll make stock out of them. They're coq au vin." 

Chicken-Friendly Community
    
Raising chickens appears to be an idyllic life for the most part. But it's not a smooth ride for everyone.   

BackyardChickens.com has tracked roughly 500 chicken-friendly cities nationwide that allow backyard chickens, although with restrictions in some cases.

But in other communities chickens are illegal, often because of fears about sanitation and noise.     

To alleviate such concerns, Taylor advises new chicken keepers to develop neighborhood support - even in places like New York where chickens are legal.   

"We tell people to talk to their neighbors before keeping chickens to let them know that chickens are legal, to let them know that they will not smell or bring in flies or vermin because they'll be well cared for," he said.   

Also, in New York, most neighbors are appeased because roosters aren't allowed," he added. 

A Passing Fad?

Advocates like Taylor hope the current craze becomes a permanent part of the urban landscape and a true return to the city's roots.

"I'm hoping that it's not a fashion or trend -- but going back to our history as an agricultural people," he said.

And for those in the fast lane, perhaps these simply creatures really will spark a better way of life.
    
"I work 75 hours a week," Lyon told CBN News. "And if I come out and I'm in my 'go-go-go mode,' I'll sort of force myself to come out and have a little chat with them, feed them, and check in on how they're doing."

"It's a forced slow-down, which is really nice," she said.

*Original broadcast June 20, 2011.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.