Posted April 9, 2011
The Joseph family isn’t comprised of farmers but don’t tell that to 7-year-old Connor Joseph.
Every day for the last year, Connor feeds and cares for his seven chickens that call “Connor’s Coop” home.
He lets them out to strut and peck around in the yard, feeds and waters them and collects the brown eggs the birds leave him every day.
“He learns about where food comes from and about life and death,” Connor’s mom Jessica Joseph said, referring to the three hens lost to unseen predators.
The chickens let Connor pet and pick them up, patiently putting up with the whims of a first-grader. The family enjoys the eggs the birds produce, but really, the animals are pets for Connor.
“He’ll play in the yard and they’ll follow him around,” said Jessica, laughing as the animals did just that last Thursday. “They each have their own personalities that he’s kind of figured out.”
The Josephs are among a growing movement of urban and suburban families keeping a small flock of chickens on their property.
Fresh eggs on a daily basis, raising the animals for meat or as pets are some reasons people like the Josephs, in semi-rural areas of Preston, to more urban settings such as Norwich, are building coops and keeping chickens in the yard.
“How much animal agriculture can people do in a more urban setting?” said Michael J. Darre, UConn extension poultry specialist. “They can grow a garden but can’t have a cow or a horse in the yard. Now, you’re an agriculturist. Let (the chickens) run around in the yard and watch them. What can be more relaxing?”
Raising chickens isn’t cheaper than going to the grocery store and getting a dozen eggs, Darre said, but plenty of people have been swept up by the trend.
Ellen Anthony said she has kept chickens on her New London property for 22 years. She now has a flock of 15, she said, which produce about a dozen eggs each day. Anthony said she spends approximately $500 per year on feed and said she eats a lot of the eggs and gives the rest away to friends and neighbors.
“They’re better eggs than you can buy at the store and much more fun than buying them at the store,” Anthony said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, Darre faced a daunting task: to teach a group of adults the basics of “raising backyard poultry” in two hours, something he normally teaches his college classes over the course of a semester.
Darre addressed more than 100 people at Fleming’s Feed locations in Stonington and Preston.
Fleming’s owner Scott Nye said his business sells about 4,000 chicks annually, a number he said has “steadily increased” year after year.
The lectures outside of the classroom have become more commonplace recently, Darre said, and while he doesn’t have exact numbers of backyard chicken farmers on the state or national level, he said it is growing.
Several years ago he’d give one or two talks a year. Now, Darre said he presents the information to interested people around New England around 25 times each year.
Fiddleheads, a New London natural foods co-op, has steadily increased business since it opened in 2008, volunteer Sheila Herbert said.
She said the increase can be attributed to the local foods movement and keeping backyard chickens is about as local as it gets.
A breakthrough in the “backyard chicken” movement was more than a year ago, Darre said, with the passing of an ordinance in New Haven that allowed homeowners within city limits to keep five or less poultry birds.
Southeastern Connecticut towns have also mostly accommodated the trend with ordinances or altered zoning regulations.
Old Saybrook’s zoning regulations say “five or fewer chickens, poultry or rabbits or combination is permitted on any lot if kept in a building or enclosure conforming to the setback requirements for buildings and other structures in the district.” Up to 20 are allowed on a one-acre lot, but not usually without a special use permit and a public hearing, zoning enforcement officer Christina Costa said.
In Norwich, a 1942 ordinance bans roosters, director of planning Peter Davis said, but the city does not have a specific zoning regulation for poultry.
Rather, Davis said the ordinance reads that any structure built for animal housing must be 100 feet away from the property line in all directions.
A New London ordinance requires that chickens not be kept “in a manner to be injurious to health, to create a menace, or offensive to the public.”
In Preston, Connor’s hens didn’t appear offensive or menacing.
They have changed Connor’s behavior in one way, his mother said.
“He wouldn’t eat chicken for the longest time,” Jessica said. “They’re his little friends.”
To see more of The Day, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.theday.com.
Copyright © 2011, The Day, New London, Conn.