By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News
A chicken usually lays an egg every 26 hours or so. For Massachusetts Avenue Project Executive Director Diane Picard, that means the two hens she keeps at her Buffalo home produce enough eggs to keep her family happy.
“I haven’t bought eggs in a really long time; it’s great,” she said.
That’s right. Picard raises chickens at her West Side Buffalo home amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. She’s allowed to do so because of a Buffalo ordinance passed in July 2009.
And now North Tonawanda is considering a similar ordinance after a few residents called up NT Building Inspector Cosimo Capozzi asking about rules for keeping chickens in their yards.
The problem is, there really are no rules to speak of, City Attorney Shawn Nickerson said.
“What our code provides is that chickens or poultry can be allowed but (residents) have to obtain a permit from either the city health officer, which we do not have, or a representative of the Niagara County Health Department,” he said. “The county really has no policy, so to speak, in place. They suggested that with the city’s blessing, they utilize the permitting process that is currently in place in the city of Buffalo.”
Capozzi said he’s in the process of considering Buffalo’s ordinance, but he’s not sure many people will be interested in obtaining a permit, and if they do, he thinks having chicken coops in the city could “become a problem.”
“It sounds good at the beginning but there’s a lot of maintenance with chickens, and neighbors are going to complain. (Chickens) do attract rats and we’ve had a problem with coyotes over the years,” he said. “It’s something we need to address. We need to look at the Buffalo code a little closer and pick and choose what works for us.”
But Whitney Crispell, chief of staff to Buffalo Common Council Member David Rivera, who championed implementing a code, said there haven’t been that many problems now that residents are legally keeping chickens.
“We haven’t had any complaints,” she said. “One of the fears was there would be chickens everywhere (with the introduction of the ordinance), but I could count on one hand how many applications we’ve gotten.”
In fact, there have been only five chicken licenses issued in Buffalo since July 2009, according to the Buffalo City Clerk’s office.
Picard says she’s received nothing but positive responses from neighbors about her chicken coops, including the one at MAP, an organization that promotes urban farming and providing access to affordable, nutritious food in Buffalo.
MAP has well over five hens because it sits on a piece of land on Massachusetts Avenue about the size of eight lots, Picard said, and yet no one has complained about the noise. In fact, on the day of Picard’s interview with the News, the dog that was on hand at the property made more of a stir than the fowl.
“The No. 1 comment I get here is people saying, ‘Do you still have chickens? I thought for sure I would hear them,’ ” said Jesse Meeder, MAP’s farm manager.
Monique Watts, who has four hens at her West Side Buffalo home, said the loudest a hen gets is when it’s laying an egg.
“The noise that a hen makes when it lays an egg — called its egg song — is about the same decibel level as a regular conversation,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to use (the noise) as an excuse.”
“Some people raise concerns about disease,” said Picard, “but in reality we have much more to fear about the way factory farms raise chickens in close quarters and that’s where disease spreads. It’s not going to spread when you have five chickens in your backyard.”
The important thing, she said, is to maintain a neat coop by cleaning the area weekly and issues like disease and odor shouldn’t be a problem.
In fact, Picard said, it’s the chicken waste that’s one of the biggest perks of keeping chickens.
“If you take care of them properly, they don’t smell. We love them because they create really great compost. Their poop is one of the best things you can put in a compost pile ... great nutrients for our farm,” she said.
Watts explained chicken waste is high in nitrogen, which acts as a great fertilizer for the home garden. But for her, there’s one big reason she keeps Tilda, Buttercup, Minnie and Mama Effie around.
“Eggs, eggs, eggs!” she said, laughing. “Fresh eggs for breakfast ... there’s nothing better.”
Nickerson said so far he hasn’t heard any opposition to allowing chickens in North Tonawanda, though “that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”
“Certainly my main concern is that the neighbors aren’t adversely affected,” he said. “That’s something that’s always a concern of my office. In the event that things are adversely affecting neighbors, certainly that’s something we’ll address.”
There’s no timeline in place for a chicken ordinance to be voted upon in the common council, but Capozzi said he’ll give his opinion, “and it’s up to the council to decide.”
“I imagine something will happen in the next couple of weeks,” Nickerson said of an ordinance in NT.
Picard said she’d certainly encourage Buffalo suburbs like North Tonawanda to put a policy in place, not only to protect the city, but the residents as well.
“I think there are so many wonderful things about raising your own chickens,” she said. “It connects people to their food, it teaches kids lots of lessons about life and taking care of things.”
“They’re really wonderful little animals.”
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.