When Trina and Steve Machesney received six hens and a coop from departing neighbors three years ago, the couple knew little about raising chickens. Now, they’re experts.
On Sunday, the Machesneys taught local residents about raising chickens in the city. Their class was the first event of “Neighbors Teaching Neighbors,” a new series offered by Life School in the Community and developed this year by New Haven resident Ella Calcote. The event attracted five residents, some of whom already owned chickens and some of whom were interested in learning more about chicken raising. Another session will be held on Oct. 29.
Steve Machesney said he hopes the chicken event will “embolden more people to take the leap” and raise their own chickens. But, before 2009, such a hope would have been futile, as it was illegal to raise hens on residential property in New Haven.
Rebecca Weiner, who was part of the movement to legalize sustainable chicken raising in New Haven, began raising chickens in New Haven in 2002 after growing up on a farm in upstate New York. After a complaint about the birds in 2005, Weiner spent time and money obtaining a special exemption to continue owning her flock of hens.
At that point, Weiner said, she realized many other cities allow their residents to own chickens and decided New Haven should as well. Over the next four years, Weiner worked with nonprofits, city planners and others to help legalize sustainable chicken raising. In September 2009, the Board of Alders voted to legalize hen ownership.
Since then, other organizations with a farming outlook have flourished, Weiner said. She pointed to the growing programs of Common Ground High School — a local public high school with an agricultural focus — the expansion of Yale Farms and the agricultural workshops now offered in Fair Haven by local activist organization Junta for Progressive Action. Weiner said the pro-chicken law has encouraged individual chicken ownership, as well as community events such as the recent workshop.
North Haven resident Michele O’Connell, who plans to raise chickens in the spring, said Sunday’s event allowed her to ask questions about chicken practices.
“It was an amazing opportunity to connect with people I otherwise wouldn’t have known,” she said.
Michael Darre, a professor at the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, said hen owners should make sure to communicate with their neighbors because hens make noise. Typically, though, chickens are low maintenance, he added. Darre said urban chicken owners should refer to the “Best Practices Manual For Chicken-Keepers,” published by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, for guidelines on raising chickens in the city.
Elm City chicken owners can buy feed at chains, such as Tractor Supply Co. and Agway, or at locally owned businesses such as Lock, Stock & Barrel in Bethany. Owners can obtain chickens through online vendors, according to Darre.
While raising chickens for a few fresh eggs may be more expensive than buying a dozen eggs at the local grocery store, Darre noted, hens often become family pets.
“Chickens become like pets for a lot of people, a source of animal companionship. That’s the real benefit and enjoyment as well as fresh eggs,” Darre said.
Weiner said chickens not only contribute fresh eggs but also help decompose food waste by turning kitchen scraps into compost and act as “garden helpers” by eating invasive Japanese beetles, thus reducing homeowners’ need for pesticides.
Owning chickens not only has the benefit of animal companionship and cheap food disposal but also allows people to become closer to their food source, the Machesneys said.
“No matter what is going on,” Weiner said, “you can always count on chickens.”
Chloé Glass | firstname.lastname@example.org