WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield residents may soon be permitted to raise backyard hens, but they shouldn’t scramble to build coops just yet. While raising chickens has become an increasingly popular hobby for consumers seeking organic eggs, the existing regulations in Westfield prohibit keeping live chickens. It is a local law that town officials are taking a second look at.
“I'm really not sure yet when and if it will come before council,” said Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, who chairs the code review committee and cited “lots of interest from residents who would like to have the option.”
Despite the longstanding local prohibition for raising fowl, Mackey said, some folks in Westfield already maintain live poultry.
“There are people who have been grandfathered in,” she said. Although consideration of the new rules, Mackey said, has not been driven from neighbors’ complaints.
Earlier this month, the Westfield Board of Health reviewed a draft of regulations concerning backyard hens.
“Several of the communities have chicken ordinances,” said Megan Avallone, director of the Westfield Regional Health Department, which services eight municipalities, including Westfield. “A few of my towns have looked recently at the possibility of regulating backyard chickens.”
The health department would be responsible for inspecting would-be chicken coups, Avallone said.
The regulation Westfield is considering may include a provision that new chicken owners obtain their neighbors’ permission, officials said at the health board meeting. With the ordinance still in committee the specific regulations that would come with raising backyard hens in Westfield have yet to be made public.
“This draft ordinance hasn’t been brought to the town council,” said Councilman Michael Dardia, the council’s liaison to the Board of Health. “It’s in code review.”
Other municipalities handle live poultry in a variety of ways.
Scotch Plains prohibits the “raising of any animals except customary household pets.” The regulation does not, however, specify what is considered “customary.” In 2018, Scotch Plains passed Ordinance 2018-24 "to define and establish the applicable standards and restrictions with the raising, keeping and maintaining of Chickens/Hens within the Township of Scotch Plains."
- No person shall keep chickens without having first obtained a license from the Department of Health and a Zoning Permit from the Zoning Officer.
- A license must be issued for each year.
- The annual fee shall be $100.00 for license and $75.00 for the Zoning Permit.
- No person shall be permitted to keep more than six (6) chickens.
- No chicken shall be allowed to fly or run at large, but shall be confined in a suitable house or coop with an enclosed runway. (Pens are not allowed.)
The following regulations and conditions for the keeping and housing of chickens and other poultry in Scotch Plains also requires that:
- The coop shall not exceed 100 sq. feet and must be located in the rear yard within the building setbacks applicable to the zoning district or 20 feet, whichever is greater.
- The house/coop shall be dry and well ventilated, with windows so placed, if possible, as to admit sunlight. The house/coop shall have a floor impervious to moisture.
- The house/coop shall be cleaned at least once a week between Nov. 1 and May 1, and twice a week between May 1 and Nov. 1.
- Perches shall be removable and kept clean.
- Chicken nests shall be removable, cleaned, aired and sunned at frequent intervals (at least monthly).
- The area where the house/coop is located shall be clean and free from odors.
- The house/coop shall be constructed to prevent predators (coyotes, foxes, bears, raccoons, and/or rodents) from entering.
- Manure (pending disposal) shall be stored in tightly covered metal containers or in another manner approved by the Board of Health (to not breed flies or create a nuisance).
Cranford allows fowl on farms but only if they are “incidental to the major agricultural activity.”
Board of Health President Lawrence Budnick, a doctor of occupational medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, raised concern about chickens transmitting salmonella to people. Budnick said that during his time working for the New York State Health Department he investigated a chicken-sourced salmonella outbreak that killed 11 people.
“I had the ‘good’ fortune of having to investigate salmonella in chickens,” Budnick said. “It is a real thing.”
A 2017 New York Times report on the topic points out the deadly danger but notes that most people who contract salmonella recover without treatment after a few day of diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. The report also pointed to the health benefits of organic eggs.
Board of Health member Elizabeth Talmont told the board she may herself try out backyard hen raising if the local regulation is approved.
“I may trust the chickens in my own backyard more than I might in some of these big farms,” Talmont said, then added: “I may be one of your first chicken pilot people.”
Email Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @MattKadosh