The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals has laid down a new ground rule for folks who keep chickens: If it crows, it goes.
The issue came up last week after a homeowner asked the board to define what counts as a “mature cockerel” because he was fed up with hearing a rooster in his neighbor’s flock sounding the alarm.
Previously, the town’s building inspector had defined mature cockerel by age. But at the hearing, and after some research, the Zoning Board sided with the residents and decided the definition should be based on whether it crows.
Under the town code in a residential district, residents are allowed the “harboring of small domestic animals” if the lot is more than 40,000 square feet, or just under an acre. Critters that can be kept are limited to rabbits, pigeons, ducks, geese and chickens, but not mature cockerels.
According to experts, roosters generally mature at about 4- to 6-months old but can begin crowing as early as two months or as late as 8 months.
Now a rooster must leave town, so to speak, the minute it starts to go cock-a-doodle-doo.
Most municipalities in Westchester ban roosters, primarily because of the noise factor. The tough guys also want to rule the roost and can attack other animals and people if they feel threatened.
Those towns that do allow backyard flocks will likely have regulations that prohibit nuisances such as noise, odors, and conditions that attract rodents and other pests.
Raising chickens is becoming more popular, especially for those that want a free supply of eggs, but those avian goodies are anything but cheep, er, cheap.
After the cost of feeding and housing your crew is factored in, a dozen eggs could set you back $40, according to one online chicken forum.
It’s hard to tell what sex a chicken is, too, when they are just cute balls of fluff, even for experts.
Urban farmers can order all females from a commercial hatchery or local feed store, but there’s still about a 5 percent chance that your “hen” will turn out to be a dude.
You might be able to tell early on if it’s larger than its sisters, has saddle feathers or plumage that differs from its flockmates, or acts in a particularly protective manner.
Crowing only at dawn is also a myth. Roosters can crow at any time; the cock-a-doodle-doo-ing is also a way to warn off potential rivals or to alert the flock to potential danger.
Roosters are so loud because, when they crow, they release reserves of air from special sacs, as well as from their lungs.
Lessening exposure to stimuli by keeping the rooster in a closed, darkened coop at night, and making sure that his, and the flock’s, food, water and shelter needs are consistently met, also helps, experts say.
‘COOP’ DE GRÂCE
It’s hard for soft-hearted folks to imagine their fine-feathered friend simmering in a stew pot, so what happens when it’s time for them to part ways?
There are a few alternatives, but one of them is definitely NOT bringing them to Muscoot Farm, an early 20th-century interpretative farm museum on Route 100 in nearby Katonah.
The people who run it say they get two to three calls a week from well-meaning folks asking to drop off everything from pigs, chickens, and sheep to turkeys and injured birds of all sorts. There are even pleas made for the occasional turtle and baby squirrel.
But sometimes the little refugees find their way there themselves.
As farm curator Jonathon Benjamin spoke recently in his office with a reporter, two brightly colored parakeets swooped overhead.
One of the budgies, apparently an escapee from a pet shop or someone’s home, literally landed on a farm employee’s arm one day and was gently captured. After the bird decided to stay, the farm purchased another so it wouldn’t be lonely.
The are many reasons why Muscoot cannot accept outside animals though, Benjamin said, but the top reason is the health and safety of its livestock.
Chickens especially are susceptible to disease and exposing an unknown animal to those already there is dangerous. They would have to be quarantined.
Then there’s the cost of feeding, watering and sheltering them. Having an extra mouth to feed also interferes with things such as pasture management.
Ultimately, they are not kept.
“It’s not fair to the animal,” Benjamin says. “At the end of the day, it’s not fair to anyone.”
Benjamin, a 4-H coordinator who has been with the farm for more than a decade, keeps chickens himself and he knows firsthand how much knowledge, commitment and hard work it takes.
That’s why teaching farms such as Muscoot are so important, he says.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
While it cannot accept outside animals, Muscoot does offer suggestions for resolving these sad situations.
Folks can call the main office 914-864-7286 and someone there will tell them about resources and animal rescue groups.
Folks in these kinds of binds can also contact their local veterinarian who might be able to hook them up with working farms.
One of the very first things folks should do before committing to raising a backyard flock is to check their local zoning regulations, which can vary widely, says Nancy Caswell, 4-H Community Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Westchester.
Raising chickens has become extremely popular in northeast Westchester in the last 10 to 15 years, she says, pointing to the number of agriculturally oriented stores in the region that sell equipment, fancy coops and poultry feed.
Caswell recommended checking out the CCE’s site on poultry, which she says is chock full of good information.
It also hosts webinars. On Wednesday, Oct. 3, there is one on backyard poultry and zoning regulations. It is set for 3 p.m.
To visit the site, go here: https://articles.extension.org/poultry.