The backyard chicken movement that has been rapidly gaining momentum across the United States has firmly taken hold on Long Island. The desire for homeowners to raise chickens takes various forms and can be rewarding on many levels. For those who desire a diet of food that is GMO-free or are disturbed by media reports of inhumane conditions at commercial chicken farms, raising chickens provides a way to control what’s in their food and how the animals are being cared for. Some families raise chickens in their backyard for the same reason that they plant a garden – it teaches kids about nature, sustainable food production and healthy eating. Those who raise chickens are also rewarded daily with fresh eggs. Other benefits from raising chickens include insect control and manure that can be easily composted down into a great natural fertilizer for gardens, flowers and lawns.
When much of Long Island was being transformed from rural farmland to suburban residential subdivisions, local governments began to regulate land use through zoning. In response to concerns that raising farm animals on relatively small residential lots would create objectionable noise and odors for neighboring homeowners, many communities adopted laws to prohibit or strictly regulate the raising of farm animals, including chickens.
For instance, in the Village of Floral Park, the keeping of chickens, ducks and other poultry is forbidden on all properties within the Village. In the Town of Hempstead, residents may not raise chickens and other fowl, unless they first obtain a special exception from the Board of Appeals. The Town of Oyster Bay has a similar regulation that requires a special use permit from the Board of Appeals. Oyster Bay, however, also requires that any structure used to house fowl be set back at least 50 feet from all property lines. Unfortunately, the process to obtain a special exception or special use permit is expensive and time-consuming, which effectively prohibits most town residents from raising their own chickens.
However, in response to the growing backyard chicken craze, several municipalities on Long Island have adopted new laws designed to make it easier for homeowners to raise chickens. These new laws recognize the benefits from raising chickens, but impose restrictions that are designed to avoid nuisance conditions, such as foul odors, flies, vermin and excessive noise.
In 2010, the Town of Islip amended its laws pertaining to the keeping of poultry to allow chickens to be kept only in rear yards and maintained within an accessory structure, yard or enclosure at all times, with a limitation of 15 birds for each 500 square feet of enclosure area. All structures in which poultry are kept must also be set back at least ten feet from all side and rear property lines. All chicken feed and manure must be stored in metal containers with metal covers, or in a rodent-proof container. Islip does not expressly prohibit roosters, but it does not allow chickens to make noises that can be heard on neighboring properties between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
More recently, in 2018, the Town of Huntington adopted new legislation regulating the keeping of chickens and ducks by homeowners within the Town. The current Huntington regulations allow residents to keep up to eight chickens or ducks on any premises, provided that they are kept in pens, coops or houses that provide at least two square feet per bird and are located in the rear yard and set back at least 25 feet from side and rear property lines. The structures and areas where birds are kept cannot be visible from surrounding residences and streets and must be cleaned once each day and maintained in a sanitary condition. Roosters are prohibited, and all eggs produced must be for personal consumption and may not be offered for sale.
In the latest effort to ease local zoning restrictions on raising chickens, a group of chicken lovers has recently mobilized and is now asking the Town of Babylon to change its law that prohibits the keeping of chickens and other poultry, except on large properties. The Babylon Town Code currently permits homeowners to keep up to 30 fowl, provided that the birds are kept at least 100 feet away from a neighboring house. However, for many residents of the town who live on small- and medium-sized lots, this setback requirement is impossible to comply with. Armed with a petition with more than 1,000 signatures, several residents have asked the Babylon Town Board to consider adopting an amendment allowing chickens in smaller yards. The Town Board recently directed the Town Attorney to draft such an amendment and is expected to consider it at an upcoming public hearing.
While the backyard chicken movement continues to grow, those who wish to raise chickens are urged to first check with their municipality to determine if local zoning regulations allow them to do so. Where the raising of chickens is permitted, it is important for homeowners to also make themselves aware of any restrictions, such limitations on the number of birds and where they can be kept on the property, to ensure compliance with the applicable requirements. Where such activities are not permitted, violators may face significant monetary fines and may also be directed to remove their chickens.