City Chickens Range Free

Nationwide, people are raising chickens in urban environments from coops in Brooklyn backyards to flocks in abandoned lots in Oakland, CA. Websites and social groups are springing up on the Internet, and typically rural poultry magazines are beginning to cater to the urban folks as well.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Maybe you woke up this morning to the meowing of cats or the barking of dogs. But if you live in the city, you probably did not wake up to the clucking of chickens. Well, that could soon change.

Flocks of chickens are beginning to roost on residential streets. In fact, NPR's Jenny Gold found quite a few folks in Brooklyn, New York, who just love their chickens.

(Soundbite of chickens clucking)

JENNY GOLD: It's a brilliant fall afternoon. The sun is shining in Red Hook, and Maria Mackin is tending her flock.

To your left, there's a warehouse; straight ahead, an empty lot. In this industrial neighborhood, just across the river from Manhattan, you can hear the clucking of feathered city slickers.

Ms. MARIA MACKIN (Resident, Brooklyn, New York): Are you laying an egg? You can lay an egg. So she's one of the babies. So she's not ready. But see, once they start heading in there, that mean that they're getting the urge to lay an egg.

GOLD: Forty-five chickens bustle around the home-made coop in Mackin's yard. Once all the young hens start laying, she'll be collecting two dozen eggs a day. That's more than enough for her family. So she often sells the rest to a local gourmet food store. Mackin says they never stay on the shelf for long.

Ms. MACKIN: It's just a completely different taste. I mean, it's like the difference between like real butter and crappy butter, you know? It's like, oh, my God. It's so good.

GOLD: Mackin had her chicks about four years ago and was one of the first to join the Brooklyn (unintelligible). Since then, coops have been popping up in cities like Pittsburgh, Seattle and Oakland.

Web sites like BackyardChickens cater to an urban clientele. It's mostly live and let live for Brooklyn chickens. But some Brooklynites say that's just bad for business.

Bob Reygavik(ph) is a real estate agent in Park Slope. He says a house next to a chicken coop could lose 10 to 15 percent of its market value.

Mr. BOB REYGAVIK (Real Estate Agent, Park Slope): I mean, you know, what family in the right mind wants to buy a $2-million house next to a chicken farm? You know, you think of chickens, you think of some godforsaken place Upstate New York or in some other country - not Brooklyn.

GOLD: Despite Reygavik's concerns, chickens in New York City are legal. You can have as many as you want, just no roosters. But many people have illegal roosters. Over a hundred angry neighbors have complained to the city about roosters this year. One of them came from Maria Mackin's neighborhood.

Ms. MACKIN: While we were away, they said that the police of the 76th came and knocked on the door. They don't have anything better to do.

GOLD: The chicken police left her a warning. Get rid of the rooster, or pay a $2,000 fine.

Ms. MACKIN: I'm not going to pay that. I mean, the thing is that rooster was really loud so they're - I mean, if you look over here…

(Soundbite of rooster)

GOLD: She still has three other roosters with some excellent pipes. But the loudest offender was served for dinner.

(Soundbite of rooster)

GOLD: Mackin is spreading the word about chickens to friends like Judith Albert(ph). Albert lives in a brownstone in the more densely populated neighborhood called Cobble Hill. She wanted a cat and her husband wanted a dog.

Ms. JUDITH ALBERT (Resident, Cobble Hill): Chicken seems like a great compromise. You don't have to walk them. You don't have to groom them. And they lay eggs.

GOLD: Mackin gave Albert four chicks. Albert's children named them and the hens became part of the family.

NATHANIEL(ph): That is Olivio(ph). He's the biggest - the biggest bird, the highest in the pecking order.

GOLD: For Nathaniel and his siblings, the family hens are not just poultry -they're pets.

NATHANIEL: Next is Lady Bug(ph), the black one over there with a bull's head.

GOLD: But chickens can live for eight years. And they only lay for the first three. That's exactly what happened with Albert's chickens. Now, her family has to have the big talk about the future of their chickens.

Ms. ALBERT: We're going to talk about it for a long time and then we're probably going to be all squishy and do nothing.

GOLD: Maria Mackin sees herself as more of a farmer and takes a practical approach.

Ms. MACKIN: Tell them they're going to go before the winter. Yeah.

GOLD: And when you say they're going to go…

Ms. MACKIN: They're going to go to chicken dinner. Yeah. They're going to coco van. That's where they're going.

GOLD: Pet or poultry. It's a choice that more urbanites will face as they try a little chicken farming in the big city.

Jenny Gold, NPR News.

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