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July 3, 2012 > More families buying chickens as pets

More families buying chickens as pets

By Sarah Nathan, Record-Journal
Submitted By AP Wire Service

SOUTHINGTON, Conn. (AP) - What started out as a pet project for Rebecca Brown and her kids became an addition of some feathered fowl to their family of four.

``To us, they're like a part of our family,'' said Brown. ``They've been very positive in our lives.''

Brown, a single mother of three and a resident of Andrews Street, is one of many Southington residents to raise backyard chickens in residential areas of town. Despite some neighborhood concerns about noise, odor and attracting wild animals, the poultry population seems to be on the rise, and owners say the benefits far outweigh the risks.

For Brown, the chickens began three years ago as a family project and a way to spend time with her children, Elizabeth Nichols, 21, Daniel Brown, 16, and Cody Brown, 14.

``It was something we wanted to do together as a family,'' said Rebecca Brown. ``I grew up on a farm raising chickens, and my kids wanted to understand how a chicken gets to a table.''

Instead of purchasing fully-grown chickens, Brown and her children raised their two chickens from eggs. The family purchased fertilized eggs from a farm in Manchester and hatched them in a homemade incubator made out of a plastic-foam cooler, Christmas lights and wire mesh. As the chickens matured, the family also built a coop and a fenced-in pen complete with raised garden beds and a compost pile for the chickens to roam, scratch and hunt for worms.

``We built the fence together, we built the garden together, so I think it was family time for us together,'' said Brown.

Three years later, the flock continues to be a family project. Every week, Brown's kids take turns feeding, watering and collecting the two eggs laid every day.

``They're very fresh,'' said Brown. ``I can tell the difference between grocery store eggs and our eggs. They're very bright, yellow, vibrant yolks and there's a big difference, even with cooking hard-boiled eggs. The taste is so much fresher.''

Brown's flock, originally three hens and one rooster, now consists of two hens. Peanut Butter, Peanut for short, is a Polish fancy chicken. She has orange and black coloring and a crest of feathers covering her eyes. Whitey, a mix of a Rhode Island white and an unknown breed, is mostly white with black accent feathers along her neck and in her tail. Brown said both Peanut and Whitey have distinct personalities.

``Whitey is very quiet, docile, where Peanut tends to be a little more uppity and flighty,'' said Brown. ``But Peanut's my favorite one because I love her colors, so I tend to pick her up more. She tends to be more agitated when you pick her up.''

``They're great pets''

Christine Barry, a Cheshire resident and chicken owner, said her flock of three chickens is an endless source of amusement.

``They're great pets,'' said Barry. ``They're funny because they come in the house. We don't intentionally let them in, but you leave a door open and suddenly you have chickens in your kitchen. They make us laugh a lot.''

In addition to providing eggs, Brown said the chickens have been therapeutic for her youngest son, Cody, who was in a car accident shortly before she purchased the chickens. When Cody was out of school for almost six months, the chickens provided both physical rehabilitation and emotional comfort.

``Part of his therapy was getting him thinking and doing stuff,'' said Brown. ``And with the chickens he could come - hate to say this - and talk to them. He won't admit it, but he would come and talk to them. They're the same regardless of who you are. They treat you the same.''

Barry said her flock was also beneficial for her son, Casey, now a rising senior at Cheshire High School. In 2008, Barry, along with Casey and Brown's husband, John, fought the Cheshire Zoning Board of Appeals to keep chickens on their two-acre property after a neighbor complained they were in violation of the town's then-required three acres for chickens.

``When we had to fight the town of Cheshire to get the zoning changed, my son got up and spoke in front of the Town Council and he learned a lot about changing laws and the process,'' said Barry. ``We actually succeeded in changing the law. He felt like he really accomplished something with that.''

Brown had to appear in front of the Southington Zoning Board of Appeals in April when a neighbor complained about a rooster she had among her hens. Brown, who has since removed the rooster, said she didn't realize she had a rooster since, she hatched her chickens from eggs and roosters don't begin to crow until reaching adulthood.

Despite the recent conflict, Brown said her overall experience with the neighborhood has been positive.

``Where we live our chickens are not noticeable to our neighbors except for one,'' said Brown. ``Other than that, when people come over, we have to tell them we have chickens because they don't realize. And they're very receptive, they take pictures of them and I've had a book club here and all the ladies come over and check them out because they can't believe we have chickens and are actually eating the eggs from our chickens.''

Barry, who has since moved to a 12-acre property in Cheshire, also said that the overall neighborhood reaction at her old home to her chickens was enthusiastic.

``I would say 99 percent of the people I know in the neighborhood absolutely loved the chickens,'' said Barry. ``They think it's quaint and they love to watch and feed them.''

Although Barry and Brown have had many positive reactions to their flocks, Southington Town Planner Mary Savage Dunham said the town has dedicated a lot of time to the poultry issue.

``We have received a lot of complaints in town,'' said Dunham. ``Many people keep poultry and livestock and have no permits for that, and as the town becomes more of a bedroom community as opposed to rural, residential uses and farm uses don't always make good neighbors.''

The Southington Planning and Zoning Commission recently tabled a proposal to require two acres for the keeping of chickens. Brown, who lives on an acre and a half of land, thinks two acres is excessive.

``I have just barely an acre and a half and you wouldn't know walking up here even if I had chickens,'' said Brown. ``I think you just have to have a relationship with your neighbors and an understanding. You have to educate them, I think, is what half the battle is.''

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Information from: Record-Journal, http://www.record-journal.com

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