|The New York
Betting The Farm
By Tina Traster
October 25, 2007 -- Kerry Potter-Kotecki is your typical suburban mom. She chauffeurs her three children to sports and dance classes, does bookkeeping for husband Leon's construction business and tends to her old Rockland County farmhouse in Suffern.
And, like many moms, Potter-Kotecki rises early to feed her family the most important meal of the day. But breakfast at the house is a bit of a production because, in addition to five humans, Potter-Kotecki feeds five goats, 15 hens, three guinea fowl, two ducks, two rabbits and a mule.
"Raising animals has given me and my family a greater appreciation for nature, and for life," she says.
Welcome to a bit of Old MacDonald's farm smack in the heart of suburbia. As farmland gets scarcer, urban and suburban folks are increasingly raising animals in their back yards.
In many of New York's suburbs, it's possible to legally raise fowl, rabbits and horses - and even goats and sheep. The laws are based on each town's ordinances, but they usually boil down to how much acreage you have, noise prohibitions, where the animals live and how their waste is removed. (But don't get your heart set on awakening to a cock-a-doodle-doo: Most towns prohibit roosters.)
"You would not believe how many people are keeping farm animals in their back yards," says Beverly Cappel, a veterinarian and owner of Vet at the Barn in Chestnut Ridge in Rockland County. "I make farm calls two days a week all year long to people raising livestock in Rockland, Orange, Bergen and Passaic counties."
Cappel makes house visits to care for llamas, alpacas, sheep, miniature donkeys, rabbits, goats, horses and chickens. She also tends to 19 milking goats and a dozen chickens on her 6.5-acre spread in Monroe in Orange County.
"Goats are lovable, sweet, affectionate, and they make milk," says Cappel. "They are the perfect pet."
Her son Ben, 5, knows how to make butter, yogurt and milk from the goats' milk.
"He understands where food comes from," she says.
Forget swing sets and trampolines - chickens, in particular, are becoming the latest suburban must-have.
There are dozens of recent books on raising chickens, including Barbara Kilarski's "Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs and Other Small Spaces Jay Rossier's "Living With Chickens" and Herrick Kimball's "Anyone Can Build a Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker." Catherine Goldhammer's memoir, an ode to healing and chickens, is called "Still Life With Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea." And the Web site backyardchickens.com is a popular spot for those new to the flock.
"I have never lived with chickens, despite the fact that I'm from West Virginia," says Elisa Rushworth, who, with her husband and two children, raises chickens in her back yard in Valley Cottage in Rockland County.
Rushworth was turned on to chickens when a neighbor brought her fresh eggs.
"It was a completely different experience than store-bought eggs," she says. In May 2005, Rushworth received a shipment of 28 day-old bantam chicks. After keeping them for eight weeks indoors near heat lamps and under close watch, the chicks went to live in a coop the Rushworths built themselves from wood and found windows.
"Our first egg came on Columbus Day," Rushworth recalls. "It was an amazing gift."
Some people treat their chickens like pets; others view them strictly as livestock. "I call them 'the girls,'" says Teresa Ambrose, who lives in a carriage house on a 2-acre lot in Yorktown in Westchester. This backyard farmer says chickens are easier to raise than cats or dogs.
"They don't need to be bathed or exercised. You just give them food and water and clean the coop occasionally," she says.
Predators - hawks, foxes, coyotes, even domestic dogs - are the biggest threat to hens, so keeping them penned during the day and in a coop at night is the best way to protect them. It's also the most polite - and usually, the legal - way to keep chickens in suburbia.
Every town has its own code for keeping livestock, which is usually enforced by the building department. Sometimes it is possible to get a variance from the zoning board to keep livestock that is not otherwise permitted - though many suburbanites keep livestock on the sly. Keep in mind there will always be a neighbor who might squawk - so make sure you've got all your ducks in a row.
Actor/comedian Chevy Chase and his wife, Jayni, were able to work things out with their Westchester neighbors at their home in Bedford. The Chases had an elaborate coop built by a contractor for their chickens and roosters, which are permitted on their 10-acre estate. (They also have a pair of Icelandic horses.) After the coop was built, they realized it was close to a neighbor.
"We were very apologetic, but it turns out the neighbors, an older couple, were OK with it because they used to raise chickens and they loved the sound of the roosters crowing in the early morning," says Jayni Chase.
Check with your town or village ordinance to see what kind of livestock is permitted. Some towns post their ordinances online, but it is best to double-check with the building department, which typically enforces the codes.
Here is a sampling of codes from suburbia:
You need at least 2 acres for one horse, and an acre for each additional horse, up to nine horses. For more, you need planning board approval. The same rule applies for pigs. You need at least an acre for two or fewer sheep or goats. For each additional animal, you need an additional half-acre. Twelve or fewer chickens are permitted in half-acre zones, but you need at least 2 acres for roosters.
You must have at least 10 acres to keep horses, sheep, goats and pigs, unless animals lived on the property prior to the adoption of the code in 1952. Up to 99 fowl are permitted on properties of at least 2 acres, but they must be penned or housed and be sited at least 100 feet from the property line.
You need at least an acre to keep up to 10 fowl, including roosters. You need a minimum of 2 acres to keep not more than two horses more than 6 months old, not more than 10 fowl, and not more than two domestic species, excluding pigs and cattle.
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