Local Food Trend Runs Afoul of Barnyard Animal Laws

Residents who want to keep chickens find zoning laws standing in the way

By Brian Thompson
|  Friday, Apr 6, 2012  |  Updated 6:35 AM EDT
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In Wayne, N.J., a battle over backyard chickens is exposing how different communities across the tri-state area deal with barnyard animals. Brian Thompson reports.

NBC New York

In Wayne, N.J., a battle over backyard chickens is exposing how different communities across the tri-state area deal with barnyard animals. Brian Thompson reports.

The emphasis on local, organic food is running afoul of local zoning restrictions across the tri-state area, as some communities seek to restrict amateur farmers from keeping chickens and other barnyard animals.

In Wayne, N.J., Victor Alfieri keeps three chickens, which provide about three eggs a day.

Alfieri got a summons from the town, and the township council this week declined to change the zoning law that requires a minimum of two acres to raise chickens.

Alfieri lives on about a quarter-acre of land, and neighbors have complained of the clucking sound and occasional smell of chicken manure.

"My neighbor now can own five dogs, and 10 feet away I can't own three chicken hens," Alfieri said.

Alfieri said he keeps the chickens for their eggs, which he says are tastier and healthier than those that come from factory farms. Alfieri likes his poached.

He also grows vegetables, fruit and herbs in his front and back yards -- from garlic to watermelon and snap peas.

At Barnyard Sanctuary in Frelinghuysen, N.J., hundreds of cast-off animals roam the premises. Tamala Lester started up the site about a year and a half ago, accepting refugees from the long arm of animal laws.

"Every town is different," said Lester.

New Jersey law allows barnyard animals on any tract of six acres or more. For properties smaller than that, town zoning laws take over. Some limit lot size, while others restrict the kinds of animals residents can keep.

In New York state, town zoning laws typically dictate the fate of barnyard animals.

For example, until recently, Islip allowed poultry to run free in backyards as long as the yards were fenced.

That changed to a requirement they be caged after several flew the coop and ran free on local streets.

Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY

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