A Wayne resident is fighting to make raising chickens more common in town.
Victor Alfieri has been trying to change a law in town for two years that prohibits most residents from raising chickens, specifically hens, on their property.
Town law states that up to 25 chickens can be kept on lots 2 acres or larger in area. The animals’ dwelling must be kept at least 20 feet away from the owner’s home on the property, less than 50 feet from the side and rear boundaries of the property, and 200 feet from the front property line.
“The myths have to be debunked,” Alfieri said. “People associate chickens with farms and having a lot of them in a small area and that’s not what I want. Most of the people who complain about chickens have never owned them. The only thing they know about chickens is what they see on television.”
Alfieri wants people to be able to have up to five hens on their property, in a separate area where they are not roaming free. He has proposed changing the law and the council has considered it twice, including once late last year, but the matter was tabled. The ordinance must be reintroduced if the law is to be amended. A subcommittee of four council members was created to review legislation that applies to the township’s zoning laws.
Councilman Alan Purcell, a member of the committee, said he is not in favor of the legislation in its first iteration because there is no way to police how many hens someone could have and the township has a small number of animal control officers.
“We want to be a council that embraces things like this,” Purcell said, “but we’re trying to find some balance. We’re trying to introduce an ordinance that works for everybody.”
Alfieri has three chickens living in his backyard. They live in a penned-off area and shed in the back of his yard away from his house. He’s had them for about four years now. Each one produces about 300 eggs a year. He said his neighbors never complain about them.
“Eggs from hens raised in backyards have more Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Beta Carotene, and Omega Three fatty acids,” Alfieri said. “Eggs sold in the supermarket can be labeled ‘fresh’ up to 45 days after they’ve been laid. Who wants to eat food that’s 45 days old?”
Hens are relatively inexpensive to care for, Alfieri said. Chicken feed is affordably priced and hens can cost between $1.50 and about $12 to $15, depending on if they are un-hatched eggs that have be incubated or as chicks. Hens can start laying eggs when they are between 16 and 18 weeks old.
Contrary to what people might think of hens, they are not dirty, loud, or annoying animals; hey only make noises that are about 60 decibels loud, Alfieri said, or about the same amount of noise as two people having a normal conversation do.
Alfieri said owning hens is a crucial step in the home sustainability movement.
“The minute you start raising hens, you reduce your carbon footprint,” Alfieri said. “Hens pay for themselves. It’s less money you spend on eggs and less waste in the environment.”
Alfieri is hardly alone in his ownership of hens. Residents in and have hens in their backyards.
Alfieri doesn’t let anything go to waste. He uses eggshells and chicken manure to help fertilize the many small gardens he has on his property. Each area is dedicated to a different kind of food.
He has a garden just for melons and harvests between two and three pounds of strawberries annually from a small garden in his front yard. He grows hundreds of pounds of peppers, carrots, celery, garlic, and onions and about 150 pounds of sweet potatoes each year. When Alfieri wants fresh rosemary, thyme, or other spices, they simply go out to the front yard and pick them. He even has a small area for worms, which he takes and places into each garden. They eat the eggshells and other organic material, enriching the soil with their waste.
Alfieri has also planted an apple tree and installed mesh so plants that grow vertically, like grape vines and sugar snap peas, have a place in his backyard.
Alfieri has made a career out of his efforts and researching the sustainability movement. He is teaching a class on square-foot gardening at the and has been contacted by local environmental commissions to speak about sustainability and gardening.
“Sustainability and raising hens go hand-in-hand,” said Alfieri, who has also been trying to install a 30-inch tall wind turbine on his roof, but has been denied by the town.
“I could put up five satellite dishes up on my roof and no one would say a thing,” he said.
Some officials, including Councilman Al Sadowski, have praised Alfieri’s efforts.
“When you start, both individuals and as a community, embracing sustainability, this is what you can do,” Sadowski said. “But everything needs to be in balance. There needs to be safeguards in place to ensure people don’t go too far with it. As a concept, I think sustainability is something we should all strive for.”