Hens get OK in West Haven

WEST HAVEN >> Finally, something to cluck about.

That really fresh omelet or quiche you’ve been craving could soon be just out your back door.

West Haven, through its Planning and Zoning Commission, has cleared the way for residents of detached homes in single-family R-1 and R-2 zones to keep up to four hens in their backyards, as long as their properties meet certain requirements.

The number was boiled down from six in the original application.

Alas, rooster aficionados are fresh out of luck. Only hens would be allowed here.

And eggs would still come exclusively from the local grocery store for residents in apartments and condominiums.


“It’s one step further to people being allowed to be self-sustainable,” said Animal Control Officer Denice Ford, who brought the application to the PZC.

The PZC voted unanimously to approve Ford’s amended application, with several conditions, after the facts were laid out recently.

Ford said she is aiming for a July 1 rollout, although “I make no guarantees” because several city departments must collaborate on procedures. “It’s just like any other project,” she said.

The move would make West Haven part of an urban farming movement that is taking place to varying degrees across the nation.

Under the regulations the PZC passed, hens would have to be kept in enclosures and fenced runs totaling no more than 200 square feet, which must be at least 25 feet from the street and 10 feet from any residence or property line.

A condition added to the approval at Mayor Ed ward O’Brien’s suggestion allows the hens to be kept only on properties of at least one-quarter acre.

No coops would be allowed in front yards.

The operation would have to comply with all local and state health codes, present “no nuisance,” and any manure, feces or animal droppings would have to be “kept in a covered watertight pit or chamber that shall be removed at least once weekly.”

Other conditions bar the use of heat lamps, require enclosures to be approved by the Animal Control unit of the Police Department and allow the PZC to review the regulations again in six months.

Hens’ legs will be banded with what essentially will be permits, Ford said. The permitting fee still has to be set. Owners whose critters get out would be subject to a $100 fine “for allowing their chickens to cause a nuisance,” just as dog owners can be fined, she said.

What most residents might not know is that even under current regulations, residents could keep one of almost any farm animal under 100 pounds — but only one, Ford said.

Of course, that doesn’t work for chickens because “a chicken isn’t going to survive by itself,” Ford said. “They’re very social.”


The decision to use bands rather than embedded microchips came on the advice of Dr. Kim McClure Brinton, a veterinarian who also is chairwoman of the Bethany Planning and Zoning Commission.

“You can’t microchip chickens because they’re still considered food animals even if they’re pets,” Brinton told the PZC.

Brinton also advised the commission that concerns some critics have raised about backyard chickens spreading disease are unlikely.

“I think there’s not much greater chance of having chickens in your backyard and catching diseases from handling the chickens than there is from handling chicken in your kitchen,” she said.

Brinton also advised the PZC to allow up to six chickens per yard. “Chickens need to have socialization with other chickens.”

ultimately, the commission went with the lower number.

Several neighboring municipalities allow greater numbers: up to five hens in Milford, up to six hens in New Haven and up to 20, including roosters, in Orange and East Haven.

However, PZC Chairwoman Kathleen Hendricks didn’t think any of those numbers were right for West Haven.

Of her tiny backyard, she said, “If I had six chickens, my neighbors would kill me.”

It was also Hendricks’ suggestion not to allow the use of heat lamps.


O’Brien, who repeatedly pointed out that the application to allow hens was brought by Animal Control, asked “where in West Haven would it ‘relocate’ the roosters,” in the event that people were to buy their chickens as chicks and find out later, as sometimes happens, that they weren’t all hens.

Ford said that Common Ground High School, Urban Farm and Environmental Education Center in New Haven “has resources,” including a list of area chicken farms.

She also said that because raising urban chickens is “such a big thing now,” it’s fairly easy to get people to take chickens by putting an ad on Craigslist.

At one point, O’Brien asked Brinton about the regulations in Bethany, which is a much more rural community.

“Are you kidding?” Brinton asked. “We don’t have regulations on our chickens.”