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Suburban Dad: Dreaming of Chickens

My wife is a psychologist who doubles as a baker but always wanted to be a farmer. That's why: the chickens. We don't have them, at least not yet. But we might be getting them, so we're laying the groundwork by asking neighbors if they'd mind, figuring out whether the local gang of raccoons might do an animal kingdom drive-by and pondering turning our .20 acres into a farm or, as the realization of long-held dreams tend to go, an approximation of that idealized farm. A herd of cattle the size of Buicks is probably a non-starter, but with three kids our house is a bit of a barnyard anyway, so why not chickens?

Why not, indeed.

Admittedly, the temptation is not just my wife's. I have a soft spot for the prospect of chickens too, though not because I grew up on "Little House on the Prairie" books, lost in the notion of harvesting every last corncob I eat. My grandmother lived in the Bronx, where men on the roof raised pigeons in coops, like Terry Malloy, Marlon Brando's character in "On the Waterfront." Just men and their birds. As a kid, I always liked it. As a man, maybe I can transform myself into the Terry Malloy of suburbia.

Raising chickens is very much an idea of the moment. It's at the center of a bad economy, the organic food movement, the local food movement and 1,000 more fads. Another writer—Susan Orlean—gave us chapter and verse on her adventures in chickenland in a New Yorker article called " The It Bird ," but there's a twist: Orlean out in the country, on a respectable tract of land, where shepherding a flock of chickens might be a revelation for former New York City resident like Orlean, but amounts to no larger challenge.

In a typical suburban setting in Westchester like mine, however, it sort of defines challenge. After all, if you refer to the lower 40 at my place, you're not talking acres but feet.

I run the risk of looking like a free-range idiot.

First thing first, though: I only want to raise kosher chickens – kosher with the zoning board, that is. I have seen chickens around with increased frequency these days, but I never knew if they were legal, or underground chickens.

"Nope," a village official told me, "these can be out-in-the open chickens."

Chickens are a go, you just can't indulge your chickens with a coop that stands as its own structure, like a garage or guest home. In other words, the chicken coop can't be a typical overly ambitious Westchester construction project, complete with great room and stadium lightening.

No problem there. I'm not looking to spoil my chickens with anything more than chicken wire chic.

I have other concerns, though. Chickens are known to be—well, dumb, but with three bright lippy kids, I'm not in the market for more brains. Moreover, we spoke to the neighbor who will border the coop and she gave the chickens her blessing. A fence stands between us and our other neighbors, however, and we've never even spoken to them. Is can-we-have-chickens-we-promise-no-roosters the right suburban ice-breaker?

Search me.

So, what in the wide world of suburban living should I do? Offend the neighbors to harvest eggs? Or leave the birds to the real farmers, tell my wife to stick to psychology and baking and leave my own thoughts of Terry Malloy in the dustbin of suburban dreams?  Tell me below what you think. I'll cluck it over and then answer back. Please, stop me while there's still a chance.


Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," called "riveting" by Kirkus Reviews.  He wrote The New York Times'  "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville.  When not writing or teaching, he serves as a volunteer firefighter.  You can contact Marek through his website: or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs

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