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Katonah residents raise uproar over backyard chickens

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, Pauline Schneider, a Katonah resident for 18 years, found herself in the awkward position of pleading her case to raise chickens in her back yard. She was before the members of the Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals, who had already said they couldn’t help as an array of concerned neighbors claimed that her flock of four chickens has led to a flood of rats in the South Road neighborhood.

Chocobo is one of four chickens being raised by Katonah resident Pauline Schneider. She could face up to a $250-a-day fine for raising chickens without the proper acreage. (Pauline Schneider Photo)

“The laws restricting local backyard food production for the family is something relatively new to this country and something that does need to be corrected,” said Ms. Schneider, who bought a mobile chicken coop last summer. “A point of fact: New York City, a very congested and densely populated area with no open areas except for parks, does not restrict the keeping of backyard pens. Brooklyn has many coops, even on rooftops.”

Ms. Schneider could face up to a $250-per-day fine for raising four chickens on her quarter-acre property—the town of Bedford permits residents to own up to 12 chickens on a minimum of a half-acre residential property. She was told to remove the chickens by Dec. 16, but because the Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals had only three of five board members at her appeal on Feb. 6, she has been able to extend her appeal to April 3, when a full board will be present.

Ms. Schneider’s original request was for a variance to allow her to raise chickens on her quarter-acre property, just shy of the permitted half-acre regulation. The requested variance is a difficult one to obtain and one that would require proof of financial hardship incurred by the loss of the chickens, said Peter Michaelis, chairperson of the Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals.

“The way I interpret that is that you couldn’t sell your house at a reasonable price unless it comes with the chickens, and I can’t see making that connection,” he said.

Rats

Chicken feed is a notorious attractant for vermin and is listed as part of the few stipulations in Bedford’s town code for permitting the raising of chickens. Along with the prohibition of roosters, requirements for airtight and vermin-proof feed containers are standard for most municipalities that allow residents to raise chickens, a rule Ms. Schneider said she carefully follows.

But this has done little to assuage her neighbors, who spoke one after the other on Feb. 6, detailing how Ms. Schneider’s chickens and the excess feed they leave on the ground has attracted rats to the neighborhood.

“Over the course of May to December I caught the better part of 15 rats, large Norway rats, not small ones, not mice, not field mice, big disgusting rats, the kind you find in New York City,” Dave Lyness said.

Mr. Lyness’s property abuts Ms. Schneider’s, and he said he has been battling the rats since Ms. Schneider began raising chickens. Growing up on a 130-acre farm in New Jersey, raising produce and livestock (including chickens), Mr. Lyness said, he is no stranger to the problems that come with raising poultry.

“Rats are directly correlated to chickens and chicken feed,” he said. “Where the feed is, the rats are; they go hand in hand.”

Katonah resident David Lyness relays to the Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals his struggle to combat an “abundance” of rats since his neighbor Pauline Schneider, left, began raising a flock of four chickens in her backyard coop. (Reece Alvarez Photo)

After repeated attempts to discuss the issue with Ms. Schneider and a failure to see eye to eye on the root of the problem, Mr. Lyness said, he took matters into his own hands. Concerned for the safety of his children, he distributed rat poison across his property as a last resort, something he had hoped to avoid, citing the number of children and pets in the neighborhood.

Members of the Zoning Board questioned whether Mr. Lyness’s garden, which he claimed saw “bountiful harvests,” could have also contributed to the rat presence. He conceded it could have played a side role, but said “rats need more than just vegetables to live on. Vegetables are just a side meal.”

Three other neighbors also described experiences of catching rats and attributed them to Ms. Schneider’s chickens. An additional neighbor in opposition to the chickens noted she had not seen any rats but was more concerned with rat poison and potential salmonella exposure.

A 45-year resident said at the meeting that she recently saw two rats for the first time in her home and has noticed an abundance of mice lately, having never seen them before in her time in Katonah. She feared for her grandchildren’s safety, she said, as rodents are known to carry disease and can bite.

“With my bare hands in the middle of the night I have caught eight rats since August until December,” Bryan Hodge said. “It’s to the point where I’m petrified to go in my garage at night.”

Mr. Hodge has lived in Katonah since 2006 and said that in the last year he has noticed holes chewed through heavy-duty garbage bins in his garage. While Mr. Hodge admits that he has seen a rodent or two before, he said that he had never before seen the damage done in his garage, which includes a $500 baby stroller that had the seat chewed out, a discovery he and his wife made, along with rat feces, while having a stroll with their child. A supporter of sustainability, he, too, keeps a small garden on his property, but concerns for his family’s safety have outweighed his support, he said, with particular concerns regarding the rat poison some neighbors may be using.

Chickens and correlation

“There were always a couple rats running around my yard,” said Michele DuRivage. “There was no reason, no food, there was nothing.”

Ms. DuRivage currently lives in Goldens Bridge and formerly lived in the South Road area of Katonah for three years. She often saw rats in the neighborhood long before Ms. Schneider began raising chickens, she said.

“The rats are here anyway,” she said.

Shining a wider light on the issue, Zak Shusterman, a lawyer from Sleepy Hollow and a backyard chicken enthusiast, suggested there may be a disconnect between cause and affect.

“You can live very densely with chickens and it is not a problem,” he said. “Nobody is denying the rats are there, but I would be careful to assume they are being caused by this small flock of chickens. It could be something else going on. You can go to other communities throughout Westchester that allow chickens on smaller lots and you don’t have this rat problem. It is not an automatic problem.”

Zak Shusterman explains the success he has had with raising chickens in Sleepy Hollow with no acreage limitations and no incidents of rodent infestation while Bedford Zoning Board of Appeals member Lisa A. Spano, left, and Pauline Schneider listen. (Reece Alvarez Photo)

The laws in Sleepy Hollow are discretionary and rely on quality-of-living standards rather than pure acreage, he said. As long as there no nuisances experienced by neighbors, the residents are permitted to raise chickens.

Mr. Shusterman lives on an eighth-of-an-acre property in Sleepy Hollow and cited a number of residents in the area who also have chickens but have never had issues with vermin. His backyard chickens have been observed by delegations from Ossining and Yonkers to inform changes being considered to town codes. Both delegations had positive responses to his chickens and positively informed their recomendations, he said.

Along with Ms. Schneider, he pointed out a number of factors that can contribute to a rat presence: vegetable gardens, bodies of water, drought, bird feeders, and exposed outdoor pet bowls, all of which are present in the South Road neighborhood.

“It is a community issue; everybody has a hand in this,” Ms. Schneider said. “Not everyone wants chickens, just like not everyone wants dogs or cats. But for those of us who do, it is our human right to reclaim the ability to keep chickens whose eggs are perhaps the most nutrient-rich food and the most easy to control for safety.”

The public hearing remains open for her appeal until the April 3 meeting, but Ms. Schneider has said that she may move on to the Planning Board or Town Board to have the code itself amended rather than seek a variance.

The Zoning Board recommended that the discussion may be better suited for a public discussion with the Town Board.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gannons-Hobby-Farm/164903696908701 Paris Gannon

    What a load of crap! I live in the country with over 70 chickens & there are no more rats now than before! The amount of feed 4 birds would drop while eating would not increase the rat population! This is just another case of people being over-governed. Dog & cat food would be a bigger culprit for increased rat population than chicken feed!

  • Sheila Drake

    This is absolutely not true. I’ve raised chickens,small flocks of 25 or less, for over 12 years and I’ve NEVER had a rat, EVER!

  • Aria Nadii

    Chickens do not attract rats. That is just silly. perhaps an unkempt chicken keeper would attract rats. People have bird feeders in their yards. Do they attract rats? This is just an excuse to harass this family over their chickens. It’s just snobbery. I have kept chickens for years and have never seen evidence of a rat. In fact, my chickens have hunted and killed the few mice that have shown up. My hens are better mousers than my cats. Dogs can be louder and dirtier than chickens.

  • http://facebook Annie Dean

    We have near 50 chickens, and yes, we get field mice from time to time, but nothing catastrophic. We did get a rat one time..1 rat. From my brother-in-law bringing a chest freezer from his house. I think the rat hopped a ride. We saw it, we killed it, no more rat (s). Never had another problem. And I agree with Aria..chickens put a cat to shame on mousing.

  • Jessica

    I live on a quarter acre and have 17 chickens. We have zero rats or mice. My feed is in airtight containers and fed in a manner that it is eaten immediately and not thrown on the ground. If they have so many rats I’d say there’s something else going on, not just the arrival of chickens. Maybe someone is leaving bowls of dog food out, or trash, who knows?
    ““With my bare hands in the middle of the night I have caught eight rats since August until December,”
    Ew who the heck catches filthy rats with their bare hands? Not sure I even believe that!

  • Sue

    I have 4 coops that I raise chickens,ducks,turkeys and quails in and have ZERO rats. So this poor lady with 4 chickens and one tiny coop in her back yard is not the reason this neighborhood is overrun with rats.

  • pauline

    Hi, I’m Pauline, the woman who is in danger of losing my four feathered girls, or paying a fine of @250 a day.
    I want everyone to know that I’ve always gotten along great with all my neighbors and especially David Lyness, a new homeowner next door, who was a great neighbor and we shared gardening tips and helped each other out with all the climate change storms we’ve been having. He was an ideal neighbor and I still think he and his lovely wife are great people, perhaps mistaken in who to blame for the rats, but nevertheless, great people anyone would love to have next door. I hope they can figure this out.
    I actually live on 1/3 of an acre which is practically 1/2 an acre if your math is fuzzy.
    The irony about the law is if you live in the 1/2 acre zone but have less acreage it’s fine for you to have a dozen chickens. So literally across the street from me a couple on 1/8 of an acre could have a dozen hens because it’s 1/2 zoning! I cannot even have one! The code is arbitrary and has nothing to do with actual acreage.
    PLUS, there are renegade chicken & duck owners all over Katonah in the 1/4 acre zone and no one else is complaining.
    I don’t care how many acres your farm was that you grew up on, I’m not going to accept the blame for this town’s rats that we who have lived here for decades have always seen.

    Thanks to everyone for your support.
    Please write to your town boards and find out what your zoning laws are, how your former (or current) town leaders have tried to control or restrict your civil right to produce safe food on your own property that you pay taxes for and see how you can change it back to they way it was meant to be.
    Freedom is hard to get back once you’ve allowed people to legislate it away. This is what I’m finding. It only takes one confused neighbor to reveal that.

    Pauline

  • Jennifer

    Okay – I have to confess that I DID draw rats to my garage when I (stupidly) bought more chicken food & bird seed than would fit into my galvanized cans. My neighbors, who have NEVER liked my chickens used the opportunity to write letters to the city council complaining that I had attracted rats. I had explained to the neighbors what had happened & was able to eliminate them from my property. I still got a visit from Animal Control… Luckily, she is a reasonable, level-headed woman and once I explained the situation, she went to bat for me with the city council. Now if I could only get rid of those pesky neighbors….

  • Violet

    I have 4 chickens on a very small city lot. I have never seen a rat, just some mice and voles, which were in abundance way before I got my chickens!!

  • Violet

    BTW I just realized something… The person in the article mentioning that trash bins were chewed through by rats…. Why are you leaving trash in improper containers???? THAT is the kind of behavior that attracts rats!!!! They wouldn’t be in your garage if there wasn’t food for them in there. People clean up your space before you go blaming the chickens.

  • Saul L.

    Do we really need chickens with A&P right down the block ? This is Westchester county !!! Not Green Acres… Once again we have laws and our politicians refuse to apply them when needed….For fear of retribution from the all powerful media…

  • Saul L.

    Do we really need chickens with A&P right down the block ? This is the town of Bedford!!! Not Green Acres… Once again we have laws and our politicians refuse to apply them when needed….For fear of retribution from the all powerful media…

  • Saul L.

    Do we really need chickens with A&P right down the block ? This is the town of Bedford!!! Not Green Acres. Once again we have laws and our politicians refuse to apply them when needed.For fear of retribution from the all powerful media.

    • Whatzit Tooya

      You are a moron.

    • pauline

      Hi Saul.
      I’m not sure what you mean about A&P proximity to Katonah or Bedford.

      You might want to check the zoning map. Katonah, a hamlet in the town of Bedford, has several 1/2 acre zones where chickens already are. Having a grocery store near or far has no relevance on chickens. Bedford has many farms already. So, it may not be Green Acres, but it is horse country, cattle country and sheep country.

  • Brian C

    My brother had 25 chickens in pound ridge ny. He was keeping the food in his garage and after 3 weeks his whole garage was infested with rats. They eat his drywall and eat through a wood door going up to his apartment. Since he got rid of all the food and the chickens he, hasn’t seen a rat since. The chicken absolutely attract rats. That is just a fact and anyone that has chickens and says they haven’t seen rats. Your lying. Even if you dont see them, you can see there holes and the damage they can do.

  • http://www.kernschickenfarm.com Susan K

    I have been raising chickens for over 12 years and have never had a problem with rats. We do get mice but that isn’t as big of deal as rats. Mice are fairly common everywhere esp in the winter.

  • Farmer Jenny

    I am on your side Pauline! Holy cow, I can’t believe the uprising against you! To think 4 chickens are causing a rat frenzy is crazy! Have there been any infestations in the past in your neighborhood? Can you obtain records about who has complained about rats in the past? I think people should rid the neighborhood of outdoor cats before they ban your chickens. I have watched time and again, raccoons on my neighbors property. They have chickens, goats and outdoor cats. You know where the raccoons go first? The cat food! Your neighborhood needs to clean up after themselves before they go throwing stones! And yes, I have seen chickens go crazy after an uncovered mouse nest. They keep the coop and surrounding area free of vermin!

  • Cassandra

    I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. Chickens don’t seem to be the real issue here and neither do outdoor animals. The food outside is an issue but not the animals themselves. I have an outdoor cat, as do many of my neighbors, but all their food is kept inside. We all live near a park with raccoons, opossums and the like so we know better.

    Several years ago where I live we had a HUGE influx of rats because someone had dumped dirty landfill in a lot near our house. I didn’t have chickens at the time but for several years our neighborhood was nearly overrun with rats! We even had them in the house for a while but the cat (yay) started killing the babies and then moved on to the adults. Good luck to you and your feathered girls. Hopefully folks will be informed or inform themselves of the reality of the situation.

  • Frances Bright

    This is insanity. Good luck with your chickens.

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