BALLSTON SPA — It’s become easier to get fresh eggs in Ballston Spa.
Mayor Larry Woolbright knows, since he and his wife have been temporarily caring for six chickens for a few weeks, getting about six eggs a day. “They’re better eggs. Stuff is a lot fresher, and the chickens are a lot happier than the ones in these massive egg farms,” he said.
The Village Board in August adopted a local law allowing village residents to keep up to six egg-laying hens — roosters are still prohibited.
Keeping backyard chickens in urban and suburban areas is a growing national movement. In the Capital Region, Saratoga Springs also allows backyard chickens, as do some towns.
The village’s move was prompted by the Milton Grange and a local museum exhibit on the importance of chickens throughout Saratoga County history.
“It gives people an idea of raising animals for food, and knowing what you’re eating,” said local attorney John Cromie, president of the Milton Grange, who wrote the initial draft of the new law.
Until now, Ballston Spa law has forbidden the keeping of any livestock, including chickens.The law prohibits horses, goats, cows, ducks, pigs, roosters, ponies, “tigers, and lions or any animal that produces odor, unsanitary conditions, or is a danger or nuisance to the community.” None of those bans are changing.
Woolbright said the chicken ban wasn’t being enforced, so changing the law made sense. “There was no opposition. A lot of people all over the village have chickens. The ban was never really enforced. As long as there were no roosters, nobody complained,” he said.
The change was pushed for by supporters in the Grange, which works to maintain rural traditions. Grange members had a hand in organizing the current exhibit on the history of chickens at the Brookside Museum, home of the Saratoga County Historical Society. The exhibit highlights how prior to World War II many households kept chickens for eggs or meat, and they played an important role in the economic and cultural life of communities.
Michelle Arthur, Brookside Museum’s executive director, praised the legal change. “It’s wonderful, because [chickens] control the insects, especially the tick population, you get eggs, and they’re actually very friendly,” she said.
The museum wanted to keep live chickens in its yard during parts of the exhibit, and that required a special resolution from the Village Board, which it approved in July. That prompted Grange members to suggest a more general local law allowing residents to keep chickens in their yards.
The new law requires village residents to obtain a permit, though Cromie said the application is simple. The permit remains valid as long as the resident lives at the address. The permit can be rescinded if the chickens and yard are not properly maintained. If a permit is rescinded, the law says the household cannot reapply for at least two years.
Cromie said the village is one of the first in the state to allow lifetime permits, with the goal of keeping the cost to the village low. The system uses potential pressure from neighbors to ensure that the chickens are well cared for. “It promotes neighborliness; as long as you’re neighbors are happy there’s no problem,” Cromie said.
Applicants must have a back yard of at least 800 square feet, since chickens need outdoor space as well as coops. Renters will need a landlord’s permission, and a multi-unit complex will need more space.
Live chickens were at the museum in August, and have had two temporary home since, one at the Woolbrights. They are due to return to Brookside this week and stay through Oct. 14. The museum exhibit continues through Dec. 23.
On Saturday, Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. to noon, a free workshop on chickens will be held at the museum, led by agents from Saratoga County Cooperative Extension. At the end of that workshop, the six chickens in the Brookside exhibit will be raffled off, along with their pens, in a fundraiser for the museum. “They’re really sweet, and they all get along, and they lay an egg every day,” Arthur said. “We get between three and six eggs a day.”