Schenectady lawmakers clucking over allowing backyard chickens

One of chickens on exhibit at Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa in 2019.
One of chickens on exhibit at Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa in 2019.

SCHENECTADY — They’re not chickening out.

But several city lawmakers say they need more before information they can support a proposal that would allow city residents to keep backyard chickens.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she has concerns about proximity of chicken coops to neighboring homes.

“Some people don’t have backyards — they have sideyards,” Porterfield said. “I personally don’t think sideyards would be an appropriate place for this.

“I just want to make sure we’re doing it in a way that’s respectful to the neighborhoods and the neighbors and the people that live there.”

Advocates hatched the concept after recent successes allowed the practice in the city of Albany and Niskayuna, and touted the benefits, which include providing a fresh food source, pest control and educational opportunities for kids.

Yet city officials are concerned about an increase in workload, from issuing permits, inspecting structures to responding to neighbor disputes.

“I believe something like this will undoubtedly lead to an increase in calls and workload,” said city Engineer Chris Wallin. “It just seems like another thing that will drain resources that are already thin.”

At present, Vale Urban Farms hosts a pilot project.

Some lawmakers suggested expanding that concept by allowing coops at parks around the city comparable to community garden programs.

“I would hate for us to start a process where there’s an added workload to anyone who’s working in the city and doing a great job and having to add on to what they currently do,” said Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas.

Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said the city should solicit as much feedback as possible through a public hearing, which is required for any proposed legislation.

“I think we have to have some well thought-out, thorough legislation, but I think it’s a worthy thing to incorporate into our city,” Perazzo said.

Councilwoman Carmel Patrick said she’s still reviewing materials provided by advocates, and acknowledged the possibility of disputes between neighbors.

“There’s a lot to be hammered out,” Patrick said, who suggested a clause that would require cooperation from neighbors.

Councilman John Polimeni said he’s opposed, citing possibility of disease and groundwater contamination.

“There are a number of public health issues that, quite frankly, Schenectady really isn’t prepared for should they occur,” Polimeni said. “The amount of people I’ve heard from opposed to it is substantial. As a matter of fact, people were laughing that we would consider this.”

Lawmakers will revisit the issue in two weeks.

Any proposed legislation would not allow roosters.

Officials in Niskayuna, where legislation went into effect Nov. 1, said last month they hadn’t yet received any applications for chickens.

Categories: News, Schenectady County


Sean Ashman

I owned between 6 and 9 chickens for years out in Amsterdam farm country before we moved to Schenectady. They are not quiet. The females are quieter, yes, but it’s not always clear that a chick is female (sexing is not a foolproof science) and people need to understand that if roosters aren’t allowed, they won’t know a chick is a rooster until about 6 months in, and they will then have to kill it themselves or get someone else to do it for them. This is non-optional. Roosters crow, every 2 minutes or so, from 30 minutes before sun-up to 30 minutes after sun down. It’s not like TV, they are obnoxious! These animals are not pets.

Chickens destroy whatever outside area you leave to them by eating all the grass and trampling the ground into a miasma of mud and their own waste. 6 chickens, in a year, did this to an outdoor run that was 10 yards by 20 yards, the grass never recovered. You can get around this by letting them free range in a wider area, but, believe me, there are lot more predators in the city than we had out in the middle of nowhere. Raccoons and foxes, rare out in farmland, are particularly tenacious and vicious when it comes to chickens.

Unless you heat the coop and stay on top of the problem continually, 6 chickens will generate 3 wheel barrows full of frozen fermenting waste over the winter, which as it thaws in the spring, can be smelled for 100 yards in all directions until it’s removed. Gas masks are hard to find these days with pandemic and all, and your neighbors will not thank you, trust me.

Sean Ashman

Oh and I forgot. Chickens CAN fly short distances. Even with their wings clipped, if they want to, they can make it over a 4 ft fence and escape. And generally speaking, they are not smart. They will “leap” the fence and then at night, forget how to get back home and just wander around or bed down wherever they happen to be.


Thanks, Sean. I was not too thrilled with this idea. If your neighbors get chickens and they have no idea what they are doing, you get to suffer along with the chickens. Most of the backyards here are small. I would NOT want them on the side next to my house. We have enough people who don’t clean up after their dogs, and I don’t think adding chickens will help. And we do have a fair number of squirrels, raccoons and skunks here.

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