The Backyard Chickens of New York City

21 Apr, 2013

When you think of raising chickens in a backyard, it is highly unlikely the first place you think of is New York City. But thanks to an innovative enterprise called Victory Chicken, a growing number of New Yorkers are keeping chickens right on their own property. And as the song says, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Victory Chicken is the brainchild of founder Noah Leff—and he’s just as surprised as anyone at this career move. “I might be a little bit unique for the kind of person that’s doing this stuff,” Leff told Organic Connections. “I’m not coming from a farming background. I’m not really a foodie or a locavor or involved at all in food or agriculture. I work in nonprofit finance here in New York.”

How, then, did he get involved? “Our community garden across the street from my house in Brooklyn started keeping chickens,” Leff continued. “I thought it was crazy at first, keeping chickens in the city. But I joined the chicken committee and got a couple of days a week where I would take care of the birds. Once I understood how easy it was and how much fun it was, I thought, ‘This is great. I’d love to do this in my yard.’ I started doing it and I saw that it’s really easy for folks to do. The only barrier is getting going. You can’t go to a pet store and buy a chicken and a chicken coop, at least not yet.”

The Company Hatches

Thus Victory Chicken was born. “I realized that if there was a little something set up that could just get people going, they would do it,” Leff said. “There are a lot of people like me who are not necessarily DIY types who could do this in their backyards with their families or friends or whatever.”

Leff partnered with a local carpenter to build the coops, and with several local farmers outside the city for procurement of the hens. He has never looked back.

A Coop to Your Doorstep

Victory Chicken indeed makes it easy. The company provides a three-bird chicken coop, three hens (no roosters, as they’re illegal to keep in the city for obvious reasons) and an attached run. “We just come out to where you live and we put the coop in place,” Leff explained. “We bring you three chickens and we bring you two months of supplies and give you a quick training. If you need any help or advice, we remain in touch with you.”

The company also has a subscription service that provides for every-other-month delivery of feed, hay, wood shavings and other necessities.

Chicken Benefits

How valuable can kept chickens be? Sustainable farming icon Joel Salatin has said, “People who talk about how bad the battery-cage egg production and egg factories are need to understand that if every kitchen in America had enough chickens attached to it—whether a home kitchen or institutional kitchen or restaurant kitchen—to actually eat all the food waste coming out of that kitchen, we wouldn’t even need commercial egg commerce in the entire country.”

And of course egg production is the first attraction of Victory Chicken’s service. But as Leff pointed out, it goes much further. “When they get into it, a lot of people are doing it for the eggs, which is fine. It’s great to be able to get food from your backyard and to know exactly what is going into it.

“But people discover that, just as pets, really it’s a lot of fun to have a few birds. They’re funny, unique and different from other pets that people keep. If you live in a kind of crazy, hectic place like New York City, it’s a wonderful thing to come home from running around the subway with a suit and tie and briefcase, and go out in your yard or your balcony or the garden or your roof and see a bunch of chickens. You get to hang out in a totally different environment from what most of us experience in this city.

“For people who are gardeners, you don’t get better fertilizer than what comes out of your chickens. So that’s a pretty good fringe benefit too.

“Then it’s a marvelous thing for kids. I think probably more than half of our customers have children. There’s a tremendous educational opportunity you get there for your kids; they see a mini-ecosystem in their yard. They feed their table scraps to the chickens, the chickens create eggs that they can then eat, and the shells of the eggs go into the compost along with the chicken poop, which makes fertilizer that you can use to grow vegetables, which you then eat. It’s an excellent way for kids to learn about these things.”

Leff sees all this only growing. “I’ve had a really good first couple of years,” he concluded. “Each year the demand and interest is growing, so I want to keep taking it as far as we can. If people’s interest keeps going up the way it has, I’d love to open up an actual storefront at some point.

“We make it extremely easy for people to do this. The whole idea is to make it so that lots of people who are maybe similar to me and my family can do the same thing here in New York and then perhaps beyond.”

For more information, please visit www.victorychickenco.com.

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