HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP — It might not make the chickens happy, but the township committee hopes to keep the peace in neighborhoods by limiting conjugal visits between roosters and hens in backyard farms.
Male fowls would be allowed into the henhouses 10 days a year under an ordinance introduced by the township committee Monday night. No rooster would be allowed to stay more than five consecutive nights and any crowing would be strictly prohibited.
“You can bet if you have one rooster in there with six hens, he’s going to be crowing,” chuckled John Hart, a beef farmer who sits on the town Agricultural Advisory Committee that helped draft the ordinance. “Only in Hopewell Township would we waste the time and money on chicken legislation. Other towns are laughing at us.”
Hopewell began working on the law several years ago when a father came to town hall to inquire about rules for keeping chickens in the backyard to teach his children about the cycle of life. That ruffled feathers among the town officials, who decided the laws on chickens were ambiguous and needed to be clarified.
Three years and countless legal hours later the ordinance was unveiled for consideration.
The draft ordinance lays out the rules for keeping backyard fowl; the only livestock permitted on township properties less than five acres.
Under the law, up to six hens would be allowed on half-acre lots; but mature roosters would be forbidden.
“They make too much noise,” Hart said. “They’ll be out there crowing at a full moon.”
The male fowls would be allowed limited time on the property “for purposes of fertilization” but they’d have to keep quiet while they were there. Any rooster caught crowing for a prolonged period of time would subject the property to a two-year moratorium on all rooster visits.
Hens do not need roosters around to lay the unfertilized eggs used for eating. Each hen will lay an egg a day on average.
The law also regulates how to shelter chickens, store their feed and dispose of their waste.
Proponents say the ordinance is needed to prevent any squabbling among neighbors in places where suburbanites want to try their hand at chicken farming.
Hart, who owns the Rosedale Mills feed store on Route 31, says it’s a growing trend among people looking for a healthier diet of homegrown food.
“Most people keep the chickens so they can have fresh eggs,” Hart said. “We used to sell 1,000 chicks a year. Last year we sold more than 3,000.”
Hart also sells chicken coops to people all over the state. One couple comes in from New York to buy supplies for a pair of chickens they keep on an outside deck, he said.
He also hosts a Chicken Chat in the spring and the fall for people to share ideas about raising poultry.
He recounted a conversation last spring between a little girl and an old-time farmer who attended the gathering. The child was asking for advice on what to do with a hen that pecked and broke the eggs laid by other hens.
“The guy said, ‘I just wring their necks,’” Hart recalled. “I told him ‘No, no, no, you can’t tell people that. These people think of their chickens as pets!’”
Mayor Jim Burd said the ordinance is a good balance between the town’s suburban lifestyle and rich farming history.
“Our agrarian roots are the backbone of the township and we want to do what we can to keep that going,” Burd said.