Counting Chickens on Beverly Road

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Photograph by Diana Shaman
Counting Chickens on Beverly Road
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Five-year-old Simon has several pets: worms that live in a plastic container with air holes; cocoons that could eventually hatch into moths, and four snails (not the eating variety), also living in a plastic container.

But most of all he treasures a beige-and-red hen called Gittel that is part of a flock of ten chickens that he and his family--which includes his two-year-old sister Bex and a newborn brother, Spencer--raise in the back yard of their 100-year-old Spanish colonial on Beverly Road. The hens (no roosters allowed) supply the family with about a dozen eggs a day, but more than that they supply plenty of fun and education, and also neighborhood outreach. Children from local schools and day care centers are frequently invited to come to visit and to gawk.

Simon's father, Ido Tuchman, an intellectual properties lawyer, and mother, Leslie, a doctor specializing in internal medicine, purchased the Beverly Road house six years ago after living in a one-bedroom apartment in Forest Hills. Even as apartment dwellers they were talking about raising chickens, Mr. Tuchman said. "It seemed like a cool idea."

Soon after moving into their house, they bought four chicks by mail order, along with a supposedly predator-proof coop. In no time at all, raccoons snatched two of the chicks, but the two survivors have now grown in number to 10 with the help of additional mail orders, and a home-made coop that is sturdy enough to keep the chickens protected though they are often allowed to roam free on the premises as well.

On a recent Indian Summer day, Simon led the flock out front and passersby, in true blasé New York fashion, hardly gave the birds a glance until a reporter asked a passing couple, "What do you think of these chickens running all over?" "Very nice," they responded, hurrying on, though with a smile.

None of the chickens has ever been run over. "They are incredibly fast," Mr. Tuchman said. In fact, drivers are alerted by a triangular yellow street sign that reads Chicken Crossing, supplied by a friendly neighbor. And the birds always come back home to roost.

The Tuchmans are far from the only New Yorkers who raise chickens in their back yards, though the majority are found in Brooklyn and in the Bronx where urban farming is thriving. The City allows hens but bans roosters because their early morning cock-a-doodles are considered a nuisance. One of the Tuchmans' mail order chicks turned out to be a rooster so they put an ad on Craigslist and someone from Huntington, where roosters are allowed, adopted him.

There have been some concerns that home-grown eggs might contain lead because the chickens scratch in New York City soil that is not exactly pristine. And as far as being pets go, chickens are not as cuddly as cats, Mr. Tuchman admitted. But they have individual personalities, he added.

His chickens are practically maintenance-free. They eat chicken feed purchased from a local pet store, which costs him $23 for a 50-pound month's supply. They also get fed table scraps plus plenty of water, which is essential for keeping them healthy.

In return, you get an egg factory, Mr. Tuchman noted, sharing two of his favorite recipes: egg salad, made of hard-boiled eggs, sardines (two for each egg), Tabasco sauce and onions; and egg salad made of hard-boiled eggs, ranch dressing and mustard.

So how do neighbors feel about chickens next door? "They are fine with it," Mr. Tuchman said, speculating that it is far more disturbing living next to a noisy dog than living next to chickens that just cluck occasionally and provide a touch of country living.

"The neighborhood cherishes them," said Jeff Davis, a passing friend. "It's fun for the kids. It adds character to the neighborhood and it helps bring this community together."

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