By Alex Lippa
---- — If Erica Layon had been told three years ago that she would have chickens in her backyard, she would have scoffed at the idea.
“I would have told you, you were insane,” the Derry resident said.
Today, Layon owns more than 20 chickens, which she raises for eggs and meat.
“There is such a huge difference between my egg and a store’s egg,” she said. “I could never go back to eating store eggs.”
Layon is just one of many who have recently started raising chickens. The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture doesn’t keep statistics on just how popular it is, but it’s clear it’s on the rise.
“It’s clear from all the calls we get that more people are raising chickens,” said Cindy Heisler, who works in the animal industry division at the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. “More and more people want to raise locally.”
Bud Evans, the owner of Derry Feed and Supply, said chickens have been flying off the shelves recently.
“It’s been more popular than ever,” Evans said. “They’ve gotten hot over the last four or five years. People want to prep their own food source.”
Carolyn Blaszka of Hampstead has raised chickens and ducks for 10 years, but she isn’t the one who gets the most enjoyment out of it.
“My grandkids just love them,” she said. “They’re just happy creatures.”
Jim O’Toole, manager at Dodge Grain in Salem, said he noticed a difference when the state repealed a law requiring a minimum of a dozen chicks be bought at a time.
“New people usually like to start with a smaller flock,” O’Toole said.
At Tractor Supply in Plaistow, they hold Chick Days where customers can purchase chicks and learn how to properly care for them.
“It’s a pretty easy set-up,” store manager Dan Riedy said. “This is something that kids can grow up with and then pass down to their kids.”
But in some towns it remains difficult to raise chickens at home. In Londonderry, the livestock ordinance requires a minimum of 2 acres to keep chickens and other livestock.
“We want to protect neighbors against noise and smell,” said Mary Wing-Soares, a member of the town’s Planning Board. “I think we have a standard in place and I don’t think we should compromise our standard.”
But the chicken owners disagree with ordinances such as those.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there, which people can get from television or children’s books,” said Michael Choquette, secretary for the New Hampshire Poultry Fanciers Association. “A barking dog can make just as much noise as a rooster can.”
Layon said cleanliness shouldn’t be an issue.
“If you have someone not taking care of birds, that’s the only time there’s an issue with it being unsanitary,” she said. “I don’t think that’s an issue that should be resolved by zoning.”
Evans said he hopes Londonderry officials eventually reconsider their current rules.
“This is New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state,” he said. “I know neighbors want everything to be perfect, but that’s not how things work.”
In Kingston, residents overwhelmingly showed which side of the debate they were on at the polls last week. A proposal which would have restricted livestock on properties less than 2 acres was shot down, 626-294.
Choquette believes that result correlates with the economic benefit of raising chickens.
““I think part of it is the economics get tight and people are asking what they can do for themselves,” he said. “When they become aware of what it makes to take the product, they can see by doing this it has a greater benefit and cheapens the product.”
But the economic benefit is just a bonus to the quality of the eggs.
“When you look at the yolks, they are this amazing bright yellow color,” Blaszka said. “They are just delicious.”