The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York


JUly 1, 2011

Coops go co-op at John Jay Homestead


Country living

Brian Carney and Natascha Burbridge, large coop in the background.


In most of the households that I know of that have chickens (including mine), the women have been the impetus and the men have been either reluctant or patient and bemused. Perhaps this is why there was a very small turnout for the Father’s Day chicken coop building workshop at John Jay Homestead. Nonetheless, those who were there were very enthusiastic.

Brian Carney and Natascha Burbridge, both Westchester County farmers, Mr. Carney from Hilltop Hanover and Ms. Burbridge from Muscoot Farm, ran the workshop. Its goal was to have families help them build a small mobile chicken coop. With the knowledge gleaned at the workshop, it was hoped some of those in attendance would build their own coops and raise chickens in their backyards.

The workshop is part of a larger project, the Heritage Egg Co-op, that Mr. Carney and Ms. Burbridge run at John Jay Homestead with the help of a grant from InterGenerate. When it is finished, the coop built at this workshop will be an adjunct to the current Heritage Egg coop at John Jay. The current coop is six feet by eight feet and houses 35 birds. It is surrounded by a large temporary enclosure that can be moved, along with the house. The reason it is desirable to move the coop and adjacent enclosure is that the chickens peck and scratch for bugs, and also leave chicken manure. If the scratching and pecking is incessant, it will denude the ground. If, however, the turnout is rotated, the enclosure is actually enriched by the chicken manure and insect removal.

The Heritage Egg Co-op project is designed to encourage backyard farming. There are about 25 members of the co-op, and they each take responsibility for caring for the chickens one day a week. This entails feeding and watering them, letting them out in the morning and in at night. They also take the eggs home with them to enjoy.

A team of volunteers built the large coop over a two-week period in April at the beginning of the program. Mr. Carney said the success of the program is not measured by the number of co-op members, but rather the number of former co-op members who begin to raise chickens in their backyards. He said, “I think of the co-op as a test drive for raising chickens.”

Another objective of the co-op is to improve the breed of chicken known as the Silver Laced Wyandotte. Mr. Carney said historically this breed was developed to thrive in New York State and was used for both meat and egg production. However, over time breeders have concentrated on the bird’s beautiful feathers and markings, rather than breeding for production of meat or eggs. The Heritage project at John Jay intends to breed the chickens to improve their egg-laying capacity. Mr. Carney said that historically John Jay used to be involved in poultry production, so the Friends of John Jay Homestead were excited about and extremely supportive of the project. While the egg co-op currently has Rhode Island Red chickens from Stone Barns and Comet chickens that were bred in Connecticut, they plan to eventually only have Silver Laced Wyandottes.

Mark and Leslie Stafford of Katonah, and their children, Oliver, 6, and Isabel, 4, are enthusiastic members of the co-op and also attended the coop building workshop. Ms. Stafford said they come every Saturday morning at 8:30 to help with the chickens. Both children were very confident with the chickens, and Oliver was very independent helping to care for them. Ms. Stafford said they live right in town, so she does not think they will have their own chickens, but are very fond of a neighbor’s white chicken, which often visits their yard.

She said she values the co-op program and the increased exposure to the natural world that her children get with the program.

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