October 2, 2019

“Raising Backyard Chickens” — for Health, Happiness, the Environment, and the Eggs

EGG-CITING EVENT: Princeton backyard chicken owner Karen Zemble, shown here with her daughter Shane, son Nathanael, their chickens, and their dog, is the lead organizer of “Raising Backyard Chickens,” an information session at the Princeton Public Library this Saturday, October 5 at 10:30 a.m. It will feature Princeton residents who keep poultry, local farmers, an owner of therapy hens, other chicken enthusiasts, and live chickens. (Photo courtesy of Karen Zemble)

By Donald Gilpin

Karen Zemble embarked on her personal journey of backyard chicken raising when she needed a creative solution to the problem of ticks and her small children, who wanted to play outdoors.

She noted that half her friends warned, “You’ll have to spray or they’ll get Lyme disease,” and the other half warned, “You’ll kill your kids if you spray insecticide.” That’s when she brought in a handful of chickens, “and they ate the ticks,” she said. “This year we pulled no ticks off my kids.”

And the benefits proliferated. “We got them just to be bug eaters,” she said, “but it turns out we love them for so many other reasons. I talk to my chickens, and they all have different personalities. They’re so cute. You can train them, and they provide us with eggs. We have fresh, wonderful eggs every day.”

A member of the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) and chair of the governance committee of the Friends of the Princeton Public Library (PPL), Zemble will be one of the speakers at “Raising Backyard Chickens,” an information session sponsored by the PPL and the PEC, Saturday, October 5 at 10:30 a.m. in the Community Room of the PPL. She will be joined by other poultry-raising Princeton residents, local farmers, an owner of therapy hens, other chicken enthusiasts, and live chickens.

In addition to Zemble, who promises to talk about “why backyard chickens have egg-ceeded all egg-spectations and are so egg-citing” and will show off her chickens, Dusty and Snowflake, featured speakers, all chicken owners or former chicken owners, will include Jenny Ludmer; Karla Cook, food journalist and co-founder of Princeton Studies Food; Jim Kinsel, general farm manager of Honeybrook Organic Farms; 11-year-old Milo Molina; and Gwenne Baile, founder of Camden County Chickens and owner of therapy hens.

Ludmer, who has seven years of experience with backyard chickens, plans to discuss the amount of food waste her chickens consume, providing her a solution to the composting challenge in Princeton. She will also talk about night-time predators in Princeton.

Cook, former restaurant critic for The New York Times and founder of the Princeton School Gardens Cooperative, will talk about sustainable management of food and food waste, food hierarchy, and her greater connection with the land since she started raising chickens. She will also tell stories about how she gives her hens manicures.

Kinsel, who as an organic farmer explores how people interact with the natural world in their most fundamental relationship, through food and its source, will be talking about supporting backyard flocks for family health and their positive carbon footprint.

Baile will actually bring a therapy hen or two with their diapers into the Community Room — the other chickens will remain outside in Hinds Plaza — and will explain the many benefits of therapy hens. She takes her hens to nursing homes, schools, libraries, farmers markets, and to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University on Opening Doors to Autism Day.

Sophie Glovier, PEC chair and author of Walk the Trails In and Around Princeton, will moderate the session, which will conclude with questions and chicken stories from the audience.

The impetus for Saturday’s event originated about a year ago, according to Zemble, when a group of loving hen owners, working through the PEC, advanced a resolution in support of Princeton residents who keep hens and other hen-laying poultry in their backyards for personal egg production. As part of the resolution, the PEC resolved to support an education campaign for the public, which will continue with Saturday’s forum.

Zemble, whose chickens in the past have been named Miss Congeniality in a poultry contest and Princeton Patch’s Pet of the Week, pointed out that chickens can’t be raised in the home. Owners need to have an enclosed backyard. But she added that chickens are very easy to take care of.

The municipality is currently working to harmonize the zoning ordinances of the former Princeton Borough and Township to address the issue of backyard poultry uniformly. The zoning ordinances of the former Princeton Township address commercial farming, and the ordinances of the former Princeton Borough address domestic animals, but neither defines the practice of keeping backyard poultry.

A task force has been meeting and working on a draft ordinance, the specifics of which will be presented to the public at a meeting of the PEC on October 23.

“Hug a chicken,” Zemble advised. “It makes you feel better.”