New London - On Thursday, Ellen Anthony collected the eggs laid by six of her hens.
Anthony has kept hens - there are now 14 in all and no roosters - in her backyard in a 20-by-20-foot enclosure that includes a small wooden coop for the past 18 years. She's never had a complaint from a neighbor or the city. In fact, a neighbor two doors down keeps chickens as well.
But according to City Planner Harry Smith, keeping chickens is prohibited in New London.
"If it's not expressly provided for in the regulations, then it is prohibited," Smith said Thursday. "It's not provided for in the regulations."
On Thursday night, the Planning and Zoning Commission discussed a letter from Chelsea Ketner of Riverview Avenue, who expressed interest in keeping poultry but wants city approval before going forward.
She's not the only one. Christopher Droesch sent an email Tuesday to The Day to say he had begun collecting materials to keep chickens in the backyard of his New London home only to be rebuffed by someone in the city's Planning, Zoning and Wetlands Department. He attended Thursday's meeting.
Ketner did not attend the meeting, but commission Chairman Mark Christensen addressed her letter, which expressed confusion about the regulations and asked for a "definitive answer."
Christensen said the regulations prohibit the keeping of chickens in New London.
"If an individual is interested, they can apply for a regulation amendment and they can show why (the amendment) is consistent with other communities," he said. "We'll always look at an application and we have a right to say whether it meets the criteria."
Droesch said he had relied on section 4-3 of the city ordinance that states no person may keep chickens "in a manner to be injurious to health, create a menace, or offensive to the public."
When he went to get permits to build a coop, a zoning official directed him to section 410.4, subsection 6, of the zoning regulations: "Keeping of not more than three household pets over six months old; the commercial breeding or boarding of pets is prohibited."
Smith said at the meeting that "the commission determined previously that a chicken is not a household pet and therefore they are prohibited."
That's news to Anthony, who also cited the city's ordinance as her legal right to keep poultry.
On Thursday, Anthony's feathered friends didn't create a menace or appear to be offensive to the public. Quite the opposite: they clucked quietly as she approached. A neighbor, outside for some air, waved when she saw Anthony heading for the coop.
The chickens get a little skittish when Anthony enters the enclosure, but they lay white, brown and even green eggs - enough to provide for Anthony's family and some neighbors and friends.
"When it gets the right level of darkness, they put themselves to sleep," she said. "They don't need a heater in the winter; they just snuggle up close. The real hard part is getting a good house for them."
Her coop is rudimentary but includes laying boxes and rows of wooden dowels over 5-gallon plastic buckets. The chickens sit on the dowels at night and defecate into the buckets, she said, making cleaning easy.
Outside the coop, but within the fence, the ground is bare, picked over by the chickens. But Anthony stirs up the soil so the birds can eat worms and insects in addition to the 50 pounds of feed they eat every three weeks. She changes the water daily and comes out in the morning and at night to check on them, clean up and collect eggs.
Anthony tells of other neighbors who have brought scraps and created a "feeding frenzy" for the birds.
The chickens do have predators, she said, mostly raccoons, which she tries to keep out with the fenced-in enclosure that has a roof. Two or three years ago, she said, a raccoon got into the coop and "massacred" the chickens. One got away and ran into a neighbor's yard, where a Rottweiler roamed. Bird and 100-pound dog sized each other up, Anthony said, before they became friends of sorts. They kept watch of each other in the yard for about six months, she said, until one fateful day when the Rottweiler turned his back and a raccoon killed the chicken.
But the deaths haven't deterred Anthony, who said she's kept chickens for about 22 years. It's an easy way to have good, fresh food in a sustainable manner, she said.
"I like having homegrown eggs, and it makes me go outdoors every day," Anthony said. "I know the weather, the phase of the moon, and I have to take care of the chickens."