When Brett and Kirstin Morgan moved from New York City to the East End they were ready to embrace a sustainable and organic lifestyle. After settling into a home in North Haven in 2008, the couple started a small vegetable garden. The planting led to composting and composting soon led the Morgans to investigate raising backyard chickens. By August 2009, the Morgan family was the proud owner of six day-old hens and one year later the brood has flourished.
Regulations in North Haven Village, though, threaten to put the kibosh on the Morgan’s coop. Hoping to act preemptively, Brett implored the village board on Monday to put chicken friendly laws on the books. Hundreds of municipalities across the country, and a few on Long Island, have legalized residential poultry operations or are in the midst of crafting such legislation. In Huntington, locals are allowed to house up to eight chickens behind their homes. The pens must be cleaned daily and the eggs cannot be sold. Greenport Village Trustee Michael Osinski is pushing for a similar bill. Most regulations prohibit the presence of roosters, known for insidiously crowing at the break of dawn.
For Brett, the issue isn’t merely a vote for an environmentally conscious lifestyle, but is also a campaign to save the newest additions to his family. Aurora, Ariel, Daylight, Brownie, Sunshine and Midnight — as the youngest Morgans, daughters Mackenzie, 4-and-three-quarters, and Piper, 3, have named them — are now more pets than farm fowl.
“Whether collecting eggs, or chasing them around the yard, it’s amazing what joy chickens can bring to a youngster’s face,” wrote Brett in a letter to the village board.
Brett and Kirstin talk animatedly about their bird’s habits, preferences and even appearance. Kirstin points out the bright red wattle and comb on her Easter Egger, the scarlet coloring is an indication of good health, as it lays an egg in the turquoise shingled coop. She has no qualms about petting her “babies” like any domesticated animal and even Mackenzie and Piper are adept at chasing them around the yard to pick them up. A peck on the hand doesn’t ruffle Piper’s feathers as she gives a look of shock instead of sobbing.
Though Brett grew up on a Sagaponack private farm, he wasn’t the Morgan driving the family’s plucky purchase. Instead, it was Kirstin who hungered for a hatch to call her own. Though Kirstin was raised in a developed part of New Jersey, she fondly remembers visiting a friend’s farm in Pennsylvania.
“They had chickens. We grabbed all the eggs and the mom made us something,” Kirstin recalled. “I’ve always had this desire.”
The Morgan’s poultry is truly free-range. Every afternoon, the gang of six are let out of the coop and allowed to roam the property and sometimes the neighborhood. Although most neighbors enjoy the company — and the eggs — this freedom has also landed the Morgans in a bit of hot water with the village. According to Brett and Kirstin, North Haven Village Building Inspector Al Daniels said an adjacent property owner called him to complain that the birds had trespassed on their lawn.
At a village board meeting on Monday, Brett lobbied for an amendment and extolled the benefits of keeping hens. He pointed out that they provide pest control by mainly subsisting on bugs, ticks and grubs from around the yard. This also reduces the family’s chances of contracting a tick-borne illness. Their manure and eggshells are folded back into compost used for the garden. Every day the chickens lay around six eggs, and the Morgans give the excess to neighbors and friends. The eggs come in all hues, ranging from light green to dark brown, and taste richer than the store bought variety, Kirstin added.
Friend Chuck Seltzer, who is also a North Haven resident, attended the meeting to lend support. He vouched for the deliciousness of the eggs, saying “it would have been smart to bring samples.”
After a few questions posed by board members on the height chickens can jump — around eight feet if they are spooked — and noise, though another friend says the hens produce no more sound than a leaf blower, village mayor Laura Nolan said the board would more thoroughly consider crafting a law.
“We will take a look at what the other communities have done,” she said. “We will discuss this with our village attorney and take it from there.”