Chicks Street: Family raises chickens in the Heights

BHB/Sarah Portlock

Wiley, 7, shows off his blue Cochin, Casey (BHB/Sarah Portlock)

In the heart of Brooklyn Heights, on Hicks Street, the Holbrooke family is raising five chickens.

Chickens? In Brooklyn Heights?

Why not, nine-year Heights resident Sarah Holbrooke, 44, figured. The family likes eggs and they have a backyard. Plus, she noted, it will be fun for the kids.

Watch  Brooklyn Bugle video of the chicks at home

Holbrooke and her husband, David, 43, first heard about urban chicken farming last year and enrolled the family in a class at Stone Barn Farms in upstate New York. Sarah then visited, picked out six New York City-friendly breeds (small spaces, cold winters, kids), and the family had the day-old chicks within days.

A year later, the Holbrookes have a full-fledged coop in their backyard, a pail full of chicken feed, and, after the kids collect the eggs each day, a stockpile in the fridge for breakfasts.

Chickens are perfectly legal in New York, said Health Department spokeswoman Sara Markt.

“Yes, you can keep chickens, not roosters. Of course, the area needs to be kept clean and if it becomes a nuisance, the Health Department can issue a violation. Neighbors can call 311 to report this type of issue,” she said. The section of the NYC health code that discusses the list of prohibited animals is available here [pdf], and chickens are not on the list.

Holbrooke concedes that the one downside is the backyard, which has taken a beating. What was once a grassy play area is now a mud pit, following the harsh winter and March’s rainstorms.

But the benefits outweigh the costs, the Holbrookes say.

“We like getting the free eggs,” explains Wiley, 7, whose chicken is a blue Cochin named Casey. And his second favorite part? “Just holding them, if you’re really cold.”

The kids have really taken to the chickens, Sarah said, and each got to name one. The kids are excited to feed them every morning, and bring them table scraps and other organic goods from the kitchen. The Holbrookes’ chickens are:

The chickens have led to chicken-themed parties, and on Saturday, Wiley’s birthday party featured a yellow cake in the shape of a chicken, with frosting detail. The family plays rousing matches of Pin the Comb on the Chicken with Rolf the Rooster, a handmade poster tacked up in the living room.

But do the neighbors ever complain?

“The neighbors have been very nice,” Sarah said. “[The chickens] don’t crow, and they do buck-buck a little bit, especially when they lay an egg, but not loud enough to wake you up. They’re not any louder than the birds back there.”

In New York, it is legal to raise chickens, but not roosters, and various online resources online devoted to urban chicken farming have sprouted up in recent years, including and

And veterinarians that specialize in exotic animals have helped the Holbrookes along the way.

Chickens lay four to five eggs each week for two years, and then fewer eggs as they get older. Sarah said the family will make a decision about what to do next when that time comes. It will be tough, she admitted — the family has grown attached to the hens.

“They’re adorable, and we like them a lot,” Sarah said. “We’re kind of fond of them.”

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  • anon

    Great for the kids, but I’m pretty sure it is illegal under the NYC Administrative Code, Health Code or NYS law to raise chickens in a residential area.

  • The Where

    No it’s not. Look it up.

  • Josh

    so awesome – wish I had a back yard!

  • David

    Has anyone tried to hypnotize a chicken yet?

  • Sarah Portlock

    Anon: chickens are most certainly legal in NYC, but we checked in with the Health Dept just to make sure and have updated the post to reflect that. We’ve also included a link to the city’s health code.

  • Gersh Kuntzman

    It really doesn’t get better than this story. Sarah Portlock, you have done it again.

    Too bad the ping pong thing didn’t work out, though.

    The Brooklyn Paper

  • AEB

    David, I’ve had good luck hypnotizing chickens.

    You put your right foot in,
    You put your right foot out
    You put your left foot in and you shake it all about…..

    Works like a charm.

  • Eddy

    Hens are legal but roosters are illegal to keep in NYC

  • cute name

    Just because the health department says you can keep chickens, doesn’t mean that other regulations don’t further limit where, specifically.

  • hoppy

    Do the chickens have large talons?

  • Martha

    Hi, I’m a fellow chicken person in Cobble Hill. We keep 3 hens and love them. Would be interested in your vet who handles chickens.


  • Eddie The Eagle

    Despite being an avian cousin, I fully endorse this. Chickens are tasty.

  • bornhere

    I think this is so neat — Casey seems to be a well-loved chicken. What a great experience for the kids. Good for the Holbrookes!

  • heightsdiho

    Happy for the Holbrooks and their hens!

  • anon

    I concede the error if I confused roosters with chickens. What do I know from farm animals–I’m just a kid from Brooklyn?!

    I should get partial credit at least for knowing some member of the fowl family was prohibited. Maybe a fresh egg or two or three? Are these chickens organic?

    Also, by the way, since it has now shown to be illegal, I believe there is a family on Amity St. in Cobble Hill that raises chickens. I didn’t want to out them if it was illegal.

  • melanie hope greenberg

    What a fun story. This family lives a few buildings away and I never hear any clucking from my backyard window.

  • BB

    Nice story of getting back to the basics. Thank you, Holbrooke family for sharing.

  • Thomas Kriese

    Great to see your whole flock, Sarah! I love that you’re setting a great example for what it means to raise urban chickens in a truly urban setting. Keep up the great work!

  • Lulu

    I love this story!

  • jane

    love the chickens and the Holbrooks! If you are ever overwhelmed by abundant eggs, feel free to utilize our fridge! (smile). I highly recommend a cookbook called “the good egg” by simmons if you are in need of creative uses for your crop.