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Chickens take rightful place The law now on their side, 5 hens blaze a trail for urban farming with a return to backyard MONIQUE WATTS: "Our neighborhood needs a lot, and it needs attention. But we never thought it would be because of chickens."

The five most famous chickens in Buffalo were back home Sunday in their cozy coop on Rhode Island Street.

It was the happy ending that Monique Watts and her hens had been waiting for, after she took on City Hall for the right to raise chickens in her backyard and won.

"People who know me get a kick out of the whole thing," said Watts, 45. "I'm used to having a lot of crazy chicken nicknames."

The West Side woman had to move her pet hens to Allegany County earlier this year when she learned that the City of Buffalo banned residents from keeping chickens in 2004, as a result of chicken fights and health concerns.

But Watts pushed back, and after months of study and lively debate among city lawmakers, the Common Council and Mayor Byron W. Brown enacted an ordinance allowing city residents such as Watts to raise chickens under strict guidelines.

There's a limit of five hens at each house, as well as a ban on roosters.

Hens must be fed using an approved trough.

Chicken coops now have to be a certain distance from neighboring windows and property lines, requiring Watts' husband, Blair Woods, to make alterations to their small coop.

Watts, a development officer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, is worried that the law might be too restrictive for other city residents who want to try urban chicken-raising -- what she called a growing trend.

But, for now, she is happy to get back her chickens -- which the couple brought home Sunday -- and fresh eggs.

The five hens each lay an egg a day.

There's Tilda, who lays the smallest eggs of the five; Meg, the Rhode Island red of Rhode Island Street; Momma Effie, named for Watts' great-grandmother; Minnie, who looks like a rooster; and Buttercup.

In fact, Watts and her husband invited friends and neighbors for an open house Sunday to see the five chickens that started all the fuss.

It was a way to bring some closure to the whole experience, Watts said.

"They're amused by all the attention; that's for sure," Watts said of the neighbors as she prepared food for her guests. "Our neighborhood needs a lot, and it needs attention. But we never thought it would be because of chickens."

After the city enacted the new law and Watts applied for a permit, neighbors were given 20 days to voice objections.

Watts heard nothing.

"We're all for it," said Delores Goodman, who lives two doors away from Watts. "They never bothered anybody. In fact, people don't even know they had them."

Goodman, who has lived on Rhode Island for 39 years, said Watts and her husband are good folks who have done a lot to clean up the neighborhood.

Of course, Goodman and her husband, Jim, are a little biased; they have benefited from the bounty of eggs.

"They're the best eggs in town," Goodman said. "We're glad they're back."

Now that Watts has gotten the ball rolling, she feels obligated to stay on top of the issue.

"I'm not the kind of person who's in the front of things like this," Watts said, "but I think it's worth spending some time on to make sure other people are able to do it.

"Hopefully, I'll be able to do some workshops so people know its available to them. If you want to do it, here's how you do it right."

Watts, though, could do without the chicken nicknames.

She said, "I want that to die now."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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