Home Sought for Three Downtown Chickens Whose Lease Is Up

Julian Rubinfien, with two of his three hens, Sadie and Vanilla, on the 145 Nassau St. roof where he has been raising them. Photo: Allan Tannenbaum/Tribeca Trib

Apr. 24, 2013

Where will three Downtown chickens finally call home?

That’s what Julian Rubinfien, age 12, wants to know. For the past couple of months he and his friend Max Kern have been happily raising three plump hens—Flufferbutt, Vanilla and Sadie—on the rooftop of his family's penthouse at 145 Nassau Street, near City Hall. But per a written agreement with the co-op board, they must find a new home for the animals by Memorial Day, when building residents begin using the roof terrace.

“We did not know what it was going to be like to have chickens,” co-op board president Jonathan Botwinick told the Trib in an e-mail. “So we gave approval for a limited time.”

Julian and Max, students at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, raised the birds as part of a science fair project on the preferences of chickens. If he had his way, Julian said, there would be goats, pigs and cows on his family’s rooftop terrace as well. But the Department of Health allows only two farm animals in the city: chickens and horses. (Roosters are banned because they’re too noisy.)

“It sounds weird coming from a 12-year-old,” he told the Trib on Monday, standing next to his coop, “but I’ve always thought that part of the meaning of life is self-sufficiency. And I feel that farming on a New York City rooftop is kind of an outlet to get there.”

So, in early March, Victory Chicken, a Brooklyn-based company, sold the Rubinfiens three 8-month-old hens for the boys’ project. The building’s co-op board agreed to it, as long as the birds stayed on their own property (the Rubinfien's terrace is separated from the roof’s common area by a gate) and didn't cause any trouble (so far they haven’t).

“We were happy we were able to get the [timely] support of the board, which wasn’t easy, then find this cool outfit that supplies you with chickens, and make his idea come true,” said Julian’s mother, Cynthia Mayer.

Julian and Max have faithfully cared for the chickens, feeding them, giving them water and cleaning their six-foot-long coop, which they keep in a corner of the family’s terrace.

“I make sure they’re happy and make sure they’re not sick,” he said. “I feel very protective [of them]. I don’t know if fatherly is the right term, but something along those lines.”

The chickens give back in their own way, producing eggs that he and his family and friends eat for breakfast.

And, says his mother, “There’s a dividend in all this for me—great fertilizer! I do gardening on the terrace.”

The family had no firm plans about what to do with the birds following their eviction. Mayer had considered a community garden or her mother’s place in Vermont. Leo Rubinfien thought they might accompany his son to summer camp.

As for Julian, who has grown attached to the hens, he’d like to find a home for them in the neighborhood. “Hopefully, they’ll go to a different Tribeca family,” he said, “and we can visit them.”

But with the chickens gone, the family terrace may not feel empty for long. “Julian is on to his next project,” said his mom. “He talked my husband into ordering solar panels on eBay." 

Anyone interested in adopting Flufferbutt, Vanilla and/or Sadie are asked to write to Cynthia Mayer at cnmayer@earthlink.net.