He fought back, lobbying town officials to change the law. Today residents are allowed to keep up to six hens, and the town has a dozen coops. Abram says he's won over some neighbors by sharing eggs and letting their kids visit and observe his flock. "I guess some people thought Barrington would be less elite with chickens," he says. "One member of the zoning board told me it would change the character of the town."

The movement has some opposition. Sanitation is a common concern: manure piles can stink, and rats are attracted to food scraps left for hens. Critics also fret some newbie chicken enthusiasts will neglect their animals once the novelty wears off. In a recent Slate article, vegan journalist James McWilliams ridiculed urbanites who raise chickens as naive hipsters looking for a bandwagon to climb aboard. He emphasized the point by posting an audio file of a bleating goat; the animal was dying, sickened after eating something careless left around by a wannabe urban farmer.

Back in Woonsocket, the Lamberts are largely unaware of the national debate. They began raising hens almost two decades ago, when their children were young and there was nothing trendy about homegrown eggs. Today they enjoy their pets chiefly for the entertainment they provide.

"It's a great hobby," Ernest says. "But not in this city. There's a law against it on the books. We happen to be grandfathered."

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