All Things Considered, May 21, 2009 ·
Chickens aren't just for farms anymore. That's right — urban hens are hip. Across the country, city dwellers — attracted by the idea of having fresh eggs, a new hobby or even unique pets — are keeping flocks.
Allison Adams, writer and avid organic gardener, has a flock of seven hens in the backyard of her home in Decatur, Ga., not far from Atlanta. A few years ago, Adams saw an article about raising chickens and then approached her neighbor with the idea.
"I love fresh eggs. I love having fertilizer production right in the backyard, so I thought, 'Well, if it's legal, I should probably investigate it,' " Adams says.
Adams and her neighbor, Bill DeLoach, converted a lawnmower shed into a chicken coop and got some baby chicks. Their seven chickens are now 4 years old and produce about 30 eggs a week.
And they have names — royal ones at that. Adams and DeLoach got clever, opting for a queen theme. Among them are Latifah, Ethel and Lucy (queens of comedy), Mary Flannery (queen of Southern gothic), Liliuokalani (a Hawaiian queen), and even one called "Foraday."
You can't see or smell the coop from the street. It's in the backyard surrounded by a fence and some chicken wire. The chicken runs are built so both Adams and DeLoach can watch the multicolored flock from their yards.
"The chickens are pretty relaxing. They scratch around eating, chirping. They're fun to watch," says DeLoach.
"Sometimes in the evening, we'll all get together back here and have cocktails," Adams says.
Chicks And The City
The backyard chicken movement is catching on, thanks no doubt to the variety of resources for people who want to learn more about keeping chickens in their backyards. There are Web sites, coop tours, and in Atlanta, there's even a class called "Chicks and the City." The class, offered through a community garden's education program, teaches everything would-be urban chicken farmers need to know.
Instructor Jonathan Watts Hull tells the class where to get chickens, what to feed them and how to design their coops.
"What you want to provide your chickens, at a minimum, is a place where they get inside from the weather that is ventilated, that gives them a place to roost and a place for them to lay their eggs," Watts Hull says.
Though some leave the class realizing raising chickens may be more demanding than they first thought, others are not deterred. Students David Cotton and Kelly Enzor had already decided to build a coop.
"Yeah, I got plans this past week, and I went and bought most of the wood for the framing of it," says Cotton.
Cotton and Enzor say their neighbors are OK with their coop plans.
"A woman who lives across the street is really interested in teaching her daughter where your food comes from, so she wants to come over while we collect the eggs and things so her daughter can really have that connection to her food," says Enzor. "It'll be great."
The Chicken Whisperer
Some cities don't allow residents to keep chickens, because they worry about the noise, the smell and the rodents that are attracted to the feed. And, of course, there are those who say they don't want chickens next door. Yet many are taking another look at the idea.
Andy Schneider, known as Atlanta's "Chicken Whisperer," lives in the suburbs. He started a Web site and Internet radio show for people interested in keeping backyard flocks.
"Lots of cities across the country are changing their laws," Schneider says.
Schneider says his group persuaded Gulfport, Fla., to allow chickens, and now they're working on a case in Roswell, Ga., after someone filed a complaint against one man who's kept a flock for years.
"When we go to cities, a lot of times we'll ask them, 'Why don't you want your citizens to lead a more self-sustaining lifestyle? Why don't you want your citizens to save some money in this hard economic time by allowing them to raise backyard poultry?'" Schneider says. "And I'm telling you, Animal Control, I'm sure, gets way more calls from barking dogs and dogs running loose and cats than they ever have from backyard poultry."
Many cities allow people to keep hens — just not roosters — including Seattle; Madison, Wis.; and Raleigh, N.C. And chickens are so popular, there's a shortage. According to some hatcheries and feed stores, orders for chicks take four to six weeks.