ATLANTA — A sign on the fence in Anne-Marie Anderson’s Decatur, Ga., home reads: “Beware of Chickens.” Walk in and Anderson’s 18 birds roam freely, digging among the fallen leaves. They squawk and flap their wings to cross a stream. Glenda, one of the bigger chickens, waddles straight through the water.
“Here, here chick-chicks,” Anderson clucks in a British accent, doling out food.
“It’s very nice to hang out with a cup of coffee and watch the chickens running around clucking. They exude general contentment.”
Anderson and her family are among the growing number of city dwellers nationwide who keep chickens in their backyards.
In Atlanta, more than 2,000 “backyard poultry buffs” have joined the city’s Backyard Poultry Meetup, a group that plans monthly meetings for conversations with “eggsperts.”
Whether it is for their children’s enjoyment or for a healthier food source, more and more urbanites have decided to color their backyards with the wild feathers of their winged pets, causing many cities to rework their ordinances.
“It’s coming up at pretty much every town and city across America,” says Patricia Foreman, author of the book “City Chicks.” “What is becoming evident … is that they do add a lot to the urban landscape.” People have discovered the chicken’s role as a backyard employee, Foreman says.
“A lot of people are turning to their backyards and saying, ‘You know, we aren’t lacking land to grow food in,’” Foreman says. “We are lacking a different paradigm. We need a new vision of how to produce our food.”
Chickens are bio-mass recyclers, insect controllers, food suppliers, fertilizer producers and, Foreman adds, blood pressure reducers.
“First you get chickens. Then, you fall in love. And then, you learn how to employ them,” Foreman says. “They truly are pets with benefits.” Joey Zeigler, founder of Zeiglar Homestead Services, a company that helps transform backyards into “productive and sustainable homesteads,” calls home-grown chicken eggs “real food.”
“It’s just more vibrant and I would say dense with flavor and very genuine,” he says. “You can taste that immediacy in it, the intimacy. You can taste your own blood and sweat in there a little bit. And it tastes better.”
Walter Reeves, the “Georgia Gardener” and one of the most respected regional garden gurus, believes that rural living remains in Atlanta’s blood. Chickens are related to that “psychological phenomenon.”
“In the South, we are not that far removed from a rural agrarian side,” Reeves says. “A lot of people in Atlanta remember the comfort of being on the farm.”
Not all agree. Ordinances across metro Atlanta limit the number of chickens one can own. Some counties, such as Gwinnett, Ga., require a minimum of three acres for chicken owners.
“People realize … two or three chickens are good to have. I can’t have 40,” says Bradford Townsend, planning and zoning director for the city of Roswell, Ga. “I think there has been a realization (that) you have got to maintain the proper numbers.”
The problem sits with those few owners who start out with two chickens and end up with a big flock, Townsend says.
“People who are getting little chicks for their kids to raise really have no clue what they are getting into,” he says.
Back in Decatur, Anderson thinks it is outrageous that the city would try to prevent people from living more sustainably. To better glorify the backyard chicken movement, she backs events like the “Urban Coop Tour” and “Chicks in the City.” Though she tries not to be the “mad chicken lady,” it is quite obvious: She loves her chickens and she is in good company.
“Chickens are simple, very straightforward,” Anderson says. “Why wouldn’t someone own them?” Check with your city or county planning and zoning office for restrictions on keeping backyard chickens.
Information on raising chickens
Local laws about keeping chickens
Columbia: No more than 4 hens; no roosters. Hens must be confined to a coop not less than 18 inches high with a minimum floor area of two square feet per hen over 4 months of age connected to an enclosed run not less than nine square feet for one bird, 12 square feet for 2 birds, 16 square feet for 3 birds or 20 square feet for 4 birds. Must be well drained and should be cleaned regularly. Coops must be screened from the side or rear lot line by shrubbery or a privacy fence if it comes within 25 feet of the property line and/or 50 feet of the nearest residence other than that of the owner.
Cayce: Chicken coops in the City of Cayce must be screened from the side and the rear if they are closer than 25 feet from a property line. They can’t be any closer than 7.5 feet to a property line. Limit of 4 hens.
Forest Acres, Irmo, West Columbia: Not allowed.
Lexington: It is unlawful for any person to keep chickens within 250 feet of any residence. No chicken houses shall be kept within 500 feet of any residence and all houses shall be kept in a clean and sanitary condition and the manure not allowed to accumulate.
Sources: Lexington, SC Code of Ordinances, Columbia, SC Code of Ordinances