A tide is rising in Columbia, and that tide has a name: Chickens!
That was the sense at Wednesday's City Council meeting, where a majority of the six members present expressed support for allowing people to keep up to four hens in fenced-in backyards.
After a 90-minute discussion - touching on chicken sex (yes, female chickens can lay eggs without the help of roosters), leaf blowers (far louder than chickens) and dog poo (a big dog produces far more than chickens) - council directed staffers to draw up a measure for their vote.
Only council member E.W. Cromartie spoke against allowing chickens citywide, citing noise, odor, pollution and nuisance concerns.
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"This would adversely affect the quality of life," he insisted.
Cromartie's ideas were slowly pecked to death, as 14 citizens rose, one after the other, to defend the urban chicken way of life and offer testimony of its blessings -almost, they said, too many to mention.
"Your chickens are never going to get out and bite your neighbor's child," said Emily McCravy, co-founder of Citizens for Legal Urban Chicken Keeping (CLUCK). "Your chickens are never going to bark in the middle of the night."
Ryan Nevius of Sustainable Midlands put it more bluntly: "The odor from (the poo of) a meat-eating, 65-pound dog is far worse than that from chicken excrement," she said.
University of South Carolina sustainability expert Jason Craig spoke of the "great educational opportunity" home chickens can give children, many of whom suffer from "nature-deficit disorder."
When Cromartie noted chickens might be disruptive, doctoral student Robin Goldstein stood and told the audience she had seen chickens raised from Peru to Baltimore, and "chickens are surprisingly docile."
Russell D'Arensbourg, who lives in Shandon, explained how chickens are far more quiet than leaf blowers and car burglar alarms.
He couldn't believe that council would hesitate on making chicken-keeping legal.
"I wish I knew a chicken joke," D'Arensbourg said. "I've made one up - why did the chicken cross the river? To get out of Columbia."
Supporters touted other benefits: better-tasting eggs, soil fertilization, fostering a sense of community (when neighbors give away or barter eggs) and allowing Columbia to join a growing number of progressive cities, like New York, Los Angeles and Durham, that allow chickens.
And chicken support groups, they say, are standing by to offer advice to folks who want to know how to raise chickens.
At several points, Cromartie offered his own chicken plan - allow each of Columbia's 100-plus neighborhoods the chance to decide for themselves whether to be chicken-free. But chicken activists derided that as being unrealistic and unworkable.
Among other council members, support ranged from guarded to enthusiastic.
Councilman Sam Davis supported having chickens - with proper controls.
"You have to be respectful of your neighbors. If they have an issue with it, you've got to deal with it," said Davis, who grew up in a neighborhood where people kept chickens. "People have been known to kill chickens. Some people are just that vicious."
Mayor Bob Coble and council members Belinda Gergel and Kirkman Finlay were enthusiastic.
All agreed citizens might have to be educated about chickens.
"I'm very much in favor," Coble said later. "This will be sustainability in a green economy, and it goes back to the roots of America's past, too."
Gergel praised citizens for addressing city officials' concerns.
"I'm really talking about the city of the future," she said.
Finlay, the only member of council known to keep chickens, explained how chickens fertilize the yard and get rid of bugs.
"It's a pretty neat process," said Finlay, who estimated he had some dozen hens on his 100-acre-plus spread near Fort Jackson.
City animal control supervisor Marli Drum had spent several months drawing up the proposed chicken ordinance discussed Wednesday.
After the meeting, Drum said she would meet with chicken activists before submitting another chicken proposal. The new version should lower the current $100 proposed annual chicken fee and eliminate a requirement to put down a concrete pad for chickens.
Using a chicken analogy, Drum said she'll move quickly.
"This is not something we're going to sit on," she said.