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.
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 transforms 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.
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.