A news story on CNN a while back caught my interest. “Backyard Chickens”. You just have to stop and watch a segment like that, if only to answer the nagging question, what’s up with that?
Now in typical TV news fashion, the segment moved quickly, from one bullet point to another, spending not a whole lot of time on any. The story focused on a humble looking gentleman by the name of Andy Schneider, chicken farmer-at-large (or so it appeared) and a vocal advocate of chicken farming everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
Chicken farming in the 21st Century – A chicken in every yard (or several of them)
It it was obvious that what Andy was talking about wasn’t your grandfather’s chicken farming, not by any means, and I needed to find out more. All I was able to retain for contact purposes were his name, “Atlanta”, and the title, Backyard Chickens, all of which I quickly scribbled onto a napkin for future use. A web search Monday morning turned up information on Andy, but as it turns out, Backyard Chickens was the title of the news segment only, and not as an entity name associated with his.
The nuggets of information I collected were enough to locate Andy and arrange an interview. He and I both live in the Atlanta area, but as anyone familiar with the Atlanta traffic situation knows, you never do anything face-to-face that can be accomplished by phone, so that’s how we handled the interview. As it turns out, not only do Andy and I live in the same metropolitan area, but we also live in the same town. (A guy raising chickens in his backyard in my town? The city fathers would never allow it!)
Andy is an accommodating person and an incredibly articulate one, but more significantly, he is a man with compelling message: YOU can raise chickens…in your backyard. He goes about the state, and increasingly the country, conducting training programs and offering private consultations to help people get started.
What I found most interesting is that raising chickens is much simpler than most people think. To raise six chickens – which would provide enough eggs to feed a family of four, plus extra to trade during the mild weather seasons – requires only a coop (starting at $100), some chicken wire fencing and an area of your yard about the size of typical bedroom. The chicks run about $4 each.
Once your coop and yard area are set up, your only real expense is feed, which runs about $11 per month for a 50 pound bag. The bigger the fenced in area, or if you have the ability to allow them to graze your back yard for insects and foliage, the less feed you will need to buy.
Why Would Anyone Want to Raise Chickens?
Think of raising chickens as a hobby with benefits – and what benefits they are:
- You’re raising them on property you already have,
- You’re getting organically grown food,
- You’re producing your own food (how many people do that these days?),
- And you have something to trade – more on this point in the next paragraph.
One more thing, the chickens are pets in a very real sense. You’re raising and caring for them as you would for a dog or cat, rather than as livestock to eat. Also, if you can allow them to graze your yard, they help to control the insect population by eating them, which also saves money on feed.
Now back to having chickens as a source of something to trade. There is a boom in suburban chicken raising going on throughout the country, so much that there’s now a waiting list to get chicks. Andy is quick to point out that the state of economy is driving this. People who have lost their jobs, or are facing the threat, are looking for ways to cut costs, raise income and provide sustenance. Raising chickens meets all of these needs.
As an example of saving money, eggs are a protein source that can reduce the need for costly meat.
A small number of hens can produce an enormous number of eggs on a regular basis. If six chickens can meet one family’s egg demands, a dozen can provide for two families, or even three during peak season. You’re producing all the eggs you need, plus a decent number that you can trade for other things you want. A person who can barter for what he needs always has a “job”.
But What Will the Neighbors Think?
You might be thinking – as I did – that’s a great idea, but not for where I live. The usual arguments surface quickly: chickens smell bad, they make noise, the city won’t allow it, the neighbors won’t allow it. As Andy is quick to point out, few of these issues stand up to reality.
According to Andy, chickens only smell if they’re neglected, which is true of any animal, even a dog or a gerbil. Cleaning out the coops a couple of times per year is about all it takes to keep their area clean and fresh smelling. Side note: I’ve unknowingly been in Andy’s subdivision many times over the years, and never smelled anything that hinted of chickens. And there are several homes in that neighborhood – in addition to Andy’s – that raise chickens there. No smell!
As to the noise, most of it is generated by roosters. If you’re raising chickens for eggs only, there is no need to have a rooster. Absent a rooster, it’s unlikely anyone will hear much out of your chicken coop.
Never assume chickens are illegal where you live. Municipal ordinances vary from one community to another, but according to Andy, many communities are more chicken-friendly than most of us commonly believe. What most people don’t know is that many communities across the country once harbored chicken farms and chicken coops only a generation or so ago. In many communities, there are no written restrictions prohibiting the raising of chickens for eggs for personal consumption (commercial is of course another matter entirely).
In my own home town – minutes from Manhattan – people raised chickens!
I grew up in a “well to do” suburban bedroom community, located less than 25 miles outside Midtown Manhattan. There were three families in my neighborhood raising chickens when I was growing up – one right up until the late 1980s. And of course, Andy and some of his neighbors are currently raising chickens in the backyards of their homes right here in a prominent Atlanta bedroom community. These are the exact type of communities where we would assume an activity like raising chickens to be totally illegal. But as the saying goes, never assume anything.
Andy and the groups he is affiliated with have had great success in demonstrating to city councils in a growing number of communities that anti-chicken restrictions are more about perception than reality. They are clearing the way for people to raise chickens even in the type of suburban neighborhoods where it doesn’t look like you could.
Neighbors are a different issue, and most of what matters here is how well you get along with them otherwise. Working cooperatively within a neighborhood can make a difference. In Andy’s neighborhood, several residents are part of a local web of people raising chickens and planting vegetable gardens from which they swap production with one another. Mutual benefit can be all it takes to make peace with even the most difficult neighbors. Often too, all that’s needed is a bit of education. Most people have a negative idea of what raising chickens looks like; once they can be shown how benign it truly is, they often change their opinion.
One caveat Andy did raise is in regard to Home Owners Association (HOA) neighborhoods. It is easier to raise chickens in HOA subdivisions if the HOA is relatively informal, such as one with voluntary annual fees or an absence of recreational amenities. In many older HOAs the covenants and restrictions have even expired. But in the newer, compulsory, amenity-heavy HOA neighborhoods, raising chickens probably won’t fly.
If you wish to arrange a group presentation, or need private consultation, Andy can be reached through the website americaswebradio.com.