MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Chickens are moving from the farm to the backyard. More and more city dwellers are keeping chickens. For some they're pets, for others a source of cheap fresh eggs, and there's an industry springing up to help people unschooled in raising chickens. As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports, in Atlanta you can even take a class called Chicks and the City.
KATHY LOHR: Allison Adams is a laid back writer and avid organic gardener. She lives in Decatur, a city not far from downtown Atlanta. Several years ago, Adams saw an article about raising chickens and approached her neighbor with the idea.
ALLISON ADAMS: 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.
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LOHR: After checking it out, Adams and her neighbor converted a lawnmower shed into a chicken coop. Then they ran out to buy some baby chicks.
ADAMS: Here we go. This is Latifah. This is Ethel. This is Lucy. Silvia(ph)?
LOHR: It's clear these chickens are more like pets than livestock. 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 her neighbor, Bill DeLoach, can watch the multicolored flock from their own yard.
ADAMS: Sometimes in the evening we'll all get together back here and have cocktails.
BILL DELOACH: Yeah, the chickens are pretty relaxing. They're just scratching around, eating, they're chirping. They're - you know, they're fun to watch.
ADAMS: You know, we've had all these birds since they were tiny.
LOHR: Now these half-a-dozen chicks are four years old and produce about 30 eggs a week. It turns out there are a lot of resources for people who want to keep chickens in their backyards: Web sites, neighborhood coop tours, and in Atlanta, even a class offered through a community garden, aptly called Chicks and the City.
JONATHAN WATTS HULL: What you want to provide your chickens, at a minimum, is a place where they can get inside from the weather that is ventilated, that gives them a place to roost and a place for them to lay their eggs.
LOHR: Jonathan Watts Hull tells a class where to get chickens and what to feed them. Students learn about coop design and about predators. Then everyone heads outside to check out the flock. Some left the class realizing raising chickens may be more demanding than they first thought, others are not deterred.
DAVID COTTON: Yeah, I got plans this past week, and I went and bought most of the wood for the framing of it.
LOHR: David Cotton and Kelly Enzor had already decided to build a coop.
And what do your neighbors say?
COTTON: We've told both of them, and they're okay with it.
KELLY ENZOR: A woman who lives across the street from us 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. It'll be great.
LOHR: Some cities don't allow residents to keep chickens because they worry about the noise, the smell and rodents. Others say they just don't want to live next to chickens, yet many are taking another look at the idea.
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ANDY SCHNEIDER: Welcome to "Backyard Poultry" with the chicken whisperer.
LOHR: Atlanta's so-called Chicken Whisperer Andy Schneider, lives in the suburbs. He started a Web group and Internet radio show for people interested in keeping backyard flocks.
SCHNEIDER: Lots of cities across the country are changing their laws.
LOHR: Schneider says his group persuaded Gulfport, Florida to allow chickens. Now they're working on a case in Roswell, Georgia, after someone filed a complaint against one man who's kept a flock for years.
SCHNEIDER: When we go to cities, a lot of times we'll ask them, why don't you want your citizens to live 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 some backyard poultry? 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.
LOHR: Many cities allow people to keep hens, just not roosters, including Madison, Wisconsin; Raleigh, North Carolina and Seattle. And chickens are so popular that there's a shortage. National hatcheries and local feed stores say if you order now, there's a four to six week wait to get your chickens. Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.