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Cluck, cluck: Can you raise chickens in your Atlanta backyard?

When you picture a chicken coop, chances are you imagine a rural, farmlike setting rather than a Buckhead backyard.

»RELATED: 6 things you need to know to raise urban chickens

But chickens are becoming common sight in metro Atlanta neighborhoods - even in the Midtown area. One home in Kirkwood was recently featured in a tour of homes, heralded for its chicken coop that mirrors its main home.

Interested in joining the ranks of local chicken owners?

This guide will tell you what you need to know to get started raising chickens in Atlanta:

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The Schwartzwald family, who are DeKalb County residents, rented their backyard chickens. (Courtesy of Health Ward/CityChick/For the AJC)

Are backyard chickens allowed in metro Atlanta?

Many people are surprised to learn that chickens are allowed in CobbDeKalbFulton and Gwinnett counties, even though some of those areas are anything but rural.

"You can live in Midtown Atlanta next to Lenox Mall and have up to 25 chickens," said Heath Ward, managing partner of CityChick, which rents flocks to clients in the Atlanta area. He's placed chickens in areas such as Grant Park, Decatur and even Buckhead.

If you live within city limits, you should check with your city to see if backyard chickens are allowed. You should also check county-specific rules governing backyard chickens, such as how many you can have, whether you need a specific amount of land, if you can have a rooster (which you don't need for eggs), etc.

Starting out

Ward shared the following tips for getting started with backyard chickens:

  • Check with your homeowners association – Chickens usually aren't allowed in HOA communities. Find out before you invest time and money and face the possibility of being fined.
  • Consider your yard – Chickens enjoy pecking and scratching a bit in your yard, so if you have a meticulously landscaped backyard, they're probably not for you.
  • Talk to your neighbors – Talk to your neighbors about your plans to get chickens and encourage them to come to you with any concerns. This (and offering to share your extra eggs with them) can often help you avoid problems.

What are some of the benefits of owning chickens?

Ward touts the following benefits of having a backyard flock:

  • Controlling their feed – "If organic eggs are important to you, you'll know where your eggs came from and what the chickens were fed," he says.
  • Tasty eggs – A lot of people think eggs from backyard chickens taste better. And you're getting them much fresher than they would be at the local grocery store.
  • Entertainment value – "I don't think people realize how funny they are, and each has their own personality," Ward says. "I call it 'Chicken TV.' "

»RELATED: Hatching a plan to raise chickens

What are the first steps you should take?

Once you've made sure backyard chickens are legal where you live, you'll need to consider the following:

  • Decide how you want your chickens to live– Will your chickens roam free in your yard, stay in a coop, or a combination of the two? If they're roaming free, you'll need to protect them from predators such as hawks.
  • Build or buy a coop – If you buy your chickens as chicks, remember that while they may fit in the palm of your hand now, they'll grow much larger. Experts recommend getting a coop first. They can be simple or elaborate, and you can buy one or make one yourself.
  • Determine its placement – Make sure your coop is located far enough from your neighbors' property to comply with local ordinances. And for cleaning and watering purposes, it's more convenient to place your coop near a water source.

Is salmonella a concern?

Following common-sense best practices can help you avoid salmonella, according to Ward. These include the following:

  • Wash your hands after touching your chickens.
  • Have a hand sanitizer station near the coop.
  • Keep the coop clean.
  • Don't kiss your chicken. (Yes, you read that one right. The CDC has called this a high-risk behavior for contracting salmonella!)

The CDC also offers additional tips, including setting aside a pair of shoes to use when you're around your chickens and leaving them outside.

Want help from the 'eggsperts'?

As the backyard chicken movement has grown, so have the number of resources, groups and websites available where you can get help and advice.

The Atlanta Backyard Poultry Meetup Group

CityChick

BackYard Chickens

The Wylde Center

Atlanta @ Home is a monthly series from The Atlanta-Journal Constitution that offers inspiration and ideas for home party planning, decor, improvement and other helpful tips Atlanta's homeowners can use. Contact Stephanie Toone at stephanie.toone@ajc.com to share any insights or home ideas for future series.

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