Outdoor Living: Hatching a plan to raise chickens

Scott Pluckhahn prepares his chickens for sleep in their cozy chicken coop that's in the yard of his Decatur home.

Credit: LOUIE FAVORITE, for the AJC

Credit: LOUIE FAVORITE, for the AJC

Scott Pluckhahn prepares his chickens for sleep in their cozy chicken coop that's in the yard of his Decatur home.

If you’re thinking of joining the backyard chicken movement, now is the time to spring into action.

Spring brings more light and warmth as well as longer days, which equates to more egg production than in winter. Owners say warmer weather also is a good time to get chickens acclimated to your yard and their coop.

The main benefit is fresh eggs, but some metro area residents say raising chickens is a fun family hobby and a way to teach children about food and responsibility. The chickens -- often described as curious and cute by their owners -- also provide entertainment.

“It’s really created a nice sense of community in our neighborhood,” said Terry Roth, who raises chickens with her husband, David, and children, Emery, 10, and Callen, 8, at their home in Atlanta’s Ormewood Park neighborhood.

Here are five things you need to know about having backyard chickens:

1. Make sure chickens are permitted.

Regulations in some counties, cities and neighborhoods may keep you from raising chickens in your backyard. The cities of Atlanta and Decatur and Fulton County allow chickens. In DeKalb County, chicken are allowed on properties of 2 or more acres, while in Gwinnett County, 3 acres is the minimum. For information about your county regulations, call your local zoning office. Regulations related to the coop’s distance from the property boundary also may apply, so you need to check them out.

2. Determine how you want the chickens to live.

One decision is whether you want them to be “free range,” stay in the coop, or both. Alice Rolls, executive director of Georgia Organics, who lives in Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood, lets her chickens out when she wakes up and puts them up when she goes to work. Then she lets them back out when she gets home, until dark. She said if the chickens are roaming, owners need to watch out for predators like hawks, as well as chicken poop -- which has the benefit of fertilizing the lawn.

Also, chicks are cheap, only a couple of dollars for one, but feed needs to be factored into the cost. Chicken owners say the cost typically ranges from $20 to $50 a month.

3. Don’t count your chickens before ... getting a coop.

“It’s so easy to get carried away by these really cute fluffy chicks. They get really big fast,” said Anne-Marie Anderson, a Decatur resident. “The biggest [tip] I tell everybody is build the coop first.”

Coops range from old dog kennels and hutches to elaborate custom-built structures and prefabricated coops.

David Roth built his family's 8-foot-square Ormewood Park coop, which houses eight chickens. The coop, which is 3 feet off the ground, is outfitted with insulated beadboard walls, a galvanized metal roof, a 5-inch baseboard, sound absorbing panels on the interior ceiling, crown molding and a linoleum tile floor. The windows were salvaged from a 1900s era Craftsman-style home in Grant Park.

Pre-fabricated options include the Eglu (www.omlet.us), which ranges from $295 to $1,500. Rolls’ Eglu has a molded plastic hutch where the chickens roost and nest, and a wire run.

“I like it because it is very low profile,” Rolls said. “It’s not something where you look out into your backyard and it’s this big huge tall coop. You can move it around if you want.”

4. Consider the coop’s location.

“You don’t need a lot of space, but you definitely need a backyard,” Rolls said.

A lot of people worry about smell, which isn’t an issue if the hen house is cleaned and kept sanitary, Anderson said.

Roth suggests having a water source near the coop to reduce your trips toting water back and forth.

5. Know that help is available.

There are seminars about chickens, including annual events like the Urban Coop Tour in the fall and the Oakhurst Community Garden Project’s Chicks in the City Symposium in February. Groups such as Georgia Organics also provide information about zoning regulations.

As for those folks who worry about what happens to the chickens while they are out of town or on vacation, Anderson noted, “We have a street full of people who will do anything to look after our chickens so they can have fresh eggs.”