Chickens may find suburban roost in Cherokee

That may change next week at the request of local fans of backyard flocks, some of whom are already in violation of county ordinances. The commissioners in Cherokee are harking back to the county's rural roots as they consider allowing flocks of up to eight hens on half-acre lots.

It is part of a movement that has taken hold in some urban areas, with yards in Decatur and Roswell sprouting chicken coops, though other cities such as Dunwoody have given thumbs down to chickens not in a pot or fryer.

Sarah Hughes, a pilot by trade and newly hatched chicken owner by choice, said she ordered a flock of Buff Orpingtons for her nearly one-acre lot in Cherokee last spring after she became interested in having fresh eggs, free of growth hormones or antibiotics. She didn't realize owning chickens was against county ordinances.

"I went to Backyardchickens.com and started doing research there and realized I am not legally able to have chickens. So I started trying to do something about it," she said.

She sent an e-mail to Commissioner Harry Johnston, asking him to consider changing the ordinances. He responded that several others had recently contacted him about the same thing.

Johnston said he has a hard time coming up with a reason to say no to backyard flocks.

"After all, we limit residential lots up to eight cats or dogs. Hens are less disruptive than them," he said.

There probably will be restrictions, such as keeping chickens penned at least 25 feet away from adjoining property lines and not allowing noisy roosters, he said.

Homeowner association regulations may continue to prohibit chickens.

The proposed change has attracted the interest of the Atlanta Backyard Poultry Meetup Group, which educates and supports suburban chicken owners.  The group has posted information about the 6 p.m. Tuesday commission meetingset for the county office at 1130 Bluffs Parkway in Canton.

Andy "the Chicken Whisperer" Schneider champions backyard flocks with the group and on his Internet radio show. The group has grown to more than 1,200 members in two years, he said.

Sabine Yepes, co-owner of TC Country, has seen sales at her store go from about 400 chicks four years ago to an expected 2,000 this year. The chicken movement is growing because of an interest in self-sufficiency and backyard gardening, she said.

"They eat the fly larvae, so they are a natural pest control, and they fertilize the soil. And also chickens are very companionable and very relaxing. They are like pets," she said.

Hughes was surprised by that aspect of her flock.

"It wasn't until after they were grown that we realized they were cool," she said. "They have individual personalities. They are like any other pet. Chickens can be sweet. They will come and sit with you and chat with you," she said of their clucking.

"They are not loud, not dangerous. They don't bark all night, and they don’t chase people down," she said.

So far, there hasn't been any vocal opposition to the proposed change in Cherokee. Schneider said ordinance changes allowing chickens usually draw resistance from people concerned about noise or health or property values. He said he plans to be on hand at the meeting to help answer questions.

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