Raising Backyard Chickens in Atlanta
Atlanta families are raising flocks
You may think bringing the freshness of farm-sourced produce into your home would be challenging, but with the trend of backyard chicken coops, farm-fresh eggs are getting closer to the kitchen table.
Dunwoody mom Katie Ackerman has tried her hand at at-home egg production, and has been raising her chickens since June. She wanted to find a way to bring the farm home and thought adding chickens to her family’s backyard would be the perfect start.
“Our neighbor had chickens and we loved them,” Ackerman says. “I wanted to re-center my family with the earth and we began gardening and composting. I thought chickens would be the perfect addition to the backyard.”
Ackerman ordered her chickens from a hatchery in Missouri after finding them on mypetchicken.com, and they came via the U.S. Postal Service to her house. Her husband found instructions for building a coop and they placed the coop in their backyard.
“I wanted a more natural and sustainable way to have fresh, organic produce in my home,” she says. “They are so much better than store-bought eggs, the kids get to learn about where their food comes from and they are hilarious to watch in the backyard. They are like family to us.”
Stephanie Van Parys has owned chickens for 15 years after becoming involved in the movement for locally-sourced food. She also works for the Wylde Center in Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood, whose mission is to cultivate green living.
“I found a farmer who milked goats and also had chickens. I saw how relaxed owning chickens could be and how gorgeous the fresh eggs were,” Van Parys says. “We now have 11 hens and my kids have grown up with them around. They still love going out and collecting the eggs.”
If you visit wyldecenter.org/chicken-resources you will find a variety of ways to gain some poultry knowledge. Homestead Atlanta offers chicken classes and Atlanta Backyard Poultry Meetup has monthly meetups across the metro area for people with backyard flocks or for people who want to learn how to start their own flock.
Some families may like the idea of farm-fresh eggs, but don’t want to go all in. CityChick will rent you a flock, a business idea that hatched when Heath Ward’s father-in-law gifted him a chicken coop and two hens.
Many people enjoyed visiting the coop, and Heath, who sold and rented textbooks, thought, “What’s so different than renting textbooks and chicken coops? I knew we could do this, and I began part-time before eventually buying over 100 chickens and coops to rent to Atlanta families.”
Families choose a monthly plan, and Ward delivers a cedar coop and three hens, which they hope the family will ultimately choose to keep (the monthly payments can be applied to the overall purchase). The basic plan costs $65 per month to rent plus 30 pounds of organic feed per month for $100. Ward will visit once a month to check on the hens’ health and clean the coop.
Ward teaches Chickens 101 and 102 courses at Garden*Hood in Grant Park. The schedule is posted on citychickatl.com. On March 25 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., CityChick will have chicks and supplies available for purchase at Garden*Hood.
Raising chickens can help your family become more connected to their food and teach them about how food is produced. It is a low-maintenance way to become connected to the farm and have organic eggs on your breakfast table.
“Anyone can do this,” Ackerman says. “We are a very busy family and they are relatively easy to take care of on a daily basis. Your kids will be picking them up like pets and showing them off to all of their friends!”
Tips for First-Timers
Make sure your area of town allows chickens. Check city ordinances because they vary by county.
Talk to your neighbors. Although hens (not roosters) can be quiet, they may accidentally get loose and your neighbors need to be aware.
Meet someone who already has chickens. Go over to their house, ask questions and see their coop design. Volunteer to help take care of the chickens for a weekend while they are out of town to see if you are interested.
Don’t wait to get the coop. You will need a coop within six weeks of purchasing chicks, but also be prepared to have a box and heat lamp for chicks.
Make sure you have a plan for the eggs. Develop a plan for giving away eggs if your hens start laying more eggs than you can eat. You don’t want them to go to waste after all of your effort.
Remember they are birds. Unlike pets, with the right habitat and amount of food and water, they can mostly fend for themselves.
Best time of year to get chicks? They need to be kept warm, so spring or summer is the best time. In the winter you can set the chicks up in the back porch or garage, but it can be messy and you need added heat.
Where can you buy chicks? Feed N Seed stores around Atlanta or online; mypetchicken.com and backyardchickens.com both have lists of suppliers to order from. Most come through USPS, so make sure you are home when the package arrives.
Do you need a rooster? No, there is no need to get a rooster. Sometimes you’ll get a rooster in the batch of chicks you receive – it’s hard to tell the sex until they grow up.
How do I get a chicken coop? You can order them pre-made, or build your own. Make sure there is proper ventilation, that animals can’t get in at night and that it has the correct square footage for number of hens. Look online for detailed building plans. One source is simplesuburbanliving.com, run by a family whose YouTube channel “SSLFamilyDad” has a detailed coop tutorial.
How much maintenance is required? About 10 minutes per day. You have to let the chickens out of the coop in the morning, gather eggs and check on their feed and water. They put themselves to bed, the head hen goes into the coop and the rest follow, just make sure it is locked up at night to keep predators out. It is recommended that every six months you do a deep cleaning of the coop.
Do I have to refrigerate the eggs? No, if they are used at a fast pace. These eggs have a coating on the outside of the shell that keeps them fresh. Do not wash the eggs when you bring them inside if you don’t plan to refrigerate them. They also will turn bad faster in the summer.
How many eggs can I expect to have? A dozen eggs in a week from three hens, on the low end, all depending on the amount of hens you have, the time of year and the age of the hens. With Van Parys 11 chickens, she gets five to six eggs per day in the fall and winter and eight to 10 per day in the spring and summer.