Campaign Underway to Bring Backyard Chickens to Peachtree City
It was really just a fluke that got Peachtree City resident Julee Smilley keeping chickens: a friend was moving and could not find a place for her four pullets (young hens). Julee offered to find them a new home, but she soon became charmed by the colorful hens with appealing personalities, so she gave them names and decided to keep them. She and her husband, Richard, assembled an inexpensive chicken coop they had purchased online and set them up to live in her garden. For 18 months, the Smilleys enjoyed the benefits of their chicken companions and the fresh eggs they provided, but then they were “busted” by Peachtree City for breaking the zoning ordinance that prohibits keeping chickens.
Although chicken-keeping has been around for centuries, it is being rediscovered in urban gardens as people seek to “get back to their roots” and become more self-sufficient. While keeping chickens is now a popular trend, the practice had been out of fashion in previous decades as the emphasis moved to factory-raised chickens, warehoused in incredibly crowded and unsanitary conditions (not to mention cruel). It took trend-setter Martha Stewart to recapture the public’s interest in chicken-keeping when she featured her flock of rare-breed chickens and their colorful eggs in her books and magazine publications. She presented her chickens as family companions with endearing personalities that actually produce something worthwhile and beneficial.
Chickens in Peachtree City…Oh My!
Although she had to find another home for her hens, Julee has not given up on the idea of keeping chickens in Peachtree City and has spent the last few months doing research on the subject. Believe it or not, residents of the city of Atlanta can keep chickens, and other communities, including Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Roswell, Decatur and Duluth, have been successful in passing chicken-keeping ordinances.
On many Saturdays, you will find Julee at the Peachtree City Farmers Market talking to interested residents about keeping chickens. She is amazed at the positive response and already has collected over 300 signatures on a petition that she hopes to present to the City Council to show the support for chicken-keeping in the community.
Rather than working to change the zoning ordinance right away, Julee is requesting the City Council approve a two-year pilot program to test the feasibility of chicken-keeping in Peachtree City. Other cities, including Bonita Springs, Florida, have implemented successful pilot programs. Under the program, a limited number of Peachtree City families will be able to apply for a permit to set up coops and keep a small number of chickens. Selected families will agree to guidelines regulating the program, including the exclusion of roosters, creating setbacks from neighbors’ property, setting maximize size for coop area and allowing Peachtree City Zoning Department to check on the hen houses. Chicken-keepers will be encouraged to invite their neighbors to “make friends” with their chicks and to help educate the public about the benefits of keeping hens by participating in a “coop tour” – much like a home or garden tour.
Myths about keeping chickens
“There’s too much fear and not enough facts known about keeping chickens,” Julee contends. Contrary to popular belief, chickens are not dirty, smelly creatures when owners limit their number and consistently clean the coop and compost the manure. Noise is another perceived problem, but while roosters can make a bit of racket, they are not allowed in chicken-keeping programs and are not necessary for laying eggs. Dogs are much louder than hens, which make softer clucking sounds and are roosting in their coop when the sun goes down. Hens will not attract predators when the rules are followed to provide a predator-proof, enclosed coop area. And rather than being an eyesore, chicken coops have become charming focal points in the garden.
Chickens make great pets. They come in stunning colors and have appealing and quirky personalities. And you get the bonus of fresh and flavorful eggs! During the short time Julee kept her hens, she became more connected to her neighbors as she shared her bounty of eggs.
“Neighborhood kids were particularly fascinated by my hens and loved to help with their feeding,” recalls Julee. “There is a marked difference in the taste and nutritional value of fresh eggs and growing your own fruits and vegetables, and keeping chickens is a way to have some control over what you eat.”
Chicken manure and egg shells are loaded with nutrients, and when added to the compost bin, will become a wonderful soil amendment that your plants will love. Chickens also help control insect problems and weeds in the landscape by eating many garden weeds and pests, including beetles, grubs and ants.
For more information about keeping chickens or to sign Julee’s petition to start a chicken-keeping pilot program in Peachtree City, contact Julee Smilley at firstname.lastname@example.org.