Kim Siegelson says there are evenings she enjoys nothing more than sitting in her backyard watching the “Peep Show” starring Lana, Ava, Rita, Bette, Hedy and Mae.
No, the “Peep Show” isn’t the new video from the Pussycat Dolls – it’s the family’s chicken coop. And, Lana, Ava and the rest of “the girls” as they Siegelsons call them, are the family’s six pet hens.
Kim, an award-winning children’s book author, and her husband Hank, a physician, live in the upscale Druid Hills suburb of Atlanta, Ga., and they are hardly alone in their chicken enthusiasm. An Atlanta backyard chicken-farming group boasts more than 700 members, many of whom, like the Siegelsons, are raising chickens strictly as pets. (In nearby Decatur, a recent home and garden tour showcased some of the city’s spiffiest chicken coops.)
Kim says her chickens – all female hens – are the most interesting pets she’s ever had.
“Chickens are flock animals, so they are very social,” Kim explains. “But they all have individual personalities. So they’re very humorous to watch. You can determine their own little social order, their pecking order, by observing them and their little squabbles.”
And, in Kim’s eyes, the hens are as lovely as the 1940s starlets whose names they share. “They have so many pretty feathers and colors. Some are black and white, some are red and yellow, some mossy green. They are like an extension of my garden, They’re ornamental,” Kim says. “But they’re fun, too.”
The Siegelsons and the rest of Atlanta’s hen enthusiasts are not alone. A growing number of city and suburb dwellers are choosing to raise chickens as pets. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., Chicago, Seattle and New York are other big cities that allow residential hens. (Male roosters are banned because of their notorious early morning cockle-doodle-doo.)
An Internet search turns up a surprising number of web sites, blogs, and even multiple Facebook groups dedicated to the urban chicken farming movement.
Rob Ludlow, the administrator of BackyardChickens.com, a site with 40,000 members, says he’s not surprised that urban chicken farming is gaining popularity. “Chickens are a multi-purpose pet,” says Ludlow, also coauthor of Raising Chickens For Dummies ($19.99, For Dummies press). “They eat weeds and bugs, and they produce rich fertilizer. And they lay eggs, organic eggs that aren’t from the cramped, cruel conditions of a factory farms.” (The site offers a popular ‘My Pet Makes Me Breakfast’ bumper sticker).
“You can’t get much more back-to-nature than that,” says Ludlow, whose family keeps five hens in the backyard of their house just outside of San Francisco. Daughters Alana, 6, and April 3, are growing up around the birds. “They’ve named them all and they each have favorites,” says Ludlow. “Chickens make a nice family pet.”
Back in Atlanta, Kim agrees. Although her teenage sons Aron, 18, and Zach, 16, first scoffed at Mom for bringing home chickens, the boys now enjoy the novelty of having an unusual suburban pet. “Everyone loves the girls now,” Kim says. “Even our neighbors think they’re neat.”
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