Two active members of the Atlanta Jewish community — Amy Price, who just moved to Chamblee from Reynoldstown, and Leslie Mallard, who lives in Norcross — talked to the Atlanta Jewish Times about their thoughts on keeping and raising chickens.
AJT: What possessed you to raise chickens in your yard?
Mallard: I did not grow up with chickens, but I grew up working on my family’s farm, where we had pigs and cows. I always wanted chickens as a kid and finally got my chance to have them after moving to Georgia.
Price: When I lived in a Rwandan village a few years ago, I started a chicken business and helped raise 1,500 chickens, which were used to provide protein to 500 students in the village, and when I returned to Atlanta, it was something I wanted to continue. It’s also part of my values to eat locally and sustainably, plus I eat at least two eggs a day.
AJT: Why would someone go through all the trouble and challenges of raising chickens vs. simply buying eggs at a grocery store?
Mallard: Partly it’s that organic is important to us, but really it’s more about being cognizant of where our food comes from in general and knowing that the animals providing us with food are well treated, healthy, happy. We get to see this process from start to finish. Watching chicks grow into hens has been much more exciting and rewarding than I ever expected. They forage in our yard, help keep pests under control, provide us with fertilizer, keep our compost heap turned — it’s a pretty great symbiotic relationship, actually.
Price: Raising chickens is not difficult once you have the infrastructure. Comparing eggs, you will visually see the difference: My yolks are a deeper yellow because of what my chickens eat. They are supposed to eat bugs, grass and chicken feed. So it’s a much richer taste — and healthier.
AJT: When did you decide to raise chickens, and how long have you been doing so?
Mallard: When I moved to Atlanta in 2014 raising chickens became possible. My husband and I live in a house with a wonderful yard and in a neighborhood where many of our neighbors also keep animals. It was just a small matter of building a coop and learning a bit about chickens.
Price: It will be four years in October (backyard chickens), and I love it.
AJT: How many do you have? Do you plan on getting more?
Mallard: We have five. I think for our purposes somewhere between five and 10 is the most we’re interested in keeping. However, our current coop can easily handle 20 to 30 chickens, but that’s too many eggs for us. We never have to buy eggs, and we even give away plenty.
Price: I currently have seven chickens, and I replenish them as needed.
AJT: What are some of the main challenges in raising chickens?
Mallard: The biggest challenge for me is knowing that at some point, probably soon, we’ll have to cull our flock (get rid of hens that no longer lay). There’s something about having to do those difficult things that heightens our awareness of what being an omnivore is all about. The only other challenge has been dealing with sick or hurt chickens. Thankfully, our chickens seem to be healthy.
Price: It’s easy. You don’t walk them like dogs. If you go out of town, you just make sure they have what they need. They know when they don’t have enough grass or food. I don’t worry about predators because I invested in an automatic door that works great: They automatically go in the coop when it gets dark, and in the morning they know when to leave. The door is solar panel, so I don’t have to maintain it at all.
AJT: How did you decide on the kind of coop to use?
Mallard: We repurposed what we already had and didn’t want to let it go to waste: We took the doors off a three-bay-door garage. I also had a couple of pallets and some random sheets of plywood, which we ended up using as well. We started sketching out one afternoon, and the next thing I knew we were dismantling the doors and sawing away. I think the only materials we purchased specifically for the coop were the sheet metal for the roof and one sheet of plywood for the floor. We spent maybe $40 altogether.
Price: Mine takes up less space in my yard so the chickens can move around. It’s very low hassle. It’s very easy and also inexpensive to maintain.
AJT: Do you keep chickens only for eggs, or do you ultimately kill them and use them for meat?
Mallard: We have no plans to raise them specifically for meat, but I’m not opposed to learning how to butcher them when necessary. I can’t say I’m exactly looking forward to it, but it’s also part of the deal.
Price: I have no problem using them for meat, but my main priority has been eggs. If I get a rooster by accident, I will use it for meat since I know how to kill it in a painless way. I don’t consider them pets except for Wanaka.
AJT: What has been the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect about raising chickens?
Mallard: Seeing how our kids love helping out with them and just watching their antics. They coo and warble and really have sweet personalities. They play all the time and entertain us endlessly. It’s quite pleasant to sit in the back yard with them and is very Zen and meditative even.
Price: Two things: Making awesome omelets; when kids come to my house, they are very excited to see them and are able to learn about raising chickens.
AJT: What advice would you give to those who are thinking about keeping chickens? What would you advise against?
Mallard: I would say don’t buy chickens until you have a coop. I don’t recommend it: We did that, and they lived in the bathroom until we got the coop up! Also, research breeds based on where you live and what is important to you. Example: Do you want eggs a certain color, a certain size? Do you want them for meat also? There are so many kinds to choose from, and some are quite expensive. Our best layer was adopted from an abandoned lot of Easter chicks left at the post office. I wouldn’t trade her for anything. She only cost me $3. As far as what I would advise against: It is overthinking the process. I raise chickens like I raise children — by benign neglect. We let our chickens just run around and be chickens. We feed them good food, make sure they have everything they need and don’t worry too much about the rest. It seems to somehow take care of itself. So do a little research, take the advice that makes sense to you and enjoy them. They really are a lot of fun.
Price: Get the automatic door for the coop. Make sure they have a nice space for bugs and grass. It’s easier than you think. I am also happy to help. Just be aware that this is an animal that needs your support in many ways, and be confident you can provide for them.
AJT: Do you consider them pets or no?
Price: Wanaka is the only one that is a pet for me. The other ones are not: They provide food for me, and one day I will likely eat them. But I’ve had her the longest. She’ll be 4 this October. She is always excited to see me and wants me to pet her and is very interactive with me.
Mallard: We do consider them pets. In a slightly different way than we do our cats, but they’re more than just farm animals to us.