Written by Mary Welch Sunday, April 25 2010
Call it the war of the pound cakes – it’s playing out in suburban neighborhoods all across the country. In Atlanta, several municipalities, such as Dunwoody, have entered the fray. On Atlanta radio, it’s a contest between WKHX, KICKS FM 101.5 co-hosts.
Dallas McCade, who has 10 chickens and one rooster, says her food tastes better with eggs laid by her own chickens. Her co-host, Cadillac Jack, says there is no difference between a store-bought egg and one fresh off the farm, er, backyard.
“There is such a difference. I can tell it in my cooking, especially my baking – my cakes, my pies. My pound cake especially. The color is different,” says McCade. “I told Cadillac that I was going to bake two cakes and prove it. I’m going to do it.”
Chicken coops have become the latest status symbol in suburbia. Backyard Poultry magazine, reports that more than 100,000 non-rural households have chickens in their backyards. Newspapers, from The New York Times toThe Washington Post, have reported increased numbers of homeowners buying chickens although no actual numbers were mentioned.
McCade has wanted chickens for about five years. Finally her husband, Tim Nash, gave in and bought her five chickens for Christmas and, with a friend, built her the “Taj Mahal” of chicken coops. “I grew up on a farm in Alabama, and we had chickens. Every day, my mama and I would get the eggs. I always asked for chickens for Christmas and Tim agreed this (past) year. It’s the best Christmas present ever. I have the chickens and rooster for eggs. Going out in the afternoon to collect my eggs is the highlight of my day. I would never, never, never eat them (the chickens, that is). I’ve named them all.”
Ashley Doolittle was surprised at her reaction to backyard chickens. “I had a friend who had them and told me to come over to see them,” Doolittle recalls. “I brought my kids, and I saw a reaction and interaction I didn’t expect. It was healing, peaceful, and exciting at the same time.”
Doolittle started learning more about chickens and went to the Dunwoody Nature Center to take a class with the chicken whisperer, Andy Schneider. “My whole family resisted at first. They thought it was going to be the biggest waste of time. But owning chickens is not the image that we all have in our minds. Our chicken coop has stained glass windows. It’s tasteful. We had no idea the repercussions of us owning chickens would have in the community.”
The Doolittles bought Araucanas, a special breed of chickens that lay blue eggs. McCade has Rhode Island Reds, which lay brownish-red eggs. “If you look at their ears you can tell the color of eggs they lay,” McCade says.
Doolittle says that all of her preconceptions about chickens are out the coop. “I thought they were dumb. They’re not real smart, but they’re not dumb. You can turn them into pets and hold them. They can do tricks. They help our son calm down. I never in my life thought I’d be defending chickens, and what Dunwoody is doing is absolutely devastating our family.”
What Dunwoody is doing is possibly making it illegal to own a chicken coop. “It’s being pushed through by people who don’t know chickens or who don’t want Dunwoody to ever change,” she says.
Chickens, she says, are not dirty or smelly. “You handle the poop just like cat litter – and it’s very good for the soil. And we don’t have a rooster so no one is being woken up at the crack of dawn.”
McCade has a rooster, but says she’s up early in the morning anyway to do the radio show and there are no close neighbors. “But I have a friend in Kennesaw who had a neighbor with a rooster and there were all sorts of problems.”
It seems the residents of Dunwoody – or at least the mayor and county commissioners – had a problem with the half dozen families who own chickens. In March, they defeated a proposed chicken ordinance allowing Doolittle and the others to own chickens. The vote was based on hundreds of emails the commissioners said they received opposing the ordinance and the fact that the original DeKalb County code defined chickens as livestock, not pets.
“They made those decisions not based on the facts,” Doolittle says. “There are a lot of people in Dunwoody who don’t want it to change from the white picket fences it used to be, but it is changing. You can raise chickens in Roswell and Milton, Ga.; Raleigh, N.C.; Seattle, Wash.; and Madison, Wis., but not in Dunwoody.”
Both women swear that having a chicken coop is a great way to get back to nature and the sustainability movement while having fun. “We love those chickens. They are part of our family,” Doolittle says.
For McCade’s part, she hasn’t bought eggs in a grocery store since she got her hens in January. Her 10 hens lay about five eggs a day. “We can’t eat them all even though I love to cook things like cakes that use a lot of eggs. I love giving the eggs to people. It’s so cool.
“I love it so much,” she says. “And, you are getting fresh, more nutritious eggs. You can taste the difference. You really can.”
Ladies, heat your ovens.
Mary Welch is Atlanta city editor of Womenetics: and a freelance writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Dawson Times, Plan Your Meeting magazine, and Atlanta Business magazine. She was editor-in-chief of Atlanta Woman magazine and editor of Business to Business and Catalyst magazines.