story by Melinda Lejman | photos by Christine Haynes & Mary Krampus
(Above Photo: Chicken coops can be made of anything durable including upcycled playhouses. Credit: Christine Haynes)
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the 901, of course! Chicken coops are popping up in backyards across the city, as people want healthier and more ethically sourced food options. Anna Bess Sorin, Biology faculty at the University of Memphis, has been keeping chickens in her backyard since 2010. “I have them because I enjoy the eggs,” says Sorin. She also thinks keeping chickens and growing vegetables is an easy way to accomplish low-scale, self-sustainable farming.
After a friend gave her three full-sized chickens and a chicken coop, Sorin and her husband enjoy the benefits of a brood that produces up to 15 eggs a week during peak season. In addition to pellets specifically designed for chickens, Sorin feeds her chickens scraps from the kitchen, and even leftovers from restaurants.
“Chickens are effectively pigs with wings” she says. “They will eat almost anything.” Sorin’s husband brews his own beer, so the couple also adds grains that have been dried to the chickens’ diet.
While Sorin has never hatched her chickens from eggs, which requires keeping them inside and under a heat lamp, it isn’t uncommon for people to do so. One issue, however, is sexing the chicks after they’ve hatched and getting rid of any roosters.
Some dogs have a prey instinct and will kill your family chickens. For this reason, coops should be fenced, and open spaces above yards covered with mesh or wire to prevent dogs and other animals from harming your chickens.
Photo credit: Christine Haynes
City ordinance prohibits the keeping of roosters inside city limits due to noise issues. Sorin, who lives in Midtown, says she hasn’t had any complaints from neighbors about her girls. “They sometimes get a little proud when they lay an egg in the morning,” she laughs. “But in general, they’re not very noisy at all.”
East Memphian Stephanie Simons-O’Dell started her brood with four chickens. “We loved the pet experience of chickens so much, we now have eight,” she says. Simons- O’Dell sees chickens as easy to care for and a great addition to the family. “We have a chicken swing which makes them fun to watch. I love my babies and enjoy the eggs.”
If you’re interested in keeping chickens in your backyard, Sorin says there aren’t really any cons to doing so, as long as you keep the area and your yard clean. “They’re actually quite simple to take care of,” she says. “You know you’re getting fresh eggs, that they’re hormone free, they’re antibiotic free, that they’re all of those things that people are concerned with.”
Another bonus to keeping chickens is that the eggs don’t have to be refrigerated like store bought eggs. “When eggs are laid they get covered in a sort of mucus layer that is both antiviral and antibacterial and protects the egg” says Sorin. “Once they’re washed they’re more vulnerable.” If it seems counterintuitive to eat eggs that have been sitting on a counter, Sorin again has some sage advice: “Here’s the thing: you know when an egg is rotten!”
Hens (females) are allowed to reside inside Memphis City limits, but roosters are not (too noisy). Be sure to determine the sex of your chicken before becoming attached. Photo credit: Mary Krampus
If you’re planning to start keeping your own chickens, Sorin recommends a good covered coop with adequate space. Check with city ordinance to ensure you have enough space for the number of chickens in your yard, and provide wired shelter to protect against predators, such as hawks, raccoons, and dogs—even your own.
“Starting in the spring will also help because of the warmth,” says Sorin. If you’re starting with chicks, start inside with a heat lamp. For more information on keeping chickens in the 901, go to shelbycountytn.gov and search for Memphis Animal code.