Brianna Harris, 13, opened her hands and revealed three pastel blue eggs. Easter egger chickens, she explained, lay pale blue, green and sometimes pink eggs.
She got the eggs after walking through a large-sized chicken run and into a coop located under the deck of her backyard on Leisure Drive. The run was built by her parents, Erika and Laurence Harris, to hold a total of six chickens — four Easter Eggers and two Silkies.
Brianna Harris was one of several young people who spoke out last year in favor of the city adopting an ordinance to allow backyard chickens. The mayor and City Council did so last May, although it was not a unanimous vote.
The two Girl Scouts who helped lead the charge to change the city’s ordinance, Lauren Fitzgerald and Chloe Fenster, decided in the end not to get chickens. They did receive their Silver Award for the work.
Over the past year, only six permits for backyard chickens have been granted. The Harris’ were the first to do so.
“It was surprisingly easy,” Erika said of the process. “We brought in a survey of the house and land and showed them where the run was going to go and gave them a blueprint.
“We really liked having a family project, something we could all do together,” she added.
Major controversy and division over backyard chickens erupted in the city in 2010 and included packed City Council meetings. The mayor and council at the time voted 4-3 to not allow backyard chickens.
Last year’s effort was much more subdued, with only a couple people speaking out against backyard chickens with many others, including several young people, speaking in favor. The final vote last May was 6-1, with Mayor Denis Shortal casting the lone “no” vote. Shortal also sat on the council eight years ago and voted against allowing chickens.
“I haven’t really heard anything” since the ordinance was passed, Shortal said after a recent council meeting. “I’ve heard no reactions from neighbors of people who have them.”
“My concern is if you give people a foot, they take a yard,” he added.
He stands by his vote, and said he’d vote the same way today. “I’m not in favor of it,” he said. “I raised chickens, I cleaned out coops. It wasn’t fun.”
Councilmember Lynn Deutsch, who organized the effort to legalize backyard chickens in the city and worked with the Girl Scouts, said she’s happy families in Dunwoody have a choice.
“I was thrilled to work with the Girls Scouts on their Silver Award project,” she said. “As a result, several Dunwoody families now have backyard chickens and are collecting their own eggs.”
Brianna Harris said she remembers hearing one woman speak out against chickens, saying keeping them as pets was nothing more than a fad.
“These chickens are like dogs. They all have distinct personalities and you get much more than just love and affection from them, you get eggs,” she said. “This is definitely not a fad.”
The cost of keeping backyard chickens is fairly steep, Erika Harris admitted. Starting up by either building or buying a run, a coop, feed and other necessities as well as buying baby chickens and having them mailed to your home can climb up to $2,000.
There is only one veterinarian in Dunwoody who can take care of chickens as well as other animals. But Brianna Harris, who wants to be a vet when she gets older, took it upon herself to learn some basic procedures, such as how to clear out a chicken’s vent to ensure they don’t die from “pasty butt.” That’s when a chick’s droppings get stuck in the feathers around the vent and can be fatal.
Chickens don’t have a very long life span and Erika Harris estimates they will be a six-year commitment. They bring joy to the entire family — not only through the eggs they eat and give away to friends and neighbors — but through companionship as well as family bonding, she said.
“The biggest thing is they need attention,” she said. “And we have very happy chickens. Ours lay just about every day. You get out of them what you put into them.”