Raising chickens is no longer just for farmers, with backyard coops becoming increasingly common in urban and suburban Louisville.

“It’s easy and fun, and you really cannot beat the eggs that you get … they are also pretty entertaining to watch,” says Laura Petot, a homesteader who’s raising chickens with her fiancé Russ Stevens at their home in east Louisville.

Petot's backyard chicken setup. Photos by Michael Tierney

Petot’s backyard chicken setup. Photos by Michael Tierney

According to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “raising chickens in urban environments is a growing phenomenon.”

Keeping chickens has been far easier than expected, Petot says, and she’s found many benefits.

“Not only do we get the delicious eggs, but they turn kitchen scraps into compost,” she says.

Neighbors have had no qualms about the young couple’s micro-farm, and students from nearby Wilder Elementary can’t get enough of the chickens.

“All our neighbors have responded positively,” Petot says. “The chickens’ pen is near the walkway to Wilder Elementary, and the kids love coming and seeing the chickens. They bring them food and talk to them.”

In neighborhoods throughout Louisville, it’s becoming easier to spot a few hens, roosters, and coops here and there, which is having an impact on local businesses.

“The backyard chicken trend is growing in Louisville,” says Steve Paradis of Fresh Start Growers Supply.

Fresh Start’s bestselling product is their in-house non-GMO feed.

“You are what you eat,” says Paradis, adding that he encourages the use of healthy, safe and nutritious chicken feed in addition to table scraps.

Besides their popular feed, the agribusiness sells young chickens, coops, and supplies for the urban farmer and beyond. Fresh Start also offers classes on raising chickens, and will soon feature a podcast on chickens as well.

Plus, there are even a few chickens out back behind the store.

The interest in backyard chickens spans the demographic spectrum, Paradis says, but young families interested in showing their children where their food comes from is the primary niche for backyard chicken farmers.

“The main benefits of backyard chicken farming is community — the neighbors often benefit from the eggs — children’s education, nutrition and waste management,” he says. “Those chickens eat just about anything, and turn your trash into compost.”

Louisville does not require a permit or a license to have backyard chickens, unlike other cities, but there are a few rules.

According to the Louisville Chicken Ordinance, individuals are allowed to have a total of six chickens in their yard — five hens and one rooster.

While the birds are fun pets and lay tasty eggs, the backyard chicken trend can have some unintended negative consequences.

In PittsburgMinneapolis, and other cities experiencing a backyard chicken boom, animal shelters have seen an increase in the number of chickens as many abandon the birds once egg production slows after a few years.

Chickens can live more than 10 years, but become infertile after a few.

Furthermore, if chickens are not handled properly, or properly fed, diseases can become a problem.

According to the above-mentioned USDA report, avian influenza can be a concern with individuals raising backyard chickens, and Southern California experienced an outbreak of Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) in 2002/2003.

The report suggests more research is needed on the growing trend of backyard chicken farms.

Yet, while there are risks, urban-farming, homesteading and backyard chickens are all part of a national trend of individuals wanting to become more self-sufficient, experience agriculture, and eat better-tasting food.

“There’s a little cocktail cache to raising chickens,” Paradis says. “You can tell people have a little ego, a little pride in their backyard flock.

“Plus, nothing beats from the yard to the pan in less than 30 seconds.”

Paradis advises chicken owners to “kill it, eat it, or give it to someone who will” if you don’t want your bird once its egg-laying days are over. Yet, he believes that many chicken owners never face that conflict, as the birds often become part of the family.

“They’re pets with benefits,” Paradis says.

The chickens of Fresh Start

The chickens of Fresh Start

As far as chicken breeds, Paradis recommends the Buff Worthington, Rhode Island Red and Americana. But more importantly, he says to do your homework on where to buy chickens.

Petot and Paradis both love their birds, and believe Louisville will see more and more chickens.

So listen closely and you just may hear the rooster’s crow to accompany the sunrise.