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Athens News Matters: Backyard Chickens in Athens

Emma Baker via Getty Images

People have picked up some interesting hobbies during the pandemic, rollerblading, baking, and even chicken-keeping. In fact, Athens has a fairly large chicken community right now. And while it has been on the rise since the pandemic, keeping backyard chickens isn’t really anything new.

"Chickens have been in the United States since before Columbus, and backyard chickens have been kept by people for quite some time," said Andrea Ayala, National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University. "They've definitely been a part of the American experience for quite a long time.”

But why exactly are people drawn to keeping chickens in the 21st century?

“One of the reasons that I really like keeping chickens is because it's very easy and low impact to do," said WUGA's own Robin Whetstone. "You don't have to have a farm or a lot of acreages, it's a very easy, low barrier kind of thing to do.”

In just a few months, Whetstone’s five-week-old chickens, Pheonix and Pancake, will produce six eggs a day, which she uses to trade for local goods like firewood and honey. Not only this, but her chickens will also prepare garden beds for her.

“They really do all your gardening needs," she said. "They will turn up the soil with their claws. They will eat all the bugs that are in that vicinity. They will take away all the grass and the weeds, and their droppings will fertilize the soil."

But, they’re not just gardeners and egg producers. Just like dogs and cats, chickens become part of the family.

“They come when I call when I come home from work. If they're roaming around, they'll run up and greet me," Whetstone said. "They do recognize you; they are attached to people and their flock mates. So, they really are living creatures. They're not just a hobby or you know something to get eggs from.

According to local chicken mom, Rachel Watkins, chickens need each other just as much as they need you.

“You can’t have one chicken solo, they will die of heartbreak," she said. "They will die of loneliness.”

Another thing to keep in mind is the possibility of diseases, like Newcastle disease.

“There are two different types of Newcastle disease virus, there's a visceral tropic, which affects the visceral organs or the gut, and then there's the neurotrophic version which affects the nervous system,” Ayala said.

Ayala’s former research technician, Summer Fink, explains just how detrimental Newcastle can be to a flock.

"It can wipe out your entire flock, especially in commercial settings, Fink said. "Specifically, in California, they had an outbreak with Newcastle, and actually, USDA had to come in and quarantine thousands of chickens.”

Fink said it’s also important to regularly clean out your bird and chicken feeders to prevent disease transmission.