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Cluck a Doodle Do

By Jenny Owren Hankinson

You’re not seeing things. Those really are chickens in Haymount.

As drivers meander through the tree-lined streets of Haymount and VanStory Hills, they may see dog walkers, runners and even a Chick-fil-A cow van. They may do a double-take, however, and slow down to look at a few yards with roaming chickens.

VanStory residents and Ramsey Street Chick-fil-A owners Bob and Shannon Bangs, own the cow print-painted minivan with the Chick-fil-A motto, “Eat Mor Chikin.” The Bangs did not realize how possible that was, right in their own neighborhood. “We knew there was a horse in the neighborhood, but the only chickens we knew about are served at our restaurant,” Shannon Bangs said with a smile.

Two VanStory Hills Elementary School fifth graders hatched the idea to raise their own chickens. Glenn Cameron, who is 11 years old, turned an unfortunate (and sticky) situation into another learning experience. Glenn, a beekeeper, was put out of business by black bears when they destroyed the five hives she kept at her grandparents’ home in Cedar Creek. While she began the two-year wait to harvest honey from a new apiary, she and her father, Scott, turned their agricultural attention to raising chickens in their Haymount backyard.

Around the same time Hannah Tatman, who is also 11 years old, convinced her father, Matthew, to help her raise chickens in their VanStory Hills subdivision. While Hannah’s mother, Andrea, and her 7-year-old brother Hunter also wanted chickens, Matthew, was skeptical at first. “When Andrea told me they wanted chickens, I looked at her like she had horns on her head,” said Matthew, but after about a month, he gave in and agreed to get some chickens.

Owning chickens is a process, with an initial cost of $300-$400. Buying materials for building the coop is the greatest expense. But, a $15 bag of Purina Crumbles will feed four to five chickens for one month and baby chickens, called biddies, are only about $2 a peep. The Tatmans warned against mail-order chickens and suggest buying them from a farm because the mail-order chicks their friends have ordered had often died. To clarify legal issues, Jennifer Lowe, Fayetteville’s Public Information Officer, said city residents do not need a permit to raise chickens. Residents are allowed up to 10 chickens provided the chickens have an appropriate coop with a functioning roof and that sanitary conditions are maintained.

And, lest anyone worry about disruptions from early risers, chickens without a rooster are quiet. “Our neighbors did not even know we had chickens until someone told them,” said Scott Cameron. Scott’s wife, Avery, and Glenn also noted that chickens are a minimal time investment. Both the Camerons and the Tatmans said they simply rake out the coop and dispose of the droppings weekly.

Hannah Tatman researched what kind of chickens she wanted while the Camerons were given seven by Hannah’s grandparents. Although there is only a 10 percent chance of a chick maturing to a rooster, the Camerons had to take two roosters back to the farm, leaving them with a frolicking flock of five.

Hannah has four chickens, collectively named “the Spice Girls.” There is the diminutive Rosemary, a buff-colored Silky Bantam hen called Pepper, a Dominique; Nutmeg, a Rhode Island Red; and (of course) Ginger, an Americaner. Glenn Cameron, her 7-year-old brother Hugh and her 14-year-old sister Wallace, named their hens Cracker, Cruella (as in DeVille), Kyi, Princess and Spinky.

Baby chicks must be kept inside under a heat lamp as they mature. Until they are older, biddies and adolescent pullets are unable to produce the body heat needed for survival. This gave Scott and Matthew time to build the coops. Having a handy parent is a benefit in this endeavor, as it’s much cheaper to build your own coop than to buy one.

Both fathers built sizable, attractive coops with a run. Scott was careful to make his “critter proof,” he said, as hawks, foxes and other animals may attack the chickens. Hannah and Hunter told the story of a hawk attack. “I heard ‘Baa-Gaw’ and ran outside,” said Hannah. She and Hunter scared away an attacking hawk with sticks and accounted for all the chickens except Nutmeg. Hunter said they finally found her after searching the same bush three times. Thankfully, Nutmeg survived the ordeal, only losing a few tail feathers in the process.

The Spice Girls keep the Tatmans on their toes. Andrea and Pepper had a tug of war over a pine snake. The plucky Pepper won, gobbling up the small snake. Hannah quipped that, “There is a definite pecking order among the Spice Girls.” Pepper dominates the flock, then Nutmeg, then Rosemary and, finally, the meek Ginger. “Rosemary has a Napoleon Complex. She thinks she is bigger than she is,” Hannah explained. Rosemary leads the hens to bed in the coop each night.

The eggs are prolific in the warmer months of spring and summer. Avery Cameron compared trying to use up the eggs to the famous “I Love Lucy” episode when Lucy and Ethel failed to wrap chocolates as quickly as they flew by on the conveyor belt. “We have breakfast for dinner a lot,” said Scott. Avery added, “I made forty deviled eggs for Thanksgiving.”

Fresh chicken eggs taste less salty than their store-bought counterparts. Their texture is more delicate, nearly melting in one’s mouth. The egg flavor is more subtle and pleasing to the taste buds.

Both families said that the only conceivable downside to owning chickens is that they enjoy eating camellia, rose and azalea petals. Matthew Tatman said that the Spice Girls also burrow in and displace his neatly laid pine straw.

But they all agree that the advantages of having chickens outweigh the minor landscaping mishaps. Glenn, Hugh, Hannah and Hunter all entered the VanStory Hills Elementary School Science Fair contest. Hannah said that her teachers were “very inquisitive” about the chickens. Glenn now wants to be a vet.

Both Glenn and Hannah are the chief chicken caretakers in their families. When asked what the best thing is about having chickens, Hannah and Glenn both said that they are fun to have, watch, and raise. “I like to play with them,” said Glenn.