Many residents of Old Mount Pleasant are experiencing a movement of sorts. That movement is strutting around their backyards, pecking at the ground and delivering a vehement squawk or windy flap every now and again. Yes, I am speaking about chickens, living as closely as beyond your neighbor’s fence if not in your own yard. These inner city hens actually are doing a world of good for the surrounding community: introducing new friends, keeping the bug population manageable and providing fresh eggs for Sunday brunch gatherings. Plus, they’re a lot of fun. I had the joy of meeting several hens, all of them with distinct personalities. I promise your carton of eggs from Publix won’t look the same again.
You might be wondering how chickens could become so popular in a place like Mount Pleasant. After all, with plenty of other pet choices – dogs, cats, gerbils – doesn’t it seem odd to have a hen as a sidekick? Well, according to most of the folks who’ve taken to keeping them around, while they love the zaniness birds add to the yard, several of the reasons are practical.
“Chickens are low maintenance – they go into their cages at night and don’t need any babysitting,” remarked Les Orr, an Old Village resident who owns two hens: Gertrude and Cookie. “We can feed the chickens whatever scraps our kids don’t eat during meals, and chicken poop goes into our garden as fertilizer. They’re good for recycling.”
“The urban homestead movement in Mount Pleasant is huge,” pointed out Lily Herndon Weaks, whose hen, Molly, is well-known for making friends with other chickens on the street. “Everyone is into it, whether it’s preserving and canning produce or raising chickens. And you can do as much or as little as you want. You can even do it in an apartment.”
Of course, these local hens also provide the tastiest eggs around. When I asked the owners what they do with all the eggs – most species lay one a day – the answers ranged from making “the fluffiest pancakes and breads” to “omelets every morning” to “egg salad almost every week.” Whatever eggs are left go to friends and neighbors, especially those who appreciate the chicken trend.
Actually, the streets of the Old Village sometimes feel more like an apartment or college dorm, thanks to the chickens making their way from yard to yard and introducing their owners. Everyone I talked to had a story about their neighbors and how a fowl has led to new friendships. Chicken owners look out for the safety of each other’s birds, discuss antics and even help out with naming new chickens.
“Our son, Conrad, gave Cookie her name,” explained Orr. “But our neighbor Bob named Gertrude. He called her that one day, and it just sort of stuck.”
Molly, Gertrude, Cookie and their feathered friends definitely have it made. Their lives are easy; their owners appreciate them; and even their coops are luxuriously spacious – when they aren’t pecking around the yard, that is.
“I started working on our coop after my fiancee, Madison, moved in last March,” said H.B. Marshall, another Old Village resident with a rather fancy chicken lodging. “She said if we were going to have chickens, we had to have a nice coop!”
When we spoke, Marshall and his fiancee had two grown hens – Oreo and Blue – plus a bunch of baby chicks they were raising in a cozy shed. The couple said they’d eventually give away a few chicks to family members and also keep a few for the coop. Though they had close to 15 chicks the day I visited, nobody seemed concerned about finding homes for them; chickens are in demand right now.
“You can put ‘chickens for sale’ on craigslist and they definitely won’t last!” Marshall noted.
Honestly, until I started researching this article and meeting the hens of Mount Pleasant, I had no idea chickens could be so sweet. I’ve petted quite a few feathery backs lately, but nothing beat watching the owners interact with their birds. While hens might not quite become “man’s best friend,” there’s definitely love to be shared.
“The kids run around and chase them and the chickens don’t even mind,” Orr admitted with a chuckle.
All of the owners heartily agreed that they would keep raising chickens and keep participating in Mount Pleasant’s urban homestead movement.
“We have a farm in Aiken County right now,” Weaks said. “I plan to start hosting homesteading gatherings at the farm – and urban homesteading here at the house. Most of us who have chickens share similar interests.”
“I grew up in the country, and we always had chickens,” Marshall added. “Then after college, I moved to Sullivan’s Island and my neighbors had chickens there, too. It sounded cool, so I got some.”
By Denise K. James
Photos by Cassandra Michelle Photography.