Emily Katt doesn’t see anything wrong with raising chickens in her own backyard. Ever since her family’s flock was disbanded last month, she’s been clucking about Johnson City’s no-chicken ordinance. She and fellow poultry-owner Sam Jones have started a new unified COOP group with the goal of decriminalizing the housing of hens within the city limits.
“I do feel strongly that they can be kept as well, if not better then any domestic pet,” Katt said. “It’s nice to be able to produce your own food in the form of fresh eggs.”
Last year, Katt scrolled through pages of online research about the quietest and cleanest ways to raise chickens, around the same time the Johnson City Commission was considering a reversal of the ordinance. While attending a few of the hearings, Katt says she felt a pro-chicken sentiment and assumed the change would be made, so she went ahead and purchased a pair of hens.
When the vote didn’t go in favor of the chickens, Katt continued raising the poultry as pets that provided a food source and served as an educational tool for her children.
“They were absolutely delightful creatures,” she said. “I wanted to educate my children and reconnect myself to a self-sufficient lifestyle. Kids should be able to be outside and get their hands in the dirt and learn where their food is coming from. Learning by doing provides a very good education.”
Katt’s children, ages 13 and 8, loved taking care of their flock of Jersey Giant and Plymouth Rock chickens. She received a letter in early July stating that there was “a complaint of chickens being kept at this address” and informed the Katt family that it had 10 days to get the chickens and the coop off the property. Katt was shocked and the siblings were saddened.
“My husband had built a coop for my birthday present,” she said. “It was like a bomb shelter. It had solid posts, was predator proof, well ventilated and easy to clean.”
The coop and the chickens were sold to Katt’s co-worker living in a chicken-approved zone. Now that her family’s pets have literally “flown the coop,” Katt is ready to propose a change to the ordinance, again, but this time as a more concentrated effort. The COOP Group, Chickens On Our Property, has been started by Katt and Jones to educate residents and to begin the journey toward an ordinance change.
“I feel that there’s an independence there that should be available to everyone,” Katt said. “I don’t want to live on a farm, there’s a lot that we need to be in the city for. My yard has become a very small scale farm microcosm. It doesn’t take a lot of land to have a little bit of freedom and self-sufficiency.”
In Jonesborough, residents like Karen Childress are allowed to keep chickens. She currently has eight hens living in her backyard that has been divided into two sections, one for the chickens and one for her three children to play.
“I think it’s pretty easy, but it does help when you have someone to talk to,” Childress said of her friends from the Jonesborough Farmers’ Market, who answer her poultry-related questions. “The experience of having them has been great. If you keep the predators away, then they pretty much take care of themselves. To me, they seem very happy and content.”
The COOP Group currently has a Facebook page and is planning to gain support through visits to the farmers’ market and the showing of a documentary— “Mad City Chickens” in September. Katt says they’ll attend commission meetings and get backing from those who were active in last year’s chicken debate.
“In my mind, I really don’t have any doubts for the ability of most people if they have even the slightest desire to keep chickens that they will keep them clean and humanely,” Katt said. “Whatever perimeter the city gives them they’ll comply and do it well. Chickens are being kept, they’re just being kept quiet. It would be better for the city to know where they are and that they’re being kept within certain rules.”