With "chicken math," six chickens can quickly increase to 42. | Courtesy of Tiffany Larrabee

In the heart of Lakeland, the “Dixie chicks” aren’t a band — they’re feathered residents who bawk and lay eggs. Dixieland is one of many local neighborhoods where the number of residents keeping backyard chickens has grown in recent years.

Urban chicken-keeping is a trend that took off during the COVID-19 pandemic and surged again earlier this year when egg prices doubled due to inflation, supply chain issues and the worst avian flu in U.S. history, affecting 58.8 million birds in 47 states

Although fewer than 2% of Americans live on farms today, the American Pet Products Association estimates that households with backyard chickens have risen from 8% to 13% since 2018. Nationally, Google searches for “raising chickens” spiked in April 2020 and January 2023. 

The price of eggs has fallen sharply over the past few months according to the Consumer Price Index, but interest in raising chickens remains strong among Lakeland residents who say their joy of raising chickens goes beyond saving money at the grocery store. 

Lorrie Delk Walker, of Lakeland, with two of her chicks. | Provided photo

“I just can’t find a reason why you wouldn’t want to have chickens,” said Lorrie Delk Walker, of Lakeland.  “Overall, chickens are very sociable. They are very easy keepers if you keep their water clean and keep them fed. There is just not a lot of stuff that goes wrong. They’re an easy pet in my opinion. We don’t have vet bills … like a dog or cat and they’re producing eggs.”

Walker, who is a financial advisor at Allen & Company and lives in the New Jersey Rd. area, said she grew up in the countryside of Ocala, and jumped at the opportunity to raise chickens here once she found out it was permissible. That was 20 years ago. 

“Through the years, we’ve had as many as 18 at a time. These days we have 4,” Walker said. “I just like knowing where my eggs come from. What my chickens are being fed.”

Walker keeps them in a chicken tractor, which she said is a coop on wheels that can move around the yard, and allows them to eat grass and bugs. She said the chickens come in handy since she and her husband eat about a dozen eggs a week. 

‘Chicken math’

Tiffany Larrabee, who lives outside the city limits in North Lakeland, said she decided to raise chickens because she wanted fresh eggs daily. Her family was going through dozens a week. 

Her son was also interested in Future Farmers of America, so she thought it’d be a great learning experience for him. 

Tiffany Larrabee with one of her chickens. | Provided photo

“Last year, our son joined FFA and entered the poultry category at the 2023 Polk County Youth Fair. It was such a great experience for the whole family, especially when he won 2nd place in showmanship and 3rd place for his category (large fowl male).”

Larrabee said she bought her initial flock of chicks in Sept. of 2020 from a feed store, but has since bought more from breeders, online, and has even incubated her own, since Polk County allows residents to have roosters. She started with six chicks, but now has 42 chickens. 

“There is this thing called “chicken math” that everyone that raises chickens knows all too well …You start out only wanting so many and before you know it, you have WAY more,” Larrabee said, adding she lives on a couple acres of land.  

According to the American Pet Products Association, two-thirds of chicken owners think of them as pets. Also, interest in chicken-keeping is highest among millennials and Gen Z.

The cost of raising chickens

Larrabee said raising chickens can get costly. She spent $3,000 on three chicken coops and run setups. On a monthly basis, she said she spends about $85, purchasing feed, oyster shell for calcium, grit for helping to grind up their food, and treats. 

Walker said she doesn’t spend that much. She estimated she spent about $350 in start-up costs, purchasing the pen, feeders, and chickens, but admitted “the costs can be all over the place.”

“It doesn’t feel like a big expense to us,” Walker said. 

Raising chickens also has some work involved. The daily chores include checking their food and water, and checking the chickens to make sure they’re doing well. Once they start laying the eggs, Larrabee said you’ll have to collect them on a daily basis. Once a week, she clears the coop of poop and rakes the run area of her coop. She also checks for issues regarding possible predators on a weekly basis. 

“I highly recommend owning chickens if you can. You don’t have to go all out on coops like we did, and they are pretty easy to keep. We love collecting eggs and they taste way better than the store brand in our opinion,” Larrabee said. 

Walker is really particular about their water, which she believes has saved hers from having to see the veterinarian. 

Lorrie Delk Walker’s coop has wire mesh tunnels to protect the chickens from predators. | Provided photo

“We are very particular with these chickens. We keep their water clean. If you keep them with clean water you can ward off problems,” Walker explained, adding that she uses rabbit waterers for her chickens.

“Chickens will poop in their water if they have the opportunity to,” Walker said. 

Both women said it’s not difficult raising chickens but keeping them safe from predators is the real concern. 

“The type of pen we keep them in has wire on the bottom so that predators can’t dig underneath. That’s the biggest challenge, keeping them safe,” Walker said. “Over the last 20 years, we’ve lost them to raccoons, possums, a hawk.”

Walker has a wire chunnel that the chickens can walk through that allows them to eat grass and bugs, but stay safe from predators. 

Larrabee has also found that the temperature outside can impact their ability to lay eggs. 

“Sometimes, if it is too hot or too cold, they will stop laying. You may not get nearly as many eggs as you have chickens. Different breeds lay different numbers of eggs and after two years old, they start to slow down. That is something to consider,” Larrabee said. 

Local ordinances about chickens

Backyard chickens are allowed throughout Polk County, although the rules differ slightly inside and outside the Lakeland city limits. Some subdivisions also have their own rules.

Since Walker lives inside the city limits, she typically buys chicks from the store where they identify the gender. She does that because Lakeland’s city ordinance prohibits keeping fowl that makes noise that may be offensive to neighbors, which is typically roosters. 

Larabee also says people purchase pullets, which are young hens who are not laying eggs yet. 

“If you do accidently get a rooster, there are Facebook groups and auctions that will take them off your hands,” Larrabee said, adding that there are lots of rooster/chicken rehoming Facebook groups or they can be taken to the auction or the butcher. 

Lakeland’s ordinance also prohibits fowl from being confined or put in a pen less than 50 feet from any residence or “place of abode which is occupied by any person,” unless 75 percent of the residents in that area give their written consent to the city manager, stating chickens may be kept or maintained within a shorter distance. 

In the unincorporated areas of Polk County, there’s no limitations on raising chickens on land that is zoned agricultural. Elsewhere, there is a 50-foot setback for sheltering and feeding of animals, according to the county’s ordinance. 

Polk County has more restrictions for people living in residential neighborhoods in the unincorporated areas of the county. The ordinance states for those living on less than half an acre, code enforcement can get involved if a neighbor complains who lives within 250 feet of the property. 

Residents in these areas are to keep fowl in pens or fenced areas at least 50 feet from their neighbor’s property, as well as store the fowl’s waste 50 feet from other’s property lines. Show animals are exempted from these provisions as long as the manure is kept 50 feet away from the neighbor’s property line. The ordinance also states these standards can be relaxed if approved by a land use hearing officer. 

A few more things to consider

There are some health risks involved in having a backyard flock. Chickens can spread bacteria, including salmonella. It’s important to take care when handling chickens and their eggs.

Chickens produce a fair amount of waste, and will also tear up whatever portion of the yard they are allowed to roam in freely. 

During their peak producing years, hens will lay 4 to 5 eggs a week on average. But occasionally, they may get “broody” and stop laying.

Lastly, for those who want to go the extra step with their chicken keeping, there are apps that can help owners manage their productivity and feed schedules.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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1 Comment

  1. I just bought eggs at Dollar General for less than 13c each. I don’t have to fool with any chickens, and they taste just fine.

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