Alan Hawes // The Post and Courier

To Tammie and David Bowers, their chickens and ducks are pets with personalities.

When Mepkin Abbey folded its egg business, the pipeline for one of Tammie and David Bowers' favorite nutrition sources closed. So the couple decided to fill the void with four hens and a duck of their own. They would have a modest supply of fresh eggs on hand.

Now, Tammie Bowers collects about 17 eggs in her backyard daily from more than 20 hens and five ducks.

"They are so doggone cute, we just kept getting more," says Bowers, who uses the eggs for breakfasts, quiches, cakes and to share with friends.

The fowl, pets as well as producers, include Rhode Island Reds, Barred Plymouth Rocks and mixed breeds along with four mallards and a Peking.

Roosters, which many say can cause discord among neighbors, are no noisier than average mocking birds, says Bowers, whose roosters crow around 6 or 6:30 a.m. like clockwork.

The Bowerses may have had an individual reason for getting into chickens, but they are part of a general urban trend in raising backyard chickens as people seek more control over what they consume. Numerous books, including "Raising Chickens for Dummies" and "Building Chicken Coops for Dummies," and websites such as www.backyardchickens.com, urbanchickens.org and www.mypetchicken.com are designed for them.

"I live in the middle of North Charleston, where they are perfectly legal," says Bowers, whose husband, David, is a North Charleston municipal judge. "They are very fun to watch. ... My grandchildren love to come and play with them. Each (chicken) has their own personality."

In addition to chicken feed, the chickens eat weeds from her garden and collard greens, their favorite, Bowers says. She spends one hour a day exercising them, cleaning their coops and collecting eggs. Their care costs much more than eggs from a grocery store, but it's not the money that matters to the Bowerses.

"I get fresh eggs and I know what they (the chickens) are fed," Bowers says. "When the egg scare came around last year, I didn't have to worry about my eggs."

Feed, seed

More and more people are buying chickens to raise in their backyards, says Amelia Wirth, manager of Cainhoy Feed and Seed. Many live in neighborhoods where they are not supposed to have chickens. Those people usually buy five or fewer chickens and don't buy roosters because they crow and wake the neighbors.

Favorites include the Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks, which lay brown eggs. Araucanas lay blue-green, slightly smaller eggs, Wirth says. If you leave the fresh eggs out on the counter, their shelf life is longer.

"People are buying chickens because they know what goes into their chickens, and they are not going to get a lot of steroids," Wirth says. "We've got some older people who want something to take care of, people who want their young kids to have some responsibility and people with older children who want fresh eggs. Most people who buy them for home use tend to think of them as pets."

Baby chicks start at $2.75 at Cainhoy Feed and Seed, Wirth says. A bag of their feed is about $13. The chicks weigh about 2 ounces when purchased at 2 days old, grow like weeds, and in about six months can lay eggs, she says.

Chicks are available at most feed stores in the Charleston area.

West Ashley

Kelly Thorvalson, manager of the S.C. Aquarium's sea turtle rescue program, and husband Mike, a carpenter, have raised five chickens for two years in West Ashley.

Raising the chickens helps the family stay healthier and greener, she says. They scoop up the chicken waste and add it to their compost, which helps their organic herb and vegetable garden grow.

The family, which includes Kelsey, 7, and Rigby, 14 , likes seeing the chickens take dirt baths and watching the way they peck at everything. Nuggett and Stripes are Plymouth Rocks; Stew and Biscuit are Golden Cinnamons; and Sugar is a Delaware.

"We feed them a pellet diet enriched with corn and oyster shells," Kelly Thorvalson says. "We also give them a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps, and they seem to like cottage cheese."

They live in a coop that Mike Thorvalson built. Right now, they produce one to four eggs each day, but Kelly Thorvalson says they usually produce more as the weather warms.

Anyone thinking about acquiring chickens should do their homework to learn what's involved, Kelly says. Having them requires cleaning the coop regularly and giving them fresh food and water.

"One challenge of having chickens is the damage they do to our yard," she says. "We like them to be free range for part of the day, so they have free roam around our yard in the morning and afternoon. But they really like to dig, so we end up with small depressions all over the backyard."

The couple have a fenced-in yard to protect their chickens from neighborhood dogs, says Thorvalson. Dogs and chickens don't usually mix well, though their own dog, Zoe, has adjusted.

Riverland Terrace

Chuck Hooker raises six hens in his Riverland Terrace backyard. Hooker says several of his neighbors raise them, as well. He has two Buff Orpingtons, a Dominique, a Barred Plymouth Rock, a Silver Laced Wyandotte and a Golden Laced Wyandotte.

"When I first got them, my fiancee thought I was a little bit nuts," says Hooker. "After eight weeks, I moved them outside. They make great pets; each one has its own personality."

He was inspired to buy chickens after working with ones belonging to a friend's 4-H group in Orangeburg. He has since started a similar 4-H program for West Ashley, James Island and Johns Island youths.

"If you taste a fresh egg, you will wonder why you ever bought those things from the grocery store," Hooker says.