Fresh eggs for breakfast aren't the only benefit of raising chickens, say hobbyists. The birds provide organic fertilizer, and their appetite for pesky weeds and bugs helps gardens thrive.
"If our economy continues on the downward spiral," says Ms. Shell, a third-generation poultry hobbyist, "you're going to see a lot more people raising their own chickens in their backyards and starting up vegetable gardens."
Still, chickens aren't always popular with neighbors in city and suburban neighborhoods.
Chicago Alderman Lona Lane proposed a citywide chicken ban late last year after constituents bombarded her office with complaints about noise, odor, and rodents. But chicken enthusiasts from other parts of the Windy City cried fowl, stalling a final decision. After the holidays, Ms. Lane plans on introducing a new bill to ban chickens in just the neighborhood she represents.
In cities where chickens are legal, regulations usually limit the number of hens to three or four. Most prohibit roosters because of early-morning crowing, and slaughtering is strictly forbidden.
Some critics, in an effort to keep birds out of urban areas, raise concerns about avian influenza. But Michael Martin, a poultry veterinarian at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, doesn't believe there's any cause for concern.
"The risk of a human becoming exposed before we knew anything about any kind of poultry disease is pretty much nonexistent," he says.
In today's computer age, starting a flock is as simple as the click of a mouse. Chicks can be ordered online and delivered right to your door.