All it took was reading her Aunt Ashley English’s book, “Keeping Chickens,” to inspire 12-year-old Sophie Williamson to want to add chickens to the family menagerie at her north Siesta Key home.
At the time, Sarasota did not allow residents to keep chickens within city limits. But a month later, the Williamsons learned of Citizens Lobbying for Urban Chicken Keeping, aka CLUCK, a group seeking to change the city ordinance. Sophie’s mother, Pam, urged Sophie to write a letter to the commission.
“I have done a lot of research on what types of chickens are good to have as pets,” she wrote. “I learned what types lay the most eggs, are quiet and friendly and do well in this environment. … So if you do make a law saying we can have chickens, I’ll be ready!”
“We eat really healthy,” Pam Williamson says, “so the idea of having organic chickens is very important to us.”
Sophie also outlined other advantages of caring for chickens.
“Taking care of chickens would be a great way for me to be more responsible,” she wrote. “Chickens need to be fed, watered, checked for lice and have their coop cleaned.”
In preparation for the City Commission discussion early this year about the chicken issue, Jono Miller, co-director of environmental studies at New College and one of the leaders of CLUCK, asked Sophie if she would be interested in making remarks to the commission. She agreed, revising her letter as the text for her three-minute public comment.
“I think having a kid there helped” the city commissioners decide to change the law, Sophie says.
Today, the Williamson family has four young chickens in a coop in the backyard. It took some searching online, Sophie says, before she and her mother found a company, My Pet Chicken, which would sell them just a few hens. All the other hatcheries they researched, she says, would not fill an order for fewer than 15 of one type of chicken.
“They actually come in the mail … in a little box with holes in it,” Sophie says of the chicken shipment she received. “The chicks are only 2 to 3 days old. They’re tiny things.”
Although Sophie’s brother, Sam, 9, helps with changing their water, Sophie says the hens are primarily her responsibility.
“They’re easier than dogs and cats,” she says.
“It’s so much easier than I thought it would be,” she says.
And although the family loves the idea of fresh eggs from their own hens, the birds also are pets.
“They’re so fun; they’re really relaxing,” Sophie says of her newest family members.
She enjoys going into the coop and sitting on an overturned bucket, waiting for them to come to her for attention.
“I can put Cleopatra on her back and rock her like a baby,” she says.