It’s a crisp Saturday morning and Kristi Hugglestone steps out her back door onto the raised wooden deck overlooking the yard and the houses of her sleeping neighbors. The grey dawn gives way to the yellow sun peeking over the horizon and as she moves, four sets of eyes follow, four downy necks crane for a better view. What’s that? In her hand, what’s that? They see small, green and fleshy. They smell sweet. Grapes. In a flurry of feathers and with a series of staccato clucks, four chickens break cover and rush to surround Hugglestone, hopping and waddling and vying for her affection. Her youngest son, Liam, must have woken early to let them out. She calls them by their names and feeds them their special treat, petting the three that will allow it. Relinquishing the last of her grapes, Hugglestone strides to the coop, trailed by happy chickens, and fetches some eggs for breakfast.

For residents of the City of Sarasota, this sort of lifestyle has been available since 2011, and Kristi and her husband James have had their backyard chickens for a little more than a year. Neither had previous experience raising chickens, but the idea of fresh eggs for their growing boys, Jim and Liam, and some friendly family pets was appealing, so they decided to give it a shot, eventually settling on the legal maximum of four hens. They got together as a family to build a coop out in the backyard, with Jim and Liam taking it upon themselves to build a custom-made watering hole for the miniature flock. The dog chases off any prowling cats, but human neighbors join Kristi in watching the feathery, and kind of funny, beasts over morning coffee or on an afternoon walk. “It’s been great,” says Kristi. “We’ve had no problems.” Now, thanks to a new ordinance signed by the County Commission in late 2016 and going into effect at the start of 2017, residents of Sarasota County can try their own hand at raising chickens.

According to the new ordinance, which closely mirrors the ordinance passed by the City of Sarasota, backyard chickens may be kept by residents of Sarasota County as long as they abide by a series of guidelines regarding where, how and which chickens are kept. In the interest of good neighbors, roosters are not allowed, only hens. Roosters may serve to fend off predators in the wild, but they also get up early and make lots of noise. But the chickens will need little additional protection, as the ordinance also requires the animals be kept in a coop overnight and prohibits the slaughtering of chickens onsite. According to the regulations, coops must be mobile and kept in the backyard, but not within 10 feet of the property line or within 25 of a neighboring residence. Further guidelines dictate particulars of coop construction, from humane living conditions to pest prevention. Eggs may be shared, but not sold.

It may seem odd that the city would approve backyard chickens before the county, flipping common notions of the differences between rural and urban living, but according to Jono Miller, charter member of local backyard chicken advocacy group Sarasota Cluck, it’s all a part of the political game. Simply put, the city was a smaller target and it was easier to get people to community meetings to support the mission. These suppositions proved accurate when 47 interested citizens showed up to the first Cluck meeting in 2009, starting a push that would culminate in the City Commission approving backyard chickens on a three-year trial basis. Unfortunately, according to Miller, this allowed the County Commission to stall further efforts while the trial run played out. But Miller and fellow backyard chicken enthusiasts waited it out, and when the three years ended, another activist gathered more than 100,000 signatures petitioning the County Commission to take the matter seriously.

It’s been a seven-year fight for Miller and those like him and that may seem like a long time to devote to chickens, but Miller has his reasons. He’s been around chickens since he was a boy growing up in suburban New Jersey on a two-acre lot 20 miles outside of Manhattan, raising the birds and watching them peck and scratch in the snow. Years later living in Phillippi Creek, he transformed the outbuilding on his property into a coop and ordered 25 baby chicks through the mail. “You get a call from the post office saying you better get down here because this box is making a lot of noise,” he jokes. He raised his flock of hens for years, sharing eggs with his neighbors, chicken-watching with his neighbors. It was illegal—he doesn’t dispute this, “but there was never an issue,” he says. “Neighbors weren’t upset. People seemed to like it.”

An independent sort, Miller does not seem to have minded shouldering this risk for himself, pushing forth with an attitude that almost says, “What are they going to do? It’s just chickens.” But the issue took on another dimension when one of his students at New College of Florida admitted that she had her own illegal chickens—just a few, and more as pets and a calming presence than anything else—but she did worry. The chickens were good for her, says Miller, but she grew increasingly afraid of losing them to “some government bureaucrat in a white truck” who would take her pets away. Following a failed campaign to join the County Commission in 2008, Miller made backyard chickens his priority.

“At the heart of things, it’s a very neighborly activity,” Miller says. “My experience is that eggs are equivalent to grapefruit or tomatoes or mangoes. My experience is that chickens have been neighborhood-building—that kids from the neighborhood love to come over and see the chickens and people like the eggs.”

For those intrigued but unsure, there exists a middle ground: renting backyard chickens. Founded in early 2016 by Manatee County resident Alexis Robbins, Beau’s Coop began as a creative way to teach her young son Beau a little about where money comes from. “I thought it would be a fun way to show him everything that went into it,” she says. “I wanted him to know that it takes a lot of work.” Growing to a flock of 23 chickens, Beau’s Coop eventually began selling the chicks and people kept asking. Today, Robbins has five breeds available for prospective chicken-raisers to rent a few for three to six months at a time and get a feel for the life, with Robbins providing basic information to get started and offering advice as needed. If at the end of the trial period the renters want to become owners, they can buy the chickens permanently from Beau’s Coop. As the operation grows, Robbins has introduced a hatching program, where families or schools can rent an incubator to hatch a clutch of eggs on their own. “It’s really good for educational purposes,” she says. After hatching, some classrooms keep the chicks as mascots.

Robbins understands the inclination. After just a year with the animals, she’s shocked at how vast the world of chickens really is, how much she’s learned and how attached she could grow to her feathery friends when they waddle and dance around her. “They’re so funny,” she says. “I could sit out and watch them all day.”