“Back when Herbert Hoover promised Americans a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, he could not have guessed that what people really wanted was a chicken in every garage.” Courtesy of “Whitefish: Council OKs 5 free hens per household” by Michael Jamison of The Missoulian
Chickens are becoming more prevalent in backyards of urban communities as small groups in cities across the U.S. have begun to promote keeping city flocks. Reasons for keeping a flock include; a step towards self-sufficiency through the backyard production of eggs, a compatible partner to a backyard garden through pest control and the production of fertilizer, a cut down on kitchen scraps by feeding to the flock, education for children on where food comes from, and the desire for some to enjoy aspects of “country living” despite their urban environment.
It’s important to be aware of your city ordinances before planning a backyard flock. Call your city hall to determine if keeping chickens within city limits is legal. Many city codes can be searched online through sites such as Municode.com. If chickens are legal, there may be restrictions and/or requirements that must be abided by, such as number of hens (rarely are roosters permitted due to noise), size of coop, and distance of coop to residences. If chickens are not allowed, maybe you can act to help change the law like the group Mad City Chickens did in Madison, WI. Talk to your neighbors about your plan to have backyard chickens in order to address their concerns early on and help prevent complaints in the future.
Your chickens will need a dry spot to lay eggs, roost, and generally feel safe when they’re not out scratching and hunting for bugs. Chicken coops can be broken down into two basic categories: mobile and permanent. A mobile pen is light enough to be moved around the yard or garden and allows for a controlled movement of the chickens and their litter. A permanent pen restricts the chickens to one area. Hens can be released from both pens during the day to roam the yard, and easily trained to return to roost at night. Many times, permanent pens include a “run,” an area outside of the coop where hens can scratch and dustbathe while still being confined within a perimeter fence. Our publication “Range Poultry Housing,” although geared more towards farmers, has some useful information on the basic requirements of a poultry house.
It is important to think about the fate of your hens once they stop laying. Hens’ egg production will really begin to drop off after about 2 years. Many cities do not allow for the backyard slaughter of animals, nor do many urban poultry keepers want to consume their old birds despite no eggs because they have grown to see them as more of a family pet. Whether the hens stay as pets after egg retirement, are consumed, or donated to a local farm, it is important to consider their fate before you begin raising a small flock.
For more information on and examples of backyard chicken coops, and to share information with other urban poultry keepers, check out the following urban poultry groups’ websites:
There are also a few YouTube videos available that deal with urban poultry:
This page was last updated on: January 26, 2015