How to Raise Chickens in Your Backyard

Find out how to raise chickens legally in urban areas.
By Jessie Fetterling
Nov. 6, 2008
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Free-range chickens drink water outside. By raising hens in your back yard, you can get fresh, nutritious eggs.
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Whether you have rural acreage, a suburban backyard or an urban lot, you may be able to raise chickens. No kidding. Keeping a few hens in your backyard will give you fresh eggs that are significantly more nutritious than what you normally buy at the supermarket. On our Chicken and Egg page, you can read about how free-range eggs have less cholesterol and saturated fat, and more vitamin E, beta carotene vitamin A and omega-3s than the eggs you’re used to. Plus, your birds can be raised humanely (much more so than they would be in a factory-farm setting), and give you hours of entertainment.

Visit our new  online forum  to discuss questions, concerns and advice about laws and regulations for keeping chickens in your backyard.

Chicken Ordinances

Local laws regarding poultry vary from city to city. Our 2003 survey of 20 cities found that only four did not allow chickens and eight allowed an unlimited amount. To find exact local codes for your area, visit the American Legal Publishing’s Code Library or the Municipal Code Corporation’s Web Site, Municode.

If you don’t like your city’s chicken regulations, then try and change them! In 2004, Alicia Rheal and Brian Whiting from Madison, Wis., organized a group to help change the laws in their area after they realized that they had been raising chickens illegally for a year. From that they started the site Mad City Chickens, where they now teach people about raising chickens and how to create groups that support it. To see if there is a group that exists in your area, check out Urban Chickens.

Most cities that allow raising chickens still won’t allow roosters because they often crow loudly at dawn. Some people might think that a rooster is necessary in order to have eggs, but hens will actually lay eggs without one — the infertile eggs simply won’t produce chicks. While roosters can be very loud in the morning, hens are not. They squawk a little bit whenever they lay their eggs, but besides that, they make a soft clucking noise that is way quieter than the average dog’s bark. And by sunset, they are fast asleep.

While the idea of raising chickens may not be appealing to some, the fact is that they are no more likely to cause noise or odor problems than any other pet. The only problem standing in the way of most would-be chicken farmers is the law. So, if keeping poultry is not legal in your area, now is the time to speak up and spark change. With the continual rise in food prices, you’ll be thankful you did.

Convincing the Neighbors

Once you decide to keep chickens, let your neighbors know. Explain to them the benefits of fresh eggs. Tell them that, on average, three hens lay about two eggs a day during spring and summer, so you may be getting enough to share with them every so often.

When it comes to raising chickens, bird flu has become a growing concern. According to Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, though, backyard chickens are not the problem. Diseases like this are more likely to come from areas where chickens are crowded and confined in industrial poultry operations — not from backyard birds.

Getting Started

If your city regulations and your neighbors are cool with it, then it’s time to get started! Harvey Ussery’s article Incredible Homestead Chickens outlines all the basics. And here’s a simple mini-coop plan.

Don't forget to visit our online forum to discuss keeping chickens in your area!


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Kathryn Conant
2/5/2009 11:29:36 AM
I know this is a little late - but - a woman in a neighboring town, Gulfport, has won her fight to keep chickens in her yard!!! Yeah and kudos to the Gulfport City Council for being so open minded. As it stands now, in Gulfport, FL, you are allowed up to 10 chickens.

curious C
12/10/2008 1:15:03 PM
someone asked about the cost of keeping them. even paying for a heat lamp, heated water dish, feed, scratch and shell it still works out. admittedly, eggs from the store here are probably costlier than in the Lower 48 @ $5 but ya, it's worth it. you can suppliment their diet and lower feed costs by hauling in the neighbor's garden waste too: old cabbage leaves, carrot stems.. all that stuff. chooks'll eat anything but onion and banana peels. neighbors throw the chickweed they pull from the yard over the fence and i toss it into the hen pen. there are a lot of ways to trim the cost if you are creative.

curious C
12/10/2008 1:05:10 PM
chickens are pretty easy to keep. we have a tiny city lot in fairbanks alaska (yes, it's cold in winter) and i've been keeping layers for years. the coop and nest boxes are in the (unheated) garage and the pen is next to the garage. they can go out thru a small hole. i use a red heat lamp and heated water dish in winter and throw in about a bale of straw to help keep them warm. i scrape out all the old straw in spring. after experimenting, i've found the larger birds do better here. i've got 5 auracana and barred rock now, and more eggs than we can use in summer. they do lay in winter with enough light, but the problem is getting the eggs before they freeze and explode since i dont go check to see if they've laid every ten minutes. (which is about how long it take an egg to freeze and pop). a neighbor has a B&B and in summer she gives them her kitchen scraps and grabs a dozen now and then. the first year i had ten, and killed them when it got cold. i've found it's not too bad to overwinter them because they do live and lay for a good while. we have a small car, but the trunk is big enough to haul home a bag of feed, scratch and a bale of straw. the only real problems we've had was neighborhood cats and foxes trying to get in. we've been very lucky no dogs have found the birds in all these years. i used really cheap plastic mesh to make their pen and it does crack and break in the cold sometimes or when a cat tries to slink in. a chook has escaped now and then, and they're kinda a pain to catch, but if you kinda herd it back toward the pen they'll usually dart right in. they like to be feeling safe in their area. overall i'd rate the experience high on the satisfaction to effort ratio. i spend about 2 min a day on them, and the twice a year clean out isnt too bad. and the eggs are truly beyond compare. i just wont eat store bought eggs anymore. if you find you're not able to raise your own hens,

Snow Vandemore
12/2/2008 6:09:11 PM
I live on an 80-acre farm in eastern Nebraska and have kept chickens for many years. I sympathize with those that wish to be self-sufficient and to enjoy the ups and downs of raising chickens, but are not allowed under their respective laws. I would like to attempt an answer for John regarding the height of a fence to prevent the chickens from jumping over. Chickens can and will fly -- the only way to prevent them from escaping would be to cover the run area with poultry netting. This not only keeps the chickens in, but unwanted predators out.

Leslie_2
11/28/2008 11:21:09 AM
So how would you like to have chickens on 5 acres and not be allowed. The county does but we have a stuck-in-the-mud HOA, yes a HOA in an area with 5 acre lots. We can have horses to destroy the land - we do not here - and dogs and cats but no Alpaca, Llama or chickens because back in the 60 and early 70's when this was platted out, the land owners figured this would be a high-class horse area which it is not. We are permitted servants (slaves) but no chickens. Change the rules you say? Try that with city transplants that know nothing about the land and keeping it for mother nature which is the right thing to do. Let the horses ruin acres and acres of land but you go to court - which several already have - and spend thousand s and thousands trying to get common sense legislated. Just thought I'd share a few thoughts on how bad it can be in semi-rural Colorado.

TROY GRIEPENTROG_2
11/25/2008 11:01:10 AM
Gene, The cost to produce a dozen eggs in your backyard will vary depending on housing and feed costs. You can save a lot if your chickens can find bugs and worms to eat in the yard. But they also love stale (not moldy) bread, leftover french fries and many things that might go into your compost pile. You can expect about 15 dozen eggs a year from each hen (180 eggs--probably a low estimate). Each of our hens eats about $0.60 worth of feed (layer pellets/mash and cracked corn) each week ($31.20 per year). So, a "ballpark" number would be a little over $2.00 per dozen. Again, there are hundreds of factors involved. Thanks, Troy Griepentrog Mother Earth News

Martha_1
11/19/2008 7:13:02 PM
We live in a city. Small postage stamp back yard. Close neighbors and all that goes along with that. We also have 6 chickens. 5 hens and yes. One rooster. He was supposed to be a pullet. We bought a metal shed from the local Home Depot. Bought wood, screws,washers and hardware clothe.And Ta Da we have a back yard coop. The rooster is no louder than the many neighborhood dogs. Or the construction going on at the playground on one side of us and the college on the other. My neighbors love hearing him crow as he doesnt do it all day and night(like the neighbors dogs) They have a run that is attached to their coop. The run has wall and roof. All wire reinforced with wood beams. A tarp to keep the ground dry in the rain. They do not free range in the yard. I love these birds. They are pets just like my dog, cats and rabbits are. And I dont want anything to harm them. Chickens make great pets. They are honestly less obtrusive than a dog. They are easy to care for like a cat,, or a rabbit. And they give you eggs. Better than cat or dog IMHO And I love them as much as I love the rest of the group. BackYardChickens.com is a great place to learn and ask questions. Check it out

Dale_28
11/19/2008 4:40:23 PM
When I went to buy my station wagon about three years ago, the previous owner had several auracana chickens running around the yard. Chris had had chickens before, when she lived out in the country, but this was practically downtown. A seed had been planted in her mind. The next week she bought four Auracanas and named them Eenie, Meenie, Miney and Moe. They ran around the yard eating bugs and lizards and laying blue/green eggs. They slept under a sheet of plywood laid across two sawhorses. Life was sweet Eventually a hawk got one, then her rotten basset hound got another. The Basset Hound from Hell now has a new home. Then someone on an old car forum posted a link to Mother Earth news, which I sent to Chris. She read an article about raising chickens in the city, and I was given a new project. We had to build them a coop. Thanks pal. Now there are the two surviving auracana chickens, two buff orpingtons (with an extra toe, just like her cat), and two Rhode Island reds. There will be at least two more very soon, probably naked necks. One Orpington looks like a rooster, but he's keeping very quiet. I think he knows that as soon as he opens his mouth, his "goose" is gonna be cooked. Or fricasseed, as the case may be. We built their home in a day using recycled / found materials, and she covered the tin roof with palm fronds to give it that Margaritaville look. We only paid for screws and hinges, which we bought from the Habitat for Humanity Re Store. Anyway, you can raise chickens in the city, so long as neighbors don't complain about the noise or the smell. Thats why the roosters have to go! And then there are the rabbits, but thats another story that has only just begun with the birth of two little black furballs....

gene jenkins
11/17/2008 8:30:11 PM
i would like to know about how much it cost too proudce one dozen eggs in backyard flocks? a ballpark figure would sufice. thanks gene

john_4
11/12/2008 12:56:49 PM
How tall must a fence be to keep chickens from jumping over? I am concerned the chickens would get out and possibly cause a problem since we have lots of kids in the neighborhood.

john_4
11/12/2008 12:55:54 PM
How tall must a fence be to keep chickens from jumping over? I am concerned the chickens would get out and possibly cause a problem since we have lots of kids in the neighborhood.

keely_1
11/12/2008 12:14:30 PM
I live in a city where apparently keeping chickens is not allowed, but after going to the local Rural King a few times and talking to fellow shoppers - I was informed that alot of people in city limits keep chickens - provided your fence is tall enough not to see over! That and bribing your neighbors with eggs if necessary! I think it's funny that there is an underground chicken movement here, all we need to do now is get together and go get the law changed. Until then - as soon as our fence is up and secure, me and my eight year old daughter have our chicken breeds all picked out and were going to get them law or no law!

Jessie Fetterling_2
11/12/2008 8:58:35 AM
Verity- I wanted to let you know that Mother Earth News has created an online forum for our readers to share their experiences about legalizing and keeping chickens. You can find the forum at http://www.motherearthnews.com/forums/forum.aspx?boardid=1202&g=topics&f=143126, or there is a link for it in the article. We invite you to share your experience in the forum in order to get feedback from other readers who either have been in or may be currently in a situation similar to yours. While some city councils don’t take this subject seriously, there are many that do. Hopefully, you can get some advice from other readers who have changed their own city’s regulations on keeping chickens. Good luck!

Verity Brown
11/6/2008 8:27:41 PM
I live in a small Midwestern town that requires 150 feet between your chickens and any neighbor's home...which effectively makes it impossible to have chickens in town. I have a half-acre lot, with neighbors on only three sides, but there's no spot on my property far enough from the neighbors to have chickens. Last winter, I went before the city council with a well-prepared presentation about the benefits of chickens, asking them to loosen the restrictions. But the matter was never even seriously considered: it was referred to a subcommittee, which recommended that the ordinance not be changed. End of story, for now at least. I know that I intend to make the candidate's position on chickens an object of interest when the next city council elections come around.








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