How to Raise Chickens in Your Backyard

Find out how to raise chickens legally in urban areas.

  • Chickens
    Free-range chickens drink water outside. By raising hens in your back yard, you can get fresh, nutritious eggs.

  • Chickens

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.

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,

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