In recent years, the trend of keeping chickens in urban areas has gained popularity, as more people embrace the idea of sustainable living and fresh, homegrown produce. However, the question remains: Can you have chickens in a residential area? Let's explore the ins and outs of keeping chickens in a residential zone and what chicken laws you need to know to avoid becoming a public nuisance or breaking the law.
Can Chickens Be Kept in a Backyard?
Gone are the days when chickens were strictly confined to rural farms. Urban chicken-keeping has become a growing movement, with city dwellers realizing the benefits of having their own flock in their backyard. Not only do chickens provide a steady supply of fresh eggs, but they also contribute to organic waste management through their natural fertilization process. Before diving into the world of urban chicken-keeping, it's crucial to understand and adhere to local regulations. Before you begin your backyard poultry adventure you should check with your local government to find out the zoning ordinance for such animals.
Is it Legal to Raise Chickens in my Suburban Backyard?
To raise chickens within city limits, you will need to comply with local ordinances. There might be permits, fees or both. These are not much different than dog or cat licenses. Local laws govern ownership of animals as well as restrictions on the number and sex of birds. Many localities allow chickens, but not roosters. Sometimes you will need to get permission from neighbors or a homeowners association. Renters will need to get permission from the property owner, as well.
How do I Find Out What the Zoning Laws Are?
Zoning laws and local rules vary from place to place, so it's essential to check with the city council to determine whether keeping backyard chickens is permitted in your residential area. Some municipalities have embraced the idea and even provide guidelines on coop size, noise regulations, and the number of chickens allowed. City hall is a good place to start to find out your town’s city code and if backyard chicken keeping is permitted.
How Close to a House Can You Keep Chickens?
A safe distance to place a chicken coop from your house is typically at least 15-30 feet away. This distance helps to minimize any potential issues with noise, odor, and pests while still allowing for easy access and care for the chickens. Placing your chicken coop as far as possible from your
house near the property line, especially if you have a very large yard may not be the best idea. It makes for a long walk with eggs, feed, cleaning supplies, and anything else that might need to get out to the coop. Also keep in mind the distance between the coop and your neighbors home. The edge of your property might be convenient for you to keep chickens but may be too close to your neighbors home and will cause bad odors and noise from the birds to disturb them.
Do You Need a Permit to Build a Chicken Coop in Your Backyard?
It depends! Most states and cities building codes state that “A Building Permit is required for the construction, alteration, moving, repair, and modification, demolition, in whole or in part or the change of use of any building or structure.” Since a chicken coop is a structure, you might need a permit to build one in your backyard unless local ordinances state otherwise. This is similar to building a shed or any other type of structure or porch on your property.
If you are unsure of the rules make sure you check with your local government office to find out if your chicken coop requires a permit and any applicable fees. In general if the coop is smaller that 120 square feet and shorter that 12 feet and does not have plumbing or electricity you will not need a permit.
Remember, there is always the risk of getting fined or forced to remove your structure if you break the law. Even if you don’t think anyone will notice or care about the giant chicken coop in your backyard there is always that one nosy neighbor who will rat you out and cause problems.
How Big Should You Build Your Chicken Coop?
The following are basic guidelines and a good place to start:
Standard Breed Chickens: 4 square feet of coop space per bird; 8 square feet of run space per bird.
Standard Heavy Breed Chickens: 8 square feet of coop space per bird; 15 square feet of run space per bird.
In general bigger is better. Have you heard the term chicken math? You may think you only want 4 chickens but next thing you know your picking up new batch of exotic breed chicks from the feed store with plans to breed sell them. You may only plan on having a small number of hens but somehow now you have 20 chickens calling your backyard home.
Do Backyard Chickens Need to Be Vaccinated?
Backyard chickens don’t need the same vaccine regimen as commercial chickens. That’s because some of the diseases that commercial chickens are exposed to (such as Infection Bronchitis or Infectious Laryngotracheitis) are not as prevalent in backyard flocks. They also run a much lower risk of it spreading outside of the flock.
Nevertheless, there are three major vaccines that all backyard chickens should get. Here’s where to start: Marek’s Disease, Newcastle Disease and Fowl Pox. Talk to your vet to find out which vaccines your pet chickens will need or a required by city ordinances. You should also learn how to protect your chickens and yourself from Salmonella.
Can I let Chickens Roam Free in My Yard?
If you have a safe, predator- proof, fenced area that your chickens can hang out in, then yes, you can let your chickens free range in your yard. Chickens are prey animals and are vulnerable to predators like raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey. They can also be vulnerable to random neighborhood dogs that have access to your property. Always make sure the chickens are in a fenced area and consider putting up netting above their outdoor area for protection from eagles and hawks. Keep your chickens locked in a predator proof area at night.
Do Hens Make a Lot of Noise?
We all know that roosters can make a lot of clucking noise but what about hens? The noise level of your backyard hens will vary depending on their breed. Most chicken breeds chosen as backyard chickens are perfectly placid and most of the time you won't even know they are there apart from the few clucks after laying and if danger comes around. Laying hens — at their loudest — have about the same decibel level as human conversation (60 to 70 decibels). Hens are so quiet that there have been cases of family flocks being kept for years without the next door neighbors knowing it.
Will Chickens Run Away if I Let Them Free Range?
Maybe. If chickens are not fenced in there is always the possibility that they will make their way too far from home. They will be vulnerable to predators and can even get hit by a car. You should always keep your chickens in a fenced area for their safety.
How Long Do Chickens Live?
Hens can live in backyard flocks for 6-8 years, and most will produce eggs for 3-4 years. The level of egg production, egg size, and shell quality decrease each year. Most commercial layers are kept for 2-3 years as their egg production decreases after this time. Before you decide to keep urban chickens it’s important to consider what you will do once the hens are too old to lay eggs. Will you butcher them or keep them as pets? Make sure you have a long term plan in place before you get chicks.
Benefits of Urban Chicken-Keeping:
- Fresh Eggs: One of the primary reasons people opt for urban chicken-keeping is the daily supply of fresh eggs. Nothing beats the taste and quality of eggs from your own backyard.
- Sustainable Living: Chickens are natural composters, turning kitchen scraps and yard waste into valuable fertilizer. Their presence contributes to a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.
- Educational Opportunities: Keeping chickens in a residential setting can be an educational experience, especially for children. Learning about animal care, life cycles, and responsible ownership fosters a deeper connection with food sources.
What are the Disadvantages of Raising Backyard Chickens?
- Noise. Chickens are mostly quiet but they do create some noise. Roosters tend to be very noisy day and night.
- Offensive odors. Even the cleanest, most well kept coops can be very stinky. You might get used to it but your neighborhood may not!
- Potential neighborhood disturbances. Mainly due to the points above: noise and smell but also if your chickens roam into their yard they may not like it.
Is it Legal to Have a Rooster in a Residential Area?
Once again, it depends. Roosters can be very noisy and don’t just caw at the crack of dawn. Some do it all day long. It may be legal to own chickens in your area but not roosters so it’s important to check the local laws. If you are hatching chicks from eggs or purchase chicks from a local feed store you need to keep in mind that some of those cute babies may grow up to be males! Make sure you have a plan in place in case you accidentally end up with a rooster that you either can have legally or has become a nuisance to the neighborhood.
What are the Benefits of Having a Rooster?
Some chicken owners prefer to have a rooster as an addition to their backyard flock. Here are some of the benefits of keeping a rooster with your hens:
- They fertilize eggs which hatch into chicks. No rooster = No chicks. If you are planning on breeding your own chicks you will need a rooster.
- Roosters protect the flock. Roosters will fight predators and help keep thinks like snakes and racoons away.
- They help keep the peace among the hens.
- Can be quite an attractive addition to the coop.
What Are The Downsides to Owning A Rooster?
They may be pretty to look at and help protect your flock but roosters do come with their own set of issues to take into consideration. Here are some of the problems that roosters can cause:
- They are loud. If you (or your neighbors) have an issue with hearing “Cock-a doodle-doo” all day and all night you may want to skip the roosters.
- Roosters can be mean. Roosters can be very aggressive with people and animals. While this may be helpful for protecting the flock it can cause problems if they attack humans who come too close.
- Roosters fight. You can only have one rooster. If you have more than one, they will fight- sometimes to the death. Especially in mating season.
- Roosters don't lay eggs. If your main goal for keeping poultry is to have access to fresh eggs then adding a rooster may just take up coop space with no egg-laying benefits. You do not have to have a rooster in order to have fresh eggs. Hens will lay eggs regardless or whether they are fertilized.
- Your rooster might be illegal. Like we discussed above, you need to check with your local government to find out if roosters are legal in your city.
- Roosters might kill baby chicks or young hens. Like we mentioned, roosters can be very aggressive so if you decide to keep one - proceed with caution.
The answer to whether you can have chickens in residential areas largely depends on local regulations and the willingness of the community to embrace this sustainable and rewarding practice. Urban chicken-keeping offers a unique opportunity to reconnect with our food sources, promote sustainability, and build a sense of community. By navigating local regulations, addressing concerns, and creating a chicken-friendly environment, residents can enjoy the many benefits of having feathered friends right in their own backyard.