Years ago no one would have thought of chickens as neighborhood pets, but that may be changing. With celebs like Nicole Richie, Ellen Pompeo, Kate Hudson, and Jennifer Aniston all raising hens in their backyards having birds around has suddenly become trendy. Heck, even Oprah has jumped on the chicken bandwagon, collecting eggs from her flock when she’s on her property. But before you dive into building a coop of your own, beware of your city’s bylaws.
The lure of having freshly laid eggs every day can be appealing, but not every city agrees. In fact, most North American urban centers say no to having chicken coops in residential urban backyards.
Raising chickens was once the norm in North America, even for city dwellers. As cities modernized, however, chickens were sent off to outskirts of the county with other farm animals. Today, with rising food prices, there is a new push to have chickens brought back to city and suburban backyards too.
In Canada, it’s hit or miss when it comes to owning city chickens. If you reside in Vancouver, Victoria, Waterloo, Brampton, Niagara Falls, or Whitehorse, having a few cluckers is fine, but don’t set up a coop in Toronto just yet. Legislators have considered a pilot project allowing chicks in four wards of the city, but the final word hasn’t come back yet.
Edmonton, after a two-year pilot program, recently started to allow urban chickens. Taking a class on hen keeping and getting an OK from your neighbors are on the list of requirements if you want to to have a backyard coop.
In Salem, Oregon, it’s legal to have up to six chickens in town, but roosters are not allowed. The hen’s coop has to be kept in the backyard and at least 3 feet away from any other building. These city chicks must have both enclosed outdoor and indoor spaces.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is another city that has welcomed hens. Since 2010, residents have been permitted to keep up to six hens on their property. The coops have to be at least 25 feet from their neighbor’s home and secure from predators at night.
In the cities that do allow chickens to roost, there are many rules. Most only allow a few birds per home and roosters are forbidden. (Hens can lay their eggs without having roosters around, and because the eggs are unfertilized, they are only for eating.) Be prepared to shell out a fee to be allowed the pleasure of daily eggs.
While free-range eggs are popular, city hens don’t get to wander where they want. Almost all cities require homeowners to keep their chickens in a fenced-in coop or run at all times. Because of setback requirements, homes with tiny backyards may be out of the running for a coop.
Cities that permit hen keeping have a no-kill rule, so don’t plan on having homegrown roast chicken dinners. If you are allowed to have a chicken coop in your backyard, you should do some research before jumping in with both feet.
Chickens like to have company, so make sure you have at least two birds. Chicks need to move around, so your chicken run should provide at least 4 square feet per bird. Also, check that the fencing is completely secure so that your birds can’t escape.
Unless you are a builder, buying a coop is the best practice. Each chicken needs to have at least 3 feet of space so be sure to know the right size for your flock. Inside the coop, make a roost and add nests that your hens can comfortably fit inside to lay their eggs.
You’ll also need to put in a feeding and drinking area. Chickens need about a half-cup of feed a day, as well as some grit. You should buy all of their food from livestock supply shops; it’s OK to give some table scraps. The birds will need about 2 cups of water a day.
Chickens need regular care. You must clean their coops and gather eggs every day. Unclean coops can attract rodents, and the neighbors are likely to complain about the smell.
City chickens are at risk of health problems because of smog and other urban pollution. Be sure to have a vet on call in case your birds get sick.
Be sure to know your city’s rules about having hens on your property before you set up shop. Having a chicken coop can be fun, and access to fresh eggs can help your weekly grocery bill. If you’re prepared to put in the work, you will be ready to join the ranks of urban farmers.