Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky
City chickens are becoming more popular in the United States. Many families keep a small number of chickens as a source of eggs as part of the local-food movement. It is important to check the city ordinances in your area before starting a backyard flock. Some cities allow chickens, but many do not. Many cities do not allow roosters or the butchering of animals. Even where ordinances allow the keeping of chickens, most prohibit poultry from leaving your property. In addition, regulations usually require that poultry housing must be kept clean and free of bad odors, requiring proper disposal of poultry waste. Composting poultry wastes controls odors and provides an excellent fertilizer for gardens.
Ordinances are not inalterable, and many groups have succeeded in changing ordinances to allow for chickens, and sometimes other types of poultry, within the city limits. Hiding chickens in areas where they are not allowed can cause problems. If you hide chickens and they are discovered, you may have to pay a fine and your birds may be confiscated. In addition, hiding chickens can adversely affect efforts of others to make the keeping of chickens legal in your area.
Keeping chickens in your backyard is a good way of producing eggs, but do not expect it to be more cost-effective than purchasing eggs in stores. Hens require a balanced diet in order to keep producing eggs, and you must supply them with quality chicken feed. Most vets will not treat chickens or other types of poultry should you encounter a health problem with your small flock. Like humans, chickens are omnivores, so they will eat a lot of food scraps. They cannot, however, satisfy all their nutritional needs this way.
If your hens produce more eggs than you can use, consider sharing them with neighbors as part of a "good neighbor" program. Whether your family eats the eggs or you share them with neighbors, it is important to follow egg-handling guidelines for proper food safety. Hens should be provided with clean nest boxes. You can clean moderately dirty eggs by running warm water over them and removing the adhering material. You should not eat or serve excessively dirty eggs. Eggs should be stored in the refrigerator (below 40º F) as soon as possible after collection. It is best to store eggs, even store-bought eggs, on an inside shelf in the refrigerator rather than on a shelf in the door. The opening and closing of the refrigerator door can cause the temperature of the eggs to rise above 40º F, leading to a food-safety issue.
Examples of housing for backyard poultry flocks. Source: Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky
Poultry in urban areas. Andy Hady and Ron Kean, University of Wisconsin
Raising fowl in urban areas. Phillip Clauer, Penn State University.
Keeping garden chickens in North Carolina. Anne Edwards and Donna Carver, North Carolina State University.
Urban poultry, ATTRA.