There was a time when chickens were only seen pecking and scratching in the countryside, surrounded by vast open spaces. Thankfully that’s no longer the case!
Backyard chickens are popping up in suburbs and cities all across the world. Chickens are the hot new agricultural trend, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.
Raising chickens in the city comes with its own unique challenges. Between haughty neighbors, government officials, and urban predators, you have your work cut out!
We’ve been raising chickens in the city for years and have come up with a number of ways to overcome these problems.
Predators? What predators?
In the city we deal with very few predator problems. The constant presence of people and dogs mixed with very few places to live make the city pretty unappealing to predators.
This is not to say predators don’t exist in the city, of course they do, they’re just a different breed than their country living brethren.
Cities do tend to have a lot of scavengers like rats and raccoons. These guys feast on the throwaways from restaurants and private homes, and if given the chance, they’ll feast on your chickens as well.
The most common urban predators:
There aren’t nearly as many dogs running loose in the city as there are in the country, but if there’s one in the neighborhood, you can bet they’re heading for your chicken coop first. Keep loose dogs out with a strong perimeter fence around your yard and the chicken run. Fencing should be buried a foot underground around the outer edges of the coop, as dogs will gladly dig to get to the birds.
This may surprise you, but hawks are pretty common in the city. We had one parked right in our front yard for a few weeks, and it took dives for our chickens at every chance. Luckily we already had measures in place to protect them from this skyward threat.
To protect our flock from birds of prey, they’re confined to their covered run during the day, and are let out for supervised free range time. As prey animals, chickens are relatively good at keeping an eye on the sky and running for cover at the first sign of trouble. Our yard has lots of good hiding places such as low lying shrubs, steps, and of course the coop. We also have a lot of large trees growing in the yard, which help the chickens to keep a low profile from sky predators.
Another one that may (or may not) surprise you, people can be a big threat to your birds. First off, if chickens aren’t permitted, or you aren’t following the rules, neighbors or passers-by could rat you out to the authorities, risking your future in chicken keeping.
People can be a literal threat to your flock as well. In our own city, a flock of chickens was stolen in the middle of the night right out of the coop, never to be found again. We’ve personally had experiences with curious kids throwing rocks at our birds through the fence. If you feel your chickens may be at risk, keep the outside coop door locked up at all times, and allow the birds coop access from the run. That way, if they need to escape a threat, they can go inside for cover.
These little bandits are likely to be your biggest issue with raising chickens in the city. Raccoons are smart, agile, strong, persistent, and nocturnal, making them difficult to control. They can open basic swing locks with their fingers and can make holes in chicken wire. They’ll return night after night in search of a treat and aren’t deterred easily.
To keep raccoons out, be sure to use strong spring loaded locks on all doors. If the door to the run is open all night, be sure the run is heavily protected, with fencing around all sides, including the top. If possible use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire, and bury it a foot underground all around the run. Having a dog will also help to keep raccoons off of your property.
We’ve had our fair share of rat problems in the backyard. They moved in just as soon as our chickens arrived in their brand new coop. At first the rodents were only eating the leftover chicken food, but when we took that away and they became desperate, they started attacking our 4 week old chicks. Rats are less likely to bother older birds, but when they’re starving, they do present a threat to the flock.
We wrote a whole article on our solutions to this problem here:
Free Ranging in the City
Free range time is a blessing and a burden. The chickens have much less space than they would in the country. This means they have less plants and insects to eat. They’ll keep returning to the same spots over and over until your favorite shrubs are chomped down to nubs and your grassy lawn turns into a mudpit. Also, they never, ever, stop pooping. A little manure here and there is great for the yard and garden, but constantly being bombarded with poop leads to stinky messes and flies.
The blessing is that they’re very easy to keep track of when there’s such a small space for them to roam. Counting chickens is easily done and it’s very clear if something goes wrong.
One of the biggest issues we came across with free ranging in the city, is their undying urge to see (or eat) what’s on the other side of the fence. They’re creative and persistent and you may find yourself jumping the fence frequently to retrieve the wanderers.
We do a number of things to counteract the issues with free ranging in the city. First off, the birds are only let out for a few hours before their bedtime. This gives them enough time to take a nice dustbath and wander the yard to pick at plants and bugs. It doesn’t give them enough time to all-out declare war on our yard.
We also have a good strong fence around the yard, and reinforce any areas that turn out to be a weakness. The chickens will duck under gaps in the fence, and use nearby rubble to jump over. Keeping a keen eye on them while free ranging will show you any fence problems.
No Roosters Allowed… or Aloud
Most cities in the US and Canada don’t allow roosters to be part of an urban flock. This is to cut down on unnecessary noise and to reduce the chances of people raising roosters for fighting.
Roosters can be a big pain in the butt, but they can also be wonderful additions to the flock. Roosters do a wonderful job of protecting the hens from predators. They are also immensely beautiful creatures, and truly add a gorgeous element to any home flock.
The hardest part about not being allowed to keep roosters in the city is trying to figure out what to do when you mistakenly end up with one. Hatching your own chicks results in at least 50% roosters, and even buying sexed chicks from a hatchery has a chance of mistakes. If you find out you have a rooster amongst your hens, it’s either re-homing or the stew pot for that bird.
It’s wise to have a plan in place for surprise roosters before you ever start your city chicken flock.
Raising chickens in your city may be illegal, as it is in many cities and suburbs across the U.S. If you choose to ignore the law and become a chicken rearing rebel, you have to be aware that it could come back to bite you. Friends of ours got caught with chickens in their yard and were forced to find a new home for all of them all that very day. Other cities may charge you a hefty fine for breaking the law.
Even if your city does allow backyard chickens, chances are that liberty comes along with some lovely permits and fees. Hey, the government has to find some way to make money off of your homesteading ventures, right? In our city the charge to keep chickens is $40 every year.
Flock size limits are also pretty common in the city. Most cities cap flock sizes at 25, but some will only allow a handful of birds. These limits are in place to cut down on noise and smell that could cause trouble in the neighborhood. Also, there just plain isn’t room for large flocks of poultry in the city. Chickens living in too close quarters become stressed and are more likely to pick up illness and disease. It would be wise to work within the city limits to find a flock size that will work for your family and the space you have.
On top of all that, there are likely housing and fencing requirements for keeping a backyard flock within city limits. These can be subjected to inspections, both announced and unannounced. If your operation isn’t up to code, BAM! There’s a fine at the very least, or they can make you re-home your flock.
Is it a pain? Yes.
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Just make sure you know the law before you venture into raising chicken in the city.
For the most part, chickens are quiet animals to have, except when they’re not.
There have been several times where we’ve temporarily housed a rooster. Even though it was only for a few days, I would cringe every time I would hear a crow coming from the yard, waiting in fear for the next sound to be pounding on my door. Roosters are illegal in most cities, and for good reason.
Even hens can be a rowdy bunch. Have you ever heard the egg song, sung by ten exuberant hens all at once? It can wake you from a sound sleep!
Noise pollution is pretty common in the city, from barking dogs, to loud music, to honking horns, it’s not the most quiet place to live. The sound of a flock of chickens can pretty easily get lost in the soundwaves, unless you have an unhappy neighbor. Which brings me to my last point.
Neighbors mixed with chickens can go one of two ways, amazing and supportive, or intrusive and antagonistic. While it’s fun to educate your neighbors and share eggs with them, not all neighbors are supportive of your poultry endeavors, and will fight you every step of the way. Anti-chicken neighbors in the city can be a big nightmare, especially if you aren’t licensed to have your flock in the first place.
Nip this one in the bud and talk to your neighbors before you ever bring chickens home. Take the time to answer their questions and listen to their concerns. Open communication with the neighborhood is always better than sneaking the little chickens into your backyard and waiting for the backlash.
If you’re close with your neighbors, introduce them to the birds when they’re tiny adorable chicks. Tiny fuzzy babies are very hard to say no to, even for the coldest of hearts. When the birds grow up, offer extra eggs to the neighbors to remind them just how amazing your backyard flock can be.
So, there you have it! Raising chickens in the city, in a nutshell.
Of course, I couldn’t fit every delightful tidbit into this article, so keep an eye our for upcoming book on urban chicken keeping, due out in September!
Although raising chickens in the city can be tough at times, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Our chickens make me incredibly happy, and despite the challenges, they live a wonderful life!
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