Skip to Main Content

Considerations in Raising Small Backyard Flocks of Poultry

With the rising price of eggs in the store as a result of the Avian Influenza that affected many laying houses last spring and summer, some people may be considering raising a few chickens in the backyard to help offset the store cost. This has raised numerous questions ranging from how to feed chickens to addressing local animal-keeping ordinances. Often, the answers are a work in progress for many communities. David D. Frame, DVM, Extension Poultry Specialist with Utah State University, offers the following advice when thinking about raising backyard poultry.

Science-based Education Is Critical

Be cautious of advice from self-proclaimed “experts” or people with informal training who attempt to fill a perceived educational niche. Learning how to do things correctly from qualified science-based sources is paramount in order to be successful.

Community Impacts

The local community may experience unanticipated impacts from an abrupt unregulated increase in backyard poultry keeping. Any potential undesirable repercussions can be minimized through recognition and well thought out planning to ensure that all remain good neighbors.

Noise: Hens are quieter than roosters. There are no practical or humane methods to “de-crow” a male fowl. It takes experience and knowledge to properly identify the gender of young chicks. Your local farm implement store may not be able to provide this service reliably when chicks are purchased. Be prepared to cull roosters as the chicks mature. Hens do not need a rooster present in order to lay eggs.

Mixing of species. It is extremely risky to raise multiple species of poultry and waterfowl on the same premises – particularly if there is chance of exposure to wild birds.

Zoning. Some municipalities do not allow the raising of poultry or have strict ordinances that restrict this activity. Check with your city or county office to determine if there are specific regulations or restrictions that might prevent keeping poultry on your property. Along with city or county ordinances, some communities or subdivisions have rules or “covenants” that restrict the raising of poultry. Be sure to check if your home is in one of these.

Animal control. Chickens are no respecters of property lines. They are prone to wander at will into neighbors’ yards and gardens. Remember chickens can also fly. To minimize the impact on neighbors, enclosures should be considered that properly restrain poultry and confine them to your property.

Animal waste. In many instances, used chicken litter can be incorporated into the garden soil or composted; however, improper composting or storage may create excessive odor and fly problems.  Proper composting requires careful management of moisture, aeration, and temperature. Allowing chickens to superficially scratch through a pile of manure is not sufficient for optimal composting to occur for a number of reasons.

Disposal of deceased and spent fowl. It is important to realize that chickens have a relatively short life span. The productive life of a hen is about three to five years. Baby chicks soon grow up to be adult chickens and adult chickens end up as old chickens. Community leaders need to seriously address the issue of bird disposal. Do local ordinances allow birds to be buried on the premises or composted on-site or taken to the landfill?

Protection from predators and disease. Chickens are to be enclosed in a coop at night to protect them from predators. Although the debate could go on repeatedly as to what the optimal construction should be, common sense is usually adequate. Doors should tightly close, glass or strong plastic windows should be used, and a solid floor should be in place. Periodic inspection around the coop will indicate if varmints are trying to enter. Then take care of the varmint problem.

Outside runs need to be covered with good quality wire or roofing that will keep out wild birds and keep the chickens inside. Many people might find this a serious inconvenience, but it is imperative!

As you consider adding laying hens or other poultry to your home, please make sure to do your homework ahead of time, so you and your poultry can have the best life together.

The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity institution.

To Top