Raising chickens in the city is becoming more popular these days. In a recent USDA survey of urban chicken ownership in four major U.S. cities (Denver, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City) just under 1% of households owned chickens but 4% planned to have chickens within the next 5 years.
It is important to remember that there are state, county, city and/or neighborhood laws and regulations regarding poultry ownership. It is important to investigate the rules in your neighborhood before starting any poultry flock. Several cities in Kentucky allow a few chickens to be raised within the city limits. This includes both Lexington and Louisville. Small numbers of hens kept in the backyard can provide an urban family with entertainment, eggs and fertilizer. For those with children they can also teach them responsibility. Any problems typically associated with chickens is minimized by proper management and should be of no more of a concern than those related to raising a dog or cat.
This does not mean, however, that there are no concerns associated with keeping poultry. There has been two multi-state outbreaks of human Salmonella Typhimurium infections linked to live poultry in backyard flocks.
More information available on the Center for Disease Control's website.
Avoid contact with the feces of young fowl, and carefully wash your hands with soap and water after handling these animals and anything that has come in contact with them.
Safe handling of chicks (University of Kentucky)
There has been a lot of misconception over the impact of urban chicken flocks. Concerns typically relate to noise, odor, flies and rodents. These issues are typically not a major concern with properly maintained flocks.
Noise: Overall hens are relatively quiet animals foraging in their pen during the day. Hens will cluck and cackle from time to time, especially when laying eggs, but it is typically only for a few minutes each day. It is the roosters that make most of the annoying noise during the day, but roosters are not needed for hens to lay eggs. In an urban setting, barking dogs are more of a nuisance than cackling hens.
Odor: As with well managed dogs and cats, well managed chickens do not pose an odor problem. With regular cleaning, odor from urban chickens is not a problem. The manure produced can be added to a compost making an excellent fertilizer. Most people with urban poultry flocks are also using the fertilizer produced for a sustainable urban garden.
Flies: Chickens that are raised on the ground will scratch through the bedding and will find any fly larvae before they turn into flies. Flies will lay eggs in high moisture manure or other decaying matter. With regular cleaning the chickens themselves can keep the flies down.
Rodents: Mice and rats are often associated with animal production facilities. This is typically a result of the spilled feed rather than the presence of the animal themselves. If feed is properly stored and fed with minimal spillage, the feed bill of the flock owner will be less and the rodent population will be controlled.
The key is proper management. When considering keeping a poultry flock there are several issues that need to be addressed:
- Noise: Crowing roosters are the problem and many communities have banned roosters in their ordinances.
- Number of chickens: Many communities have addressed this by putting a low maximum number of chickens in a backyard, typically less than ten.
- Location of the pen or structure: This is especially important with regards to property lines and neighboring residences. Many ordinances require the structure be 20 feet from the neighbors’ residences.
- Confinement: Poultry need to be confined to the property and not allowed to roam off the property.
- Dead birds: The issue of dead bird disposal should be addressed. Can any dead birds be double-bagged and deposited in the trash or are they allowed to bury dead animals on the property?
- Manure: Should the manure be deposited in the trash for disposal or used in the compost?
eXtension - Urban poultry
Considerations in raising small backyard flocks in population-dense communities (Utah State University)
Raising fowl in urban areas (Penn State University)
Poultry in urban areas (University of Wisconsin)