After almost two years of raising chickens in the city, I would say we know the ins and outs pretty well. I’ve spent months putting together this list of the pros and cons of raising chickens in the city for anyone who’s considering it. For the record, we highly recommend everyone get themselves some chickens, but want you to go into as chock-full-of-knowledge as you can be.
Over the years we’ve lost and gained birds. We’ve taken in birds from our friends, hatched chicks in an incubator, hatched chicks with a broody hen, given away birds, and butchered birds. All that experience has enabled me to amass quite the list when it comes to city chickens. So, hold onto your seats, cause away we go!
Very few predators
We’ve heard horror stories from other chicken keepers about troubles with foxes, weasels, cats, hawks. We haven’t had a single problem here in the city. Not to say that predators don’t exist in the city, of course the do, we just haven’t had any. Our yard is full of giant trees, which tends to protect it from predators in the sky. It’s surrounded by a good fence, which protects our girls from predators on the ground. Our run and coop are covered in chicken wire every which way. The only predators I’ve seen in our yard are cats. We had one sitting on the top of the run, watching the nervous hens below, but it took off as soon as Nico was let out and never came back. Another day, I looked outside to see the ever curious Rosie in the neighbors yard, desperately trying to get back over the fence. Not 15 feet from her was a little black cat, just relaxing in the sun, watching her without a care in the world. Just so you know, I’m currently knocking on every piece of wood I can find, just hoping this doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass.
Enclosed free-range space
Our ladies are let out to free range every day in our backyard. They pick through for bugs and weeds, take dust baths in dirt piles, and run and squawk to their heart’s content. Although it would be great for them to have more space, I’m glad that they have a designated area. It keeps them from getting lost or eaten by predators, and I can keep an eye on them from the back porch
A chance to educate the neighborhood
Since bringing home our birds, we’ve had a LOT of questions and talks with our neighbors about the chickens. You’d be surprised how little people know about the food they eat. You can read more about my talk with one of our neighbors who didn’t know that the eggs at the grocery store come from chickens. Although it’s sometimes mind boggling and frustrating to talk with neighbors about our mission here, we always jump at the chance to explain why we’re doing this, and of course share some of our eggs. The more people know about the current state of our industrial food system, the better, and this gives us the chance to educate people who may never ask these questions otherwise.
The Wow Factor
Whenever I tell someone that we have ten chickens living in our yard, they say, “Oh, you must live in the country!” And I say, no, we live in the city, then explain our whole setup. Strangers are always shocked that you can raise chickens in the city, and it’s always a great conversation point. If we did live in the country, I think our stories would be much more boring.
Easy Access to Fresh Eggs and Meat
Here in the city, we don’t have easy access to quality food. We have easy access to cheap, junky food. Eggs are sold at the convenience store across the street, but they no doubt come from a factory farm and have been sitting around for weeks. Chicken is sold there too, pre-fried in partially hydrogenated oils, coated in salt and preservatives, and boxed up so it can sit in the freezer for months and months. We’re very lucky to have eggs and meat that came from happy birds that live a life more wonderful than most humans in third world countries, and it all comes from our backyard!
When we first got our birds, I was fine with the fact that we’re not allowed to keep roosters in the city. That was because I’d never had a rooster. When we unknowingly ended up with a rooster, I discovered just how wonderful they are. Roosters protect the hens from predators. They spend their time standing on the highest pillar in the yard, scanning the ground and the skies and warning their harem of ladies if they spot something. Even if that something is just a pigeon flying by. Roosters are also immensely beautiful creatures. We’ve had a few here on our urban farm, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them strut their stuff in my yard, but in the end they always must find a new home or go to freezer camp.
Flock size limits
We’re only allowed to keep a certain number of birds here in the city. We can keep up to 25, but each bird needs to have at least 3 cubic feet of space in their enclosure. Our coop is big enough for about a dozen birds. If we could keep a hundred chickens, I probably would.
No good place to butcher birds
In the country, folks have an array of locations for butchering their birds that allows them privacy and ease of use. Here in the city, we struggle to come up with any space that’s free from prying eyes, and gives us enough room for a table. We don’t need to butcher often, but when we do, it’s a mighty big issue.
Raising chickens in your city may be illegal, 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 in the ass. Friends of ours got caught with chickens in their yard and were forced to find a new home for all of them all that day. Other cities may charge you a hefty fine for breaking the law. Word to the wise: beware
Licensing and Fees
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. You are also required to have housing and fencing that meets their standards, and are subjected to inspections, both announced and unannounced, whenever they damn well feel like it. 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.
Oh, what I would give for a big old barn to house our flock. Our ladies have plenty of space to roam for three seasons out of the year, with the backyard and run available to them. Come wintertime, however, they are confined to the coop most days. Here in Upstate New York it gets MIGHTY cold and blustery in the winter, and with several feet of snow on the ground, there just isn’t any way to free range our flock. If we lived in the country and had a barn for our ladies, they would at least have some extra space in the colder months.
Neighbors go on the pros and the cons list when it comes to chickens. We’re very lucky to have understanding neighbors that enjoy watching our chickens rather than calling the authorities on us. Of course, the egg bribery helps a bit. Although I usually enjoy educating our neighbors about urban farm life, it can get annoying at times. Sometimes I want to be able to sit in my backyard and talk to my chickens without knowing that my neighbor is sitting in their house ten feet away, listening to our conversation. Of course, I suppose I could just NOT be an insane chicken lady, but I’m not so sure I have control over that.
There have been several times where we’ve temporarily housed a rooster, and 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. Even hens can be a rowdy bunch, when one lays an egg, the rest have to sing out in praise of it. Even though our immediate neighbors are wonderful, it doesn’t stop me from worrying that the existence of our chickens will bother someone enough to call the authorities.
So, there you have it. 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!