If you have made the decision that you would like to try your hand at keeping some chickens in your backyard, there are a few considerations that you might want to make first, and although you have probably thought of some of these, there just might be a few that might come as a surprise.
Legality of Raising Backyard Chickens
Probably the very first question you should ask yourself about raising chickens is, can I raise chickens in my backyard? You know, legally. I know, I know. If you are slightly stubborn like I tend to be you are probably saying to yourself, ‘this is my property, so surely I can do whatever I want on it’! Am I right? If that thought crossed your mind, or anything at all along those lines, trust me, I know where you’re coming from. Here’s the deal.
If you live within the boundaries of a city as most (but not all) of us do, you will want to start out by getting info on whether or not you can even keep chickens in your backyard while staying within the confines of the law. The last thing you want to do is to build or buy a chicken coop, purchase a few starter hens, buy some food, get the entire family excited about the adventure that lies ahead, only to have a bureaucrat pay you a visit and let you know (kindly or otherwise), that what you are doing against a city ordinance and that not only will you have to get rid of your new chicks, you will also have to pony up for a fine they’ve decided to hand you. What a slap in the face!
Basic Types of Zoning and Chickens
There are a few different types of zoning that exist, each one having different laws and regulations on what you will and what you will not be able to do. If your property happens to be zoned as agricultural, then you probably won’t have any problem raising chickens or constructing any type of chicken coop you might want to have. Most people reading this article will not fit that description however, and will live on property that is probably zoned as residential. Don’t let that discourage you in regards to chicken-raising, as many residential areas will allow people to raise a few chickens on their property. The best thing that you can do to make sure is to contact your city offices and simply ask them if there are any ordinances on raising chickens in your backyard, and what they are. You will find typically that there are two different areas of laws that will affect what you are able to do. First, there are often laws specific to the actual birds. How many birds you are able to have on your property (it might depend on the size of your property), what sex they can be (roosters, anyone?), and in some cases, although not extremely common, you might even have to get written permission from your neighbors! I know, that last one sounds a bit strange. You haven’t burned any bridges there, have you?
The second set of laws have to do with the type of housing you use for your chickens. How large can your chicken coop be? Do you have to get a permit to build or even own a chicken coop in your backyard? Will this chicken coop need to be inspected?
I hope I haven’t scared you away from the idea of even wanting to start raising chickens in your backyard, and honestly I believe I have found some of the more extreme laws that you might want to, as your own city ordinance might include anything from having nearly no regulations at all, to maybe just one or two of these issues, which might not seem like much of a problem at all. Remember, as you are going into this and inquiring about the local laws of your city just remember that joy of fresh eggs, chickens and the family experience is all very much worth it in the end!
A Personal Example on Chicken Keeping Laws
It has been a number years now that raising chickens in your backyard has been allowed here in my city. In regards to how many chickens can be kept here, a person can keep up to 12 chickens, depending on the size of your property. Anywhere from house lots as small as 5,000 square feet keeping just two chickens, up to larger lots being allowed 12. There was a small public hearing where people were able to voice their opinions on the matter. For the most part it was thought that people being able to raise chickens in their backyard was fine, and that there wasn’t really any detriment at all.
Even public officials mentioned that when it came to complaints about chickens from neighbors (which were extremely rare as it is), the complaints were never about noise, and never about a smell (neither of those things seemed to be any problem at all). The only complaints on file were for the occasional chicken getting loose, which was always promptly gathered and put back in its place. I’m sure we can all point to that neighbor of ours that would be the first to complain about the slightest inconvenience, or really anything at all.
Whatever the case may be where you live, make sure you have it on good authority that you are able to keep chickens before going out and finding chicks and a chicken coop. Don’t take the advice of a friend or a neighbor or a real estate agent even someone near you that might be raising chickens. Sometimes when laws are passed that ban certain things, those who were practicing before the law came into effect are exempt from the new law; they are grandfathered in.
What if My City Does Not Allow Backyard Chickens?
If you find that your municipality does not allow raising chickens, don’t panic just yet. All might not be lost. The process of getting a simple law like this changed is often times much more simple than you might think. You might be asked to attend a city council meeting to state your case, and often times that will be enough for the city to take a vote on the issue, and I think often times you will find that no one wants to be the lone councilman putting their foot down on people wanting to become more self-sustaining. Be patient on the matter as this process doesn’t usually happen overnight. It can take months for the ball to get rolling, but you can be a part of making great changes in your area if you stick with it. If you can find others in your area that back you on this issue and will be willing to work with you, even better.
Nate Smith has been homesteading and dealing with backyard chickens for a number of years. He encourages people who are looking to begin raising chickens to gather information first on the best breeds of chickens, types of chicken coops and requirements that go into raising backyard chickens.
My first choice of breed is very obvious…Brahmas. I currently have three varieties of the Brahmas, Light, Dark, and Buff. If all goes according to plan in 2011 I will be added Partridge to my flock.
Some of the things I like about them are:
- Egg size
- Good looks
- Dependable egg layers
My second breed of choice is Orpingtons. I have carried this breed in flock but presently do not have any. This breed has several varieties available such as blue, white, buff, black, and the list goes on. I have several friends who carry these and love them. Not only are they beautiful to look at, they also are a dependable egg layer and dual purpose birds. These birds make great backyard chickens or if you have the right conformation also show birds.
My third breed of choice is Rhode Island Reds. This choice for me is mainly for the egg consumption. This breed lays a large egg and on a dependable basis. And they are also a dual-purpose bird. They as well are beautiful to look at with their mahogany coloring. Another great backyard chicken to have.
My fourth breed of choice is Cochins. I love Partridge Cochins! I have carried this variety one time until an illness wiped out my flock. This breed reminds me of the Brahmas…very friendly, good egg layer, and beautiful! There are several varieties of this breed also so if you have a desire for a feather-leg bird to show or just have in your backyard then this breed is a great one to consider.
My fifth breed of choice is Plymouth Rocks. There are many varieties available. In the past I carried Barred and Blue and enjoyed their disposition just as well as some I currently have. They have some of the same qualities as the other breeds listed above. Above all I think I enjoyed their disposition and egg laying habits. Great breed to have in your backyard!
There are so many others that appeal to me in one way or another but I mainly look for size and beauty. I enjoy raising large fowl birds. No certain reason other than I like the size. Some of the breeds above are available in large and bantam size so it all depends on your preference.
Right now I only have large fowl Brahmas and hatch their eggs on a frequent basis. I also sell their hatching eggs when available. I do this mainly to help in the feed costs. When searching for your chicken breed decide why you want them and then choose the breed that will help you to meet your goals. Whether it be for eggs, meat, or showing purposes, there is a breed to meet your demands.
What Exactly is Diatomaceous Earth?
First off let me make it clear that I am writing about food grade DE. If it is anything other than food grade DE it can be harmful to your animals. Diatomaceous earth is an abrasive, fine white powder made of the tiny fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of algae. It’s completely safe and non-toxic. (Info came from My Pet Chicken).
Many people I spoke with and the more I read the claims from this natural product seem to be great. Some of the benefits and uses of diatomaceous earth are:
- Controls worms, lice, and mites. This was the main reason I was interested in the product. You just add it to the feed and it is completely safe for the animals to eat.
- Pest control. I sprinkle DE all around the coop and the chicken run, as well as in their nest boxes. I have also read that you can use it in your garden as a pest control on plants even though I have not tried it. And in your house and I have not tried this either since I can’t imagine adding to the dust that is already present in my home.
- Dusting of chickens. I routinely sprinkle DE on my chickens the same as I would Sevin Dust to help in alleviating parasites.
I have been using this product for about six months now and have had no sign of bugs or parasites in the coop or on my chickens. I do continue to worm quarterly with Wazine. According to Poultrykeeper.com, “for internal parasites, the abrasive microscopically sharp edges will kill many of the worms with regular use (it must be used daily for it to be effective) although remember there are also larvae in the bloodstream that won’t be killed by diatomaceous earth. It is for this reason, I personally believe using a chemical wormer two or three times per year to make sure.”
Where to find DE?
When I first started searching for this product I thought I was going to have to order online but the shipping charges were ridiculous so I kept searching. I did find the pool grade at Walmart but this type of DE is harmful to your animals. It must be food grade.
I did eventually find it at a local feed store in Jacksonville. The same one that hosts a monthly swap so very convenient for me. I purchased a 40lb. bag and have had it for several months now so a little bit of DE goes a long way.
As summer approaches and the summer heat brings out the bugs and pests that frequent the coops and chicken feed, I am in high hopes that I have found a better and more natural product in this food grade Diatomaceous Earth than what I was using last year. Anything that I can find to help raising over 50 chickens an easier task is a great product in my opinion.
If you are a beginner like me, the coop tags look like a bunch of abbreviations that mean nothing. And without the help of others it is hard to understand what the different items mean. Pictured here is a coop tag from my Dark Brahma hen’s cage:
I will start at the top: The variety means the coloring of the bird of a specific breed and in this case I had a dark brahma. If I was showing a light brahma the variety would be light (hopefully you get what I mean).
Breed is self-explanatory. My poultry breed of choice was Brahma (gotta love those feather-legs!).
Next it marks the sex by age. A Cock is a rooster over 1 year old; a hen is a pullet over 1 year old; a cockerel is a male chicken under one year old, and a pullet is a female chicken under one year old. The hen I was showing was over 2 years old.
Next is the judging box. When being judged they put checkmarks in the upper left corner (I’m not positive what it means so won’t go there). After checking off they rate the birds in the competition by number, such as 1 thru 5. This girl got #1.
Being she got number one that means she is best in something. In this case she got: BV-Best Variety (meaning coloring, her looks); BB-Best Breed (meaning best of this breed); and then they wrote Best Asiatic (this is a big deal). This means she won top of the Asiatic Class. The Asiatic Class includes Brahmas, Cochins, and Langshans (all feather legs). With the Best Asiatic winning this put her on champion row! (The 16 on the card was my breeder registration number).
All this info was alot to take in yesterday but I finally got it all figured out today. A few fellow Brahma breeders helped to educate me on the different markings and also what I should be doing for future poultry shows.
Yesterday with this being my first show and the temperatures extraordinarily cold (freezing is more like it), I had my doubts whether I would be showing after this attempt. My chicken friend, Shannon, made it to the show yesterday before I got there and she called me and said, “I don’t get it!” I remember thinking the same thing last year. But I think we both begin to see what all the hub-bub was about when we were one isle over watching the judges judging my chickens.
Shannon called it stalking the judges (which you are not supposed to do) and I was just tired of waiting on them to judge since they waited until after lunch to judge the Asiatics. We were peaking through the cages trying to figure out what all the scribbles meant when we saw that my hen got BB and BV. I knew this was good but then the judge came back and wrote something else that we couldn’t read so I wasn’t sure to be glad or not. Once I found it was best of the class I knew what this thing called showing chickens was all about. It’s about winning and thinking you got a good bird!
Here she is in all her glory. If you will note she not only won Best of her breed but she also won Reserve Large Fowl Grand Champion! This means she came in 2nd, right after the Grand Champion. I am now looking at this chicken/hen in a totally different light. :). Just so you know, in this show if you make it to Champion Row there is a little money involved; especially for the Grand Champions. So she brought home the bacon (or chicken feed today).
I bought this hen from Susan Nicolas in Dunnellon, FL, and she was a competitor in the same show. She was as thrilled as me to see one of her previous birds do so well. I received two plaques and a cash winning of $70.00! Fowl Visions Poultry is honored to have such a bird.
On my way out, someone from Georgia handed me information about an upcoming show in Newnan, GA in February. Will it be warm enough? Will Alan Jackson be there? I’m considering going but I will definitely go if Allan will show up!
We are loading and heading to the poultry show today. With the temperatures being below freezing everyday I hesitate to do any of the primping stuff, like giving baths, to my birds. I read where a few of my online friends were keeping their show birds in their house after the bath. I just don’t have the room.
I’m looking at this trip as a learning experience. Since never having shown everything I do for the next three days will be an education.
Wish me luck! I’ll report in with my findings when I return.