So you are thinking about keeping chickens. But before you join the ranks of millions of people the world over who keep their own chickens it is worth just taking a little time out to make sure that you have thought this through before you rush headlong into buying yourself your first flock of hens.
Are You Even Allowed to Keep Chickens?
It is tempting to think that you should be able to do pretty much what you like in your own back garden. Of course it is never this simple. In the UK there are no specific legal restrictions on keeping chickens, although if you have over 50 birds you will need to register with DEFRA. However, if you live in a built up area then it would be sensible to contact your local council to check whether are any local byelaws. In the United States things are a little complex with the legislation varying, particularly in built up areas, from one state to another.
If you live in an urban area and intend to keep a cockerel then you should consider that you may fall foul (or indeed fowl!) of nuisance laws, particularly if your neighbours don’t like being woken in the early hours of the morning by the sound of crowing.
Once you have worked out where you stand from a legal point of view you should check that there are no clauses in property deeds (or your tenancy if you are renting) that prohibit you from keeping poultry.
Consider Your Neighbours
Before you start it is sensible to have a discussion with your neighbours about your plan to keep chickens. It is a good idea to reassure them that you will keep them well cleaned out. If your neighbours are in any doubt then the promise of a regular gift of eggs usually helps keep positive relations.
One quick way of irritating your neighbours is to allow your chickens to wander into their garden, so it is a good idea to make sure that you have adequate fencing in place to prevent this. Shortly after I got my chickens they unfortunately found their way through the hedge into next door’s garden, so I had to quickly erect a fence to stop them wandering.
Where to Site Your Chicken Coop
There are a number of considerations when thinking where to actually put your chicken coop. You will need to think about the fact that you will be visiting it at least twice a day, every day, so it will need to be readily accessible. Chickens are not particularly keen on draughts, so if your coop is to be a in a more exposed position it is a good idea to ensure that doors and windows are facing away from prevailing winds.
Ideally your coop should should be placed on concrete to avoid pests burrowing underneath. However, this is not essential.
Free Range or Penned?
Finally, you will need to consider whether you are happy to allow your chickens to wander freely over your garden or do you want to keep them into an enclosed area. Which you choose is likely to depend on how much you value having a neat and tidy garden. Chickens that are allowed to free range are likely scratch about in your flower beds and your vegetable plot. I personally allow mine to wander freely about the garden with the exception of the vegetable plot which is fenced off.
You will find that chickens are normally pretty adept at finding their way over fences, so if you it impractical to have high fencing you could clip their wings to stop them flapping over. The downside of this is that you will have to do this on a regular basis. Also this makes them more vulnerable to attack from foxes as they will find it more difficult to get away.
You will find that just thinking through these issues first will get you off to a solid footing before embarking on your chicken keeping adventure.
For a full guide to keeping chickens I recommend The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit by Jennifer Megyesi which you can buy here if you are in the UK or here if you live in the US.