In the midst of the Great Recession in 2009, the New York Times noticed a surprising pattern among extremely thrifty city dwellers.
Americans are attempting to prepare for what they anticipate will be even tougher times as they endure the current economic downturn. They’ve reduced their takeout consumption. They prefer to spend their time off in more familiar surroundings. When William Neumann, a reporter, asked them why they hadn’t gotten new automobiles yet, they said they were waiting.
He said wryly: “And some grow hens.”
Even if the economy has improved greatly since Neumann’s visit to the bustling Brooklyn poultry scene, backyard chicken farming is more popular than ever. And it’s no longer just found in desolate farmsteads or exclusive city neighborhoods. People from all walks of life and walks of life are choosing to raise chickens on a small scale at home for a variety of reasons.
What’s stopping you? The ability to raise hens at home is within reach for anybody who is interested in doing so for any number of reasons, including but not limited to the promise of an unlimited supply of fresh (and free) eggs.
If you have a large enough family and eat a lot of eggs, switching from store-bought to fresh, home-grown eggs can save you $100 or more annually. What follows are the steps you should take to ensure success.
Can You Raise Chickens Legally on Your Property? How to Discover
Check local ordinances to be sure you can keep hens before you do anything else. You wouldn’t want to invest hundreds of dollars and many hours into your family just to find out that you’ve broken the law.
Check Your City’s Chicken Ordinance
In most cases, you can keep hens on your land if you reside in a rural location that is not part of a municipality. There may be limits on brood size, enclosure layout, waste mitigation, and other elements of small-scale poultry farming, therefore it’s important to check with the county government.
Most localities have ordinances that either permit or forbid keeping chickens and other fowl inside city borders. The majority of the time, all that is required is a quick Google search to locate accurate, recently-updated code documentation. If you’re looking for local government information online, double check that you’re not accessing a fake or out-of-date portal created by a hobbyist.
I must adhere to the Minneapolis Municipal Code when it comes to keeping chickens because that is where I now reside. The adjacent suburb of Maplewood, Minnesota has a Chicken Ordinance that must be followed by all residents. Take note of their parallels and contrasts, such as how Maplewood limits brood sizes to 10, and bans roosters altogether, whereas Minneapolis limits them to 30, and permits roosters for an extra cost.
Municipal Chicken Ordinance Components – Common Rules and Regulations
The details of most local laws regarding chickens are standard fare. Look for the following standard clauses, requirements, and restrictions in yours:
- The brood size of a backyard chicken farm must be kept in check. In most urban areas, keeping more than a few dozen chickens is prohibited. Commercial permits are required for farms of a certain size, which means more paperwork and financial outlay.
- Many people who keep chickens as a pastime actually refer to hens as roosters. Noisy and aggressive roosters are not popular with municipal officials. (During the summer, a renegade rooster in our former neighborhood would crow as early as 5 a.m., serving as an alternative outdoor alarm clock.) The same holds true here; if your city doesn’t outright ban them, it will likely keep a tighter eye on them and charge more for licenses.
- The location of chicken coops and runs on a property is subject to several restrictions imposed by local legislation (outdoor enclosures). Chicken coops and other chicken-related structures must be located in a low-visibility side or back yard, far from property lines and adjoining structures (five feet from the property line in Maplewood and 20 feet from “residential use” buildings other than your own house in Minneapolis).
- Coops and runs must be of sufficient size to house your flock humanely and safely. Each chicken kept in a coop in Minneapolis must have access to at least four square feet of interior area. Chickens need at least 10 square feet of outside area in their pens. More specifics, such as how much space must be left between levels of a multi-story coop, may be outlined in your local code about what constitutes an acceptable size and layout for enclosures, runs, and exercise yards.
- Live chicken killing is often prohibited by local legislation for concerns of public health, however there may be exceptions for legitimate religious or cultural activities. If there is no mention of this in your local law, you could inquire with your city’s animal control department. Licensed butchers are glad to fill the void when slaughter is forbidden on private land.
- Chickens have a lifespan of 10–12 years, depending on breed, and can produce eggs for approximately half that time before they need to be discarded. Things must inevitably end, even the nice ones. Most chicken laws include specific guidelines for when and where birds that have died must be disposed of. It’s a good idea to double-check local regulations before deciding to bury them on your property or toss them away in the garbage.
- In order to qualify for a residential poultry permit, applicants may be required to take and pass a certification course. These classes are typically provided by the municipal governments itself or by nearby colleges, and they are either available online or in the evenings.
- Use for Commercial Purposes and Obtaining a Permit To Do So Most local poultry regulations ban using chickens for commercial purposes unless special authorization is granted by the local authorities. One must acquire a special business license and go through the necessary hoops if one intends to sell eggs or begin a breeding enterprise.
- To comply with local regulations, submit a site plan showing the proposed location of your coop and run, as well as its interior layout and measurements. These plans are subject to scrutiny and revision requests from city planners before they can be used as the foundation for the city’s routine inspections.
- In order to comply with the majority of local laws, it is usually necessary to give notice to nearby residents. It is a requirement in Minneapolis that all applicants provide proof of having alerted their near neighbors (adjacent and behind). If you want to raise a brood of six hens or more, you’ll need the written permission of 80 percent of your neighbors within a hundred feet.
- Costs and Renewal: The typical duration of a permit to keep chickens at home is two years. A one-time application cost and periodic, discounted renewal fees are typical. Successful inspection and timely payment are prerequisites for renewal. Fees, both one-time and ongoing, might change depending on the number of children in the family. Roosters are an added expense; in Minneapolis, for instance, there is a one-time payment of $100.
Supplies and Costs for Raising Chickens on Your Property
These are some of the most typical things you’ll need to get started with chicken farming at home.
DIY chicken coops are the most cost-effective option for any aspiring backyard poultry farmer.
The work involved is something that any relatively handy householder should be able to handle. Most do-it-yourselfers get stuck in the pre-construction planning phase because they forget about things like ventilation, natural lighting, hiding places, trash disposal, and so on.
Get a free chicken coop blueprint in PDF format from somewhere reliable, like HGTV, before you start building. The Internet is rife with thousands upon thousands of different coop plans. Don’t believe anyone who says you have to pay extra for a “good” diagram.
A do-it-yourself chicken coop can cost as little as $30 or as much as $100 or more, depending on the materials you choose and your design choices.
That total doesn’t include the price of materials needed to complete the task. If you need to cut wood on-site but don’t have a table saw, for example, you’ll either have to hire one from a hardware shop for $30 a day or find the nearest tool lending library, if one exists in your region.
Another option is to sell your time for money and buy a prefabricated coop. Prices for used chicken coops often begin around $50. Prices for brand new coops range from roughly $150 for a small, simple one to $1,000 or more for a large, elaborate one.
Get a portable coop that facilitates spreading the “love” (litter) from your hens to your yard and garden, or at least attach a plastic tray under the coop for simple removal and cleaning.
In reality, hens spend the vast majority of their waking hours in runs, which are outside enclosures built with metal or wooden posts, chicken wire, hardware cloth, and zip ties.
While runs aren’t elegant and don’t provide any sort of shelter, they do their job of keeping hens in a contained area that’s safe from most predators (more on that below). If you need a primer on building a chicken run, check out The Prairie Homestead.
Keep in mind the above-mentioned minimum exterior enclosure space per chicken required by most towns when designing your run. If you buy everything you need, the project will cost at least $30, whereas if you make do with what you already have around the house, it will cost you next to nothing. Mulch has to be replaced at regular intervals in your run.
Predator and Theft Protection
If you’ll pardon the muddled metaphor, free-range chickens are easy prey. Installing chicken wire or finer mesh screens over the coop’s windows and doors will deter predatory creatures and birds of prey from gaining access. Raccoons are expert egg robbers, so make sure these covers are thin enough to deter little paws and claws. More chicken wire should be used to secure the whole line, both above and below ground.
Chicken coops should include nesting boxes for the chickens to use when they are mature enough to deposit eggs. There are larger alternatives, but typically a multi-hen box can hold at least four hens. Pre-built, high-quality four-nesters may be purchased for at least $100.
Making your own nesting box is a simple task for any capable farmer (particularly those who have constructed their own coops) and will only set you back about $10 to $20 in materials. If you like do-it-yourself projects, HGTV offers a helpful tutorial for you.
A brooder is a customized enclosure used to house and care for newborn chicks during the first six weeks of their lives. The typical price for a new brooder is between $75 and $100. For at least $20, you can get a heat light. Both are reusable for future clutches.
Most people sleep on straw since it’s inexpensive and readily available. You may count on spending $5 to $10 each hay bale. Pine shavings cost somewhat extra and create a major sloppy mess. They are adhesive (to feathers).
The quantity and type of bedding you need for your chickens will be determined by several factors, including the number of birds you have, how well your coop vents, and how nosey your neighbors are.
Watering and Feeding Equipment
Chickens, unlike common pets, have no regular mealtimes. They consume food at a very constant rate.
In order to reduce the amount of time and effort spent making sure your chicks have enough to eat and drink, you should invest in automatic feeders and waterers. Low-end equipment may be bought for as low as $10. High-end gadgets can cost as much as $40 or $50 and provide expanded bird capacity in addition to further customization possibilities.
Backyard Chickens offers several suggestions for constructing your own tools using free or inexpensive materials.
For a single adult hen, a 50-pound bag of standard feed will last around four months, but for four adults, it would last about a month. If you have a larger flock, you’ll need to split them off. During their first two months of life, chicks weigh around 10 pounds less than they did when they were born.
Non-organic feed may cost $15–$20 per bag, whereas organic feed may cost $35–$45. A bag of a higher quality mix may cost as much as $50.
Your hens will gobble up bugs, earthworms, and plant stuff like it’s their job if you let them free range of your yard and feed them scraps from the table.
Make a Chicken House – Setup Instructions
These are the fundamental steps for constructing your aviaries, getting chicks, and rearing them in a responsible manner.
- Prepare for a Family. Make a decision on the size of your intended family. For hobbyists, a family of four is the norm. More than that, and you’ll have a hard time keeping up with the egg production, while less than that, and your coop and nesting boxes would likely be overrun with unused space. When it comes to selling eggs professionally or giving them as gifts to friends and family, larger is better.
- Take Stock of Your Premises. Check the limits of your land. Chicken setback, size, and placement regulations may be found in the municipal ordinance. Make sure the dimensions of the coop and run adhere to the regulations in your area. Before you start buying or building, you should settle on a location and a size for the complete system.
- Join a Coop or Pick a Co-op. Check out the HGTV link up there, or conduct some independent research to discover a coop design that suits your needs if you’re pursuing the do-it-yourself way. Choose a make and model of coop, whether you’re shopping for new or old. Repeat this with your run.
- Achieve Legitimacy. Get in touch with the local authorities and submit your site and coop plans along with any necessary applications and costs. Stop construction until you’re given the go-ahead.
- Get Your Coop Up and Running! When building your chicken cages, be sure to strictly adhere to your coop plan or the manufacturer’s guidelines. You should seek the assistance of a local professional or fellow enthusiast if you discover that the work involved in your intended DIY project will be too challenging or time-consuming to handle on your own. Don’t be afraid to seek advice from local backyard chicken enthusiasts on social media or search engines anytime you run into problems.
- Get the basic necessities for your family. Get ready for your brood by stocking up on a brooder, nesting box(es), heat lamp(s), heat source(s), food, bedding, feeding, and watering equipment. Designate a location for the long-term storing of consumables like feed and bedding.
- Establish a Brooder and Nesting Boxes. Set up your brooder, nesting boxes, or both according to a do-it-yourself diagram or manufacturer’s directions. Brooder time is of the essence for hand-rearing chicks. A heat light should not be overlooked.
Prepare the watering and feeding stations and test them out. Ready the means of sustenance and hydration. Verify that everything is functioning as it should.
- Invest in Some Chickens. If you’ve never bought a chicken before, educate yourself on the market. Twenty of the most common chicken breeds are outlined in this introduction from Backyard Chicken Coops. Many others exist. Although consulting a knowledgeable employee at your local farm supply store is the best way to narrow down your selections, you should prioritize finding a breed that has a solid reputation for egg production, hardiness, and even temperament.
- Regularly Scrub the Eggs and skip town. Make a plan to clean the coop and run regularly. Plastic trays to capture droppings and large apertures for sweeping are common features of well-designed coops that allow for easy outside cleaning. Put on a mask to protect your lungs from the noxious fumes and particles that may be present. Never forget to remove eggs everyday. Bedding should be replaced as needed; if it means keeping your neighbors pleased and your hens healthy, a few additional bucks a month for more straw or shavings is worth it.
- Maintain a contented and fruitful household. Although you can’t make your hens lay eggs, you may encourage them to do so. Hens require clean water, a protein-rich diet (any commercially available feed should suffice), a safe place to roost at night, a private, dark, and quiet place to lay their eggs, a clean environment with good ventilation and a comfortable temperature throughout the year. Most hen breeds may continue to produce one egg nearly every day for two or three years if cared for properly. Many of them keep going strong for more than ten years.
Even while chickens are the most frequent backyard livestock, they are not the only profitable critters ideal for small-scale agriculture.
My wife and I used to find great amusement in the fact that the little town she occasionally worked in when we were living in the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had been taken over by an untamed free-range rabbit farm. The rabbits’ owners apparently killed them for food and fur. Who would have guessed that sending a herd of fluffy, speckled rabbits out to bounce around town like mobile Weed-Whackers would be so lucrative?
Meanwhile, in the city where we currently dwell, there is growing legislative support for legalizing backyard goat farming. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that, across the river in St. Paul, goats are already tolerated on private property. Goats are already being used by both municipal governments to control unwanted vegetation in parks. Soon, backyards on our side of the river may also be the source of querulous bleating.
That is to say, if you’re not into farm-fresh eggs but would rather eat rabbit or drink goat milk, there is still hope for you. Plus, perhaps there is still hope for our dysfunctional food system and the increasingly fragile environment of the world if enough of us get on the small-scale animal husbandry bandwagon.