Be proactive, check your local zoning laws and see how they feel about chickens BEFORE YOU GET CHICKENS. Stop by city hall to talk to the zoning folks in person, most of them are quite nice. Most cities allow at least three hens (sometimes more) but most say 'no' to roosters because of pre-dawn crowing. Make sure you follow the law as to how many chickens you can keep and how many feet away from houses and/or buildings the coop needs to be. Don't just check the 'allowed animals' section of the city code, look at the 'noise' ordinances as well--that is where most cities address roosters.

Make sure you are a stickler for keeping the coop, run and feed areas CLEAN. Usually you are OK until it rains, then the rain activates the chicken poop smell. Wet straw in the coop can also stink, so change it after a rain--it'll need to be changed anyway if it gets wet. Keep your feed stored so that it won't attract rodents (the usual two main neighbor concerns are bad smells and that 'chickens attract rats').

Use either the 'deep litter' method of coop litter maintenance or muck out & scrub that sucker out once every week or so. I prefer the deep litter method, it works best for us here in southern California since it's dry and hot more than it's wet, cold and rainy. 'Deep Litter' means that you only muck out the coop 2-4 times a year. Other than that you add fresh straw right on top of the old straw and chicken poop (creating a deep litter), and let Mother Nature and bacteria break down and biodegrade the old stuff as an ongoing process underneath. Little to no smell, yay!

Soundproof your coop if you do keep roosters. Making the sleeping area an enclosed space using wood or other soundproofing materials (nothing the chickens can peck at and ingest, though) can virtually eliminate noise complaints. Roosters may crow during the day a few times, but it is generally lost in the daily background noise, and they are FAR less noisy than a dog. It's that 4:30AM crowing that is the deal killer for neighbors.

Suburban Chickens & Housechickens

Keeping Chickens In The Suburbs

Velvet Sparrow

Ack, Bird Flu!

People do tend to freak out with the Bird Flu panic going on. Mostly because they don't have all of the facts. Educate yourself on the real facts of bird flu and how hard it is to catch in first world nations, and calmly and nicely explain it to any neighbors who have worries. Most bird flu cases have been in developing nations where it is common for families to sleep in the same building or room as their livestock. Be open and honest about it, let them visit your birds and take home some fresh eggs and a molted, pretty feather or two.

Make sure your birds stay in YOUR yard, always. Fence them securely and trim their wings if need be. Your neighbor's prize flowerbeds are like a chicken Disneyland. Not only are chickens little Garden Destructors, there are many plants and compounds that are highly toxic to birds. Police your own yard for toxic plants as well. If you need a list of what is/isn't toxic, Google it or see the 'Health' section of this site.

Someone Has Complained To The City About My Birds!

Ah, the neighbors. Those sourpusses you have to live near, that think that everyone EXCEPT them must follow city codes. As for chicken noise and neighbors--there are several things you can do, and I'd do them ALL, because if a city official gets a complaint and pays you a visit, you can show them everything you are already doing to make sure your birds are not a nuisance or a health hazard. This gives you a better chance at making the issue go away and will make the guy who filed the complaint look like a whiney PITA. Always be friendly, open and honest towards any city officials that come by, being nasty is a sure way to lose. They are required to check out every little piddly complaint, after all. Be proud of your birds and their excellent health & housing. Show off your birds & setup! Be the sweetest thing since maple syrup to that city official, without being smarmy.

Make sure your birds are healthy and beautiful, and keep them housed well with fresh food and water at all times. It's a real plus if your pretty, healthy chickens are also very sweet and tame--if Concerned Neighbor (or Animal Control officer) comes over, you can scoop beautiful Henrietta and stand there petting her while talking to the neighbor...oh, I'm sorry, would you like to hold her? Here you go...oh no, she never bites, she's very sweet... oooohhh, so soft, those feathers...look at the way she looks at me, I think this chicken really likes me! I had no IDEA that chickens were so wonderful...!

Chickens are pretty darned good at winning people over. If someone is looking for an excuse to complain, they may tell officials that you are neglecting or abusing your birds. Therefore, find yourself an avian (bird) vet BEFORE your birds get sick, avoiding the panicked calling around on a Saturday to try and find a vet. Tell the city official about your fantastic vet and make it clear that you not only know how the keep & raise chickens, but that you can and will take them to a vet whenever needed.

In the event that push comes to shove with a particular neighbor, there is one thing you can discuss with them, and it's excellent ammo...the fact that maybe EVERYONE should follow city codes from now on, to the letter. Do they have a junked car in their backyard? Feed 900 stray cats? A teen that blasts music at 11PM? Have ANYTHING remotely anti-code about their homes? I'll bet they do. I'll bet you could spot it, couldn't you, you clever little minx? Be calm, be polite, don't shout or swear. Just be factual and let it be known that this will be the case, and that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Fair is fair, after all and everyone should have a little give.

If you DO get a notice to get rid of your birds, don't panic! To my knowledge, in the United States it is against the law for anyone to come onto your property and just TAKE your birds without notice. If you have done your job ahead of time by creating the optimum chicken paradise in your backyard, have taken all steps to abate any nuisance to neighbors, have followed city codes as to coop placement and been sweet to the city officials who have come out to inspect, you will be in the best position possible. You can then cross each bridge as you come to it, nothing more may come of it beyond the notice. Take one step at a time.

Where To Go For Help And Advice

Several online sites are acting as champions of the backyard chicken flock:

Path To Freedom's page on keeping chickens in an urban setting:


Yahoo Groups 'Urban Chickens' group:


Another site dedicated to advice to urban chicken owners, with tips to help fight city hall:


House Chicken Club, a new site on keeping house chickens:



Some people keep a chicken or two as housepets.  Usually this is done with smaller breeds like tiny bantams.  While there is no reason chickens can’t be kept as housepets, there are obstacles to overcome and  some considerations to take into account.

First of, chickens cannot be potty trained.  They are gonna poop whenever they need to, right where they are.  If you are going to keep one as a housepet, you’ll either have to run around dealing with cleaning up poops, or train your bird to wear a chicken diaper–which is exactly what it sounds like.  I’ve used them on chickens I’ve had to keep in the house that are recovering from illness or injury.  There are several sites online that offer diapers and instructions for how to use them.

You must, of course, follow the directions for training your bird to wear them and keep the removable pads clean, it’s like changing a baby’s diaper.  You also have to remove the diaper on laying hens when it’s time for them to lay an egg.  Most chicken poop is relatively dry and has low odor, but every 7th poop or so comes from an organ called the ceca–and cecal poops are dark, more liquidy, tend to stain carpets and STINK.  I also suspect that they could eat through the bulkhead of a battleship.

Beyond guarding your home against poops, you must provide some chicken-y basic needs and comforts.  Chickens don’t do showers, instead they keep themselves clean and pest-free by dustbathing–they literally hunker down in the dirt and throw it all over themselves.  This goes on for maybe 20 minutes or so, then they’ll get up and maybe shake out a little bit–but most of that dirt they hang onto for a while, trapping it close to their skin to drive out mites and other nasties.  THEN they will shake out and create a huge dust cloud (woe to you if you’ve brought them back indoors before the big shakeout).  So allowing your chicken to dustbathe is vital–without it the exterior parasite population on them can explode and literally weaken your bird to the point of death.

Chickens are foragers, and eat constantly throughout the day.  Being foragers, they will instinctively use their feet to scratch through their food–even if it is simply a nice dish of food you’ve put down for them, no foraging needed.  They can’t help it, and they are gonna make a mess.  The scratching & pecking also keeps their always-growing beaks and claws in trim, and just plain makes them happy.  Give your housechicken daily opportunities to dustbathe, hunt and peck outdoors.  Outdoor time is also the perfect opportunity to remove the diaper and let them air their fannies a bit.  Make sure their outdoor area is free from toxic plants and pesticides.

Here is my friend’s bird, Dixie Lightning, a Sicilian Buttercup housechicken:


Back indoors!

If your housechicken is in lay, she’ll need a nest box of some kind.  Actually you can provide a nest box, but hens are weird and will pick their own special little spot to lay eggs.  It might be on the bookshelf next to your desk, or under the coffee table.  She’ll let you know.

House roosters are going to crow at 4:30AM just like any other rooster.  Usually they’ll crow 3-4 times and then allow you to go back to sleep.

Truth be told, having a full-time, healthy chicken as a housechicken can wear thin and lose it’s luster pretty quick.  They just aren’t cut out for it.  An exception would be a chicken who is disabled, sick or injured in some way that keeps it from being out with the flock or out in the elements.

But sometimes bringing your favorite hen or roo inside for a few minutes to play or get special goodies can be fun…just be careful not to leave the back door open or you may have the whole flock trooping in!

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