Chickens are moving to the suburbs; they used to be commonplace, even in more populated areas, but societal changes and regulations kept them out of city limits. However, recent trends of homesteading and self-sufficiency, as well as the popularization of chickens on social media, have led to changes in city rules as people fight for the right to have chickens.
Recently, a band of chicken lovers got Oconomowoc to alter their stance on chickens, and they are now permitted within the city. However, the ownership of chickens is controlled, with various regulations in place. These include aspects like lot dimensions, coop placement, and number of birds permitted.
So, what is up with city chickens? This blog post seeks to provide a simple guide to chickens, from their history, a step by step to getting chickens, and some different types of chickens to consider getting.
Originally from Asia, chickens rapidly became popular across the World, creating a fervent “Hen Fever.” Chickens in America roamed backyards, raised by families, for meat or egg production in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It wasn’t until ideas on how people should interact with animals changed, mainly due to the push for industrialization, that chicken raising also became industrial. Suddenly, farm animals were seen as unclean; many considered raising animals for food production a “lower-class” activity.
Then, in the 1920s, the US Supreme Court upheld the ability and legality of municipalities to regulate land use; this ruling allowed localities to control chicken husbandry. Urban sprawl, after WWII, only cemented the idea that urban and rural practices should be kept separate. This local control, coupled with the low prices of chicken due to industrialization, limited the practice of raising chicken amongst the masses.
However, with the broader acceptance of homesteading and other self-sufficiency practices, many people have decided to bring chickens back to the backyard, to get dozens of fresh eggs or enjoy their feathered friends company.
SETTING UP & RAISING CITY CHICKENS: STEPS
- Research the necessary care for city chickens to ensure that it works with your lifestyle and to be sure that you can provide a good life for them.
- Check that your location & HOA (if you have one) allows for the keeping of chickens.
- Many cities have lot size requirements for chicken keeping, so be sure your lot complies
- Even if your city allows for the keeping of chickens, your HOA may not — so be sure to check your HOA rules if you’re in one.
- File a permit (if required) and pay fee (if one)
- Determine where to put the coop based on proper setbacks and lot size (local codes/ordinance)
- Locate a coop/run that meets the local regulations and your desired specifications
- Be sure to provide a minimum of 1 square foot of floor space per pound of body weight *most hens weigh 4 to 6 lbs*
- Please note that some localities may have specific sqft requirements for coop & run
- Use this chicken coop calculator to help determine the necessary size.
- There are tons of cute coops and runs available online or get crafty and make one of your own.
- Pick your chicken breeds (see the section below) & figure out how you’ll obtain them
- All chickens are different, so be sure that you know how to care for the breeds properly
- You’ll also need to decide how you’ll acquire the chickens.
- If you buy chicks from a hatchery, purchase only pullets — as most cities do not allow roosters (which can be in straight-run batches)
- If you hatch eggs, you’ll also have a high chance of hatching roosters
- You can sometimes buy full grown pullets from breeders or other chicken owners, which is a for sure way to not get a rooster
- Purchase your chicken gear (coop, food, water container, etc.) & set-up
- Check this list out for a first-time chicken owner’s necessities
- Bring home your chickens!
- Bringing home baby chickens for the first time? Don’t fret; check out this blog post to ensure you’re ready for this new journey as a chick parent
Of course, there are some things to consider with city chickens, including . . .
- Predators: Although you may have fewer predators in the city than in the country, you’ll still deal with some. The most common city predators that may harass or kill birds are: raccoons, dogs, rats, hawks, and humans (yes, people have thrown rocks or stolen birds from people’s backyards!).
- No Roosters: Cities do not allow roosters due to the level of noise they produce over hens. As mentioned prior, if you buy straight run from a nursery or hatch your own eggs, you have a good chance of getting a rooster. Even if you order only pullet chicks from a hatchery, there is still a small chance of getting a rooster by mistake. So, be sure to have a contingency plan in place for a rooster, unless you’re buying full-grown hens.
- Neighbors: Not all neighbors will support your poultry keeping, and an anti-chicken neighbor will make it difficult. The best way to handle that is to open up communication and talk through potential concerns with neighbors. If you are close with your neighbors, you can always introduce them to your chickens and share eggs to keep things friendly and get them involved.
- Chickens Won’t Lay Forever: As chickens age, their egg-laying capacity drops, and eventually, they will stop laying entirely. Most breeds are completely done laying by age 5. That leaves you the option of keeping the chickens as just pets or rehoming them, if you want to keep getting fresh eggs from your backyard.
- Commitment: Chickens, like any animal, are a commitment. They’ll need food and water every day, the eggs will need to be collected, and their coop will need to be cleaned. Chickens can live from eight to ten years, so they are not “short-term” pets by any means.
TYPES OF CHICKENS
There are believed to be 100’s of different types of chickens (although only 65 are officially recognized), and each breed has a different purpose. Most breeds are divided into four categories: egg layers, dual-purpose, meat birds, and pet chickens.
Those looking to get city chickens will likely want to nix any meat birds immediately, as most localities will not permit raising meat birds.
Below we’ve highlighted a few egg laying and more pet chicken types, although there are plenty more to choose from. This site or this one here are both great resources for learning more about chicken breeds.
EGG LAYER BREEDS
Leghorns are a smaller breed of chicken and are more flighty and nervous. They are white with large red combs. They are very heat tolerant but may not handle the cold as well. In terms of egg production, you can expect 280 large or extra large white eggs per year or 5 to 6 per week. Due to their flighty nature, they may not be the best bird for a beginner’s flock.
Rhode Island Red
These hens are reddish-brown and very good layers. They are self-sufficient and low maintenance, but can be more aggressive with other chickens than other breeds. In terms of egg production, you can expect 300 large brown eggs per year or around 6 per week. These chickens are great for beginners.
Plymouth Barred Rock
These black and white hens can withstand cold winters and are traditionally easy keepers. In terms of egg production, you can expect 200 medium pale tan eggs per year or 4 to 5 per week. These chickens can lay eggs for ten years (compared to 5 to 8 years for most other breeds).
These chickens come in a few different colors and are quite large. They are very friendly, personal, and cold-hardy. You can expect 200 to 280 eggs per year in terms of egg production.
Easter eggers are a hybrid breed of chicken. Lots of people like them as they lay eggs that can range in colors, from green, blue, olive, and even pink (however, each hen will only lay one color so if you want the rainbow, you’ll need more than one Easter Egger).
These solid black hens are rather large, friendly, and talkative. They are also cold-hardy. In terms of egg production, you can expect 250 large light brown eggs per year or 5 to 6 per week.
PET CHICKEN BREEDS (NOT AS GREAT EGG LAYERS)
Silkies are small chickens with fluffy feathers that almost look more like fur. They are not known for their laying ability, but are very personable and considered great chickens with children. They also come in a variety of colors, including: white, black, blue, gray, partridge chocolate, and so many more (some can be seen in the graphic above)! However, they tend to go broody (wanting to sit on eggs), and then they will not lay. You can expect 3-4 small eggs per week when they are laying.
These birds are fluffy all the way down to their feet. They are sweet, personable, and very friendly. They come in both standard and bantam (smaller chicken) sizes (the bantam size is displayed above). But, like the silkie, they tend to go broody wanting to hatch out chicks; when they are laying eggs, you can expect 3 to 4 medium light brown eggs per week.
People love the look of the polish chicken with their hairdo and many color varieties. However, they are very docile, so they will typically be lower on the pecking order. It’s best to raise them with their coop mates, so they are not too fearful. Their feather poof can sometimes get in the way of their vision, but it can be remedied with a quick trim. They are not great egg layers and will only lay 2 to 3 smallish-medium white eggs.
& SO MANY MORE!
If you’d like a good breakdown of chickens and their stats, from the ability for confinement to heat tolerance, check out this website! They haven’t done every breed yet, but they are working on them.
We’ve only included a few chicken breeds here, but there are many more. Checking out hatcheries or local chicken breeders is the best way to learn about all the different breeds available to you.
OCONOMOWOC REGULATIONS ON CITY CHICKENS
For those who live in Oconomowoc, chicken keeping is under Ordinance 21-0997. You can learn more by accessing the following document: Chicken Keeping Ordinance (Oconomowoc).
Remember that even though Oconomowoc may allow chickens, if you live in an HOA, they may not allow them. Additionally, your lot size many not be able to accommodate them.
Chickens are egg-cellent pets, whether you live in the city or country. If you’re city, HOA, and lot (based on your city’s restrictions) allows for the raising of chickens and you can commit the time, money, and energy to them, then you should certainly consider adding some poultry friends to your yard!