Municipalities might outright prohibit the keeping of chickens and other poultry, prohibit the keeping of roosters, limit the number of birds that can be kept, or require permits or licenses to keep poultry. City ordinances might also regulate the building and management of coops and other housing structures, and local building codes should be consulted before any construction. See Factsheet #30, Urban Livestock, for information about city ordinances pertaining to keeping chickens and other animals.
Where it is lawful to keep chickens or other poultry, it is often still illegal to cause “nuisance conditions” that might people might find objectionable, such as excessive noise or odors. Urban farmers should take care to prevent these conditions by selecting quieter breeds and properly managing coops and other housing structures.
Chickens in Urban Environments
Keeping chickens, and hens in particular, is an easy step toward developing an urban farming enterprise. An urban flock is relatively quiet, requires less space than other livestock, does not produce strong odors if properly cared for, does not require breeding for production, and does not demand significant labor, financial or other inputs. Urban farmers benefit from outputs including meat or eggs, as well as a rich source of fertilizer. Raising chickens in urban environments does, however, necessitate special considerations.
Poultry are a prey species for many animals prominent in cities, such as cats, dogs, raccoons, and rats. As such, coops and housing should be secure and birds should only be allowed to “free-range” in areas that are properly penned/fenced. Chicken feed should be stored securely in sealed, metal containers to avoid attracting rodents.
Noise and Odors
Chickens, and roosters in particular, can be noisy and their manure can create strong odors, both of which might constitute “nuisance conditions” illegal by law and disruptive to neighbors. Urban farmers raising chickens should opt for quieter breeds and not keep roosters, the latter of which are often prohibited by city ordinances. Urban farmers should ensure that coops and housing structures are well ventilated to remove the ammonia generated by their manure, and are cleaned regularly. Animal waste should be used or composted promptly and properly.
Good City Breeds
Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal, authors of The Essential Urban Farmer (Penguin Books, 2011), recommend raising Australorp, Black Star, Rhode Island Red, Araucuna, and Cochin breeds in urban environments because of their quiet natures, high productivity, and smaller space requirements. State extension offices around the country also offer advice on raising chickens in urban and suburban areas, as in this resource from North Carolina Cooperative Extension: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/poulsci/tech_manuals/Backyard_Chickens.pdf.
Resources for Raising Urban Chickens
Chicken Keeping Classes and Organizational Resources
Just Food, a non-profit organization in New York City working to connect communities with local farms and providing several services to urban farmers, created the City Chicken Project as part of the City Farms Program. The Project is currently working with experienced urban chicken keepers in the City to create model projects for educational purposes. Just Food also provides the City Chicken Guide, available for purchase on their website, and hosts the City Chicken Meet-Up Group (http://www.meetup.com/Just-Food-City-Chicken-Meetup-NYC/). For more information, visit http://www.justfood.org/ or contact or (212) 645-9880 ext. 229.
Bk Farmyards is a coalition of urban farmers in Brooklyn that manages two acres of urban farmyard spread across several sites and that provides consultation and various educational opportunities for those interested in urban farming. These opportunities include The Chicken Farm at their Imani Garden, which serves as a training ground for apprenticeships in urban chicken keeping.
BK Farmyards also holds free City Chicken workshops every second Tuesday of the month from April through October, in conjunction with the Just Food City Chickens Project. For more information, visit http://bkfarmyards.blogspot.com/ or email .
Urban Chicken Keeping Books and Websites
The following books and websites provide helpful information about raising chickens in urban environments:
- Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Space by Barbara Kilarski, Storey Publishing, LLC, 2003
- A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store’s Guide to Chicken Keeping by Robert and Hannah Litt, Ten Speed Press, 2011
- City Chicks: Keeping Micro-Flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-Recyclers, and Local Food Producers by Patricia L. Foreman, Good Earth Publications, Inc., 2010
- “Urban Chickens” (http://urbanchickens.org/) is a website filled with information on keeping backyard chickens in urban and suburban environments
- “Sustainable Poultry” (https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/poultry/) is an educational site sponsored by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) featuring information on various topics pertaining to keeping chickens, including raising urban poultry.
Urban Chicken Coops
Chicken coops and housing structures in cities must not only abide by various municipal ordinances, but must also often be adapted to small, urban yards. Below are some companies specializing in urban chicken coops and structures.
- The Garden Coop provides affordable do-it-yourself designs for backyard chicken coops, available for purchase and download on their website at http://www.thegardencoop.com/.
- uBuilder Plans, a company out of Missouri, sells “City Biddy Building Plans” for “City Biddy Chicken Coops,” designed for urban and suburban environments. For more information, visit http://www.ubuilderplans.com/?q=node/5.
- Victory Chicken is a company serving chicken keepers in New York City and offering chicken coops and other supplies, as well as a “starter” package that includes delivery and installation of a coop, three young birds, and two months of feed and supplies. For more information, visit http://www.victorychickenco.com/ or contact or (347) 803-0777.
- Online magazines including Mother Earth News (motherearthnews.com) Rodale’s Organic Life (www.rodalesorganiclife.com) and Modern Farmer (www.modernfarmer.com) and website www.backyardchickens.com are all full of resources for the urban chicken farmer.
Cities often prohibit the keeping of pigeons, ducks, geese and other migratory birds. Additionally, poultry such as ducks and turkeys can be noisier than chickens, and might be more likely to create nuisance conditions. Be sure to consult your city’s ordinances, and to check with neighbors, before embarking on any poultry-keeping project.
If considering raising poultry other than chickens, start by talking with other area farmers already raising flocks, or consult with local farming organizations. Additionally, urban farming books such as The Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal (Penguin Books, 2011) provide general information about raising different urban poultry.