We already know how awesome it would be to raise chickens in the city and have fresh eggs every morning. There are hundreds of articles about how to do it, how to build coops, how to care for chickens. But i'd like to address the question asked by undecided fowl fans is...... Can I/Should I keep backyard chickens?

Indeed, you can, if you have time to can take care of animals on your property, and follow the city and local government rules. 

This is the City of Pittsburgh municipal code, and all cities that allow backyard chickens list theirs on their city's website:

Section 912.07. B, Urban Agriculture of the Zoning Code, allows for 3 chickens for 2,000 square feet, plus one additional chicken for each additional 1,000 square feet.
No roosters.
Feed must be kept in a rodent-proof container.
Urban chicken farmers must apply for a zoning variance ($300) in compliance with the Urban Farming Ordinance.

Some folks who begin raising chickens end up giving up and taking their birds to shelters when they are overwhelmed by the work, or disillusioned when the chickens stop laying eggs.

It's a sad reality that animal shelters have seen a marked increase in the number of chickens they’re receiving, a fact that many attribute to the "trendiness", rather than practicality, of raising backyard chickens among those who may not know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. And that's just wrong. Rarely does a farmer go to a shelter to scope out chickens for adoption. The end result is the end of the road for these innocent birds.

Shelters already have too much to deal with (e.g., consider the annual dumping of live bunnies and chicks that were given to kids for Easter because they're so darned cute).

The question really becomes... Should you raise backyard chickens?

A lot of this article sounds like I'm anti-backyard chicken raising. Far from the truth. I see the obvious upside, and I think it's a great idea when combined with other self-sufficiency endeavors. But I wanted to know and share the downsides, and that's the reason for the Think About It viewpoint of this article.

Cholesterol warnings aside, the number one reason to raise backyard chickens.... The eggs are really, really good. I used to get mine from an old farmer who went around my rural neighborhood with large, fresh brown eggs offered at 75 cents a dozen. At the time, I was raising my family and baking a lot, so we made quick work of a dozen. I am a city girl, and I was amazed at what a real fresh egg looked and tasted like. The yolks are bright yellow. Eating fresh eggs is a culinary wake-up call. There is that much of a difference between these and supermarket eggs. For this reason alone, you should get your own chickens if you have the room, the patience, the funds, and the desire. Studies show that eggs from free-range chickens are nutritionally superior to conventional store-bought eggs.  Note: Fresh eggs are a little tricky to hard-boil, because they will actually be too fresh.

There are several considerations. Some might not apply to your situation.

My personal, and first consideration, is my hunting/herding/chasing breed of dog. She's an outdoor-living kind of dog - we play and chill outdoors until after dark. She'll somehow make quick work of poultry. A barrier around a coop is just not going to work, she'll somehow find a way into or under the henhouse, and it won't be pretty. I really can't expect her to stay away from such a tasty meal or a fun hunt/chase, or a new backyard squeeze toy. And I will not tie her up. If you have pets, please consider this item  first. You don't want to walk into a silent coop someday or deal with a pile of  bloody feathers in your yard that used to be your chickens.

In the best interests of you and the birds, take a real  look at all that is involved in keeping chickens. I love fresh eggs, and I like doing my part for the cause of self-sufficiency. But I know I won't kill a pet (which really is what chickens will turn out to be) and eat it. And there are plenty of farms and markets where I can get fresh, local, free range, organic eggs. I wanted a reality check that will benefit myself and the birds who would be at my mercy, should I decide to raise fowl for their laying capabilities.

Chickens Can Be Expensive

In Pittsburgh, as in most cities, you will need to provide shelter, food, water, protection from predators and keep rodents away from the feed. Chickens know on their own to go to bed at dusk each night. Different municipalities will have different urban farming rules. Noise and public health ordinances must be followed, and chickens leave it to you to read and follow the rules.

Protect Your Family's Health

Dr. Sherrill Davison, associate professor of Avian Medicine and Pathology at Penn Vet says: "People need to handle poultry safely. While some salmonella can get into eggs, most infections happen when someone is handling their chickens and the birds' fecal matter gets on their hands. They then accidentally ingest it when they touch their mouth". Eeeew, but true.

Chicks and ducks may appear clean to the human eye, but they can still carry salmonella.

Ways flock owners can avoid getting sick:

Always wash hands well with soap and water after handling feathered pets, and keep hands away from the face.

Don't let live poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food is served.

Don't let kids under 5 handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry without adult supervision.

Toss eggs that look dirty or cracked. Don't just rinse them with cold water. 

Refrigerate the eggs after you take them from the coop.

Cook eggs thoroughly.

Families who keep backyard chickens and ducks should also be sure to give their feathered pets regular veterinarian check-ups, just like they would for a family pet.

There was a very funny Britcom in the 70's called "The Good Life". I still watch the reruns. It took place way before the self-sufficiency bandwagon had many passengers, and the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Good,  were considered a few slices of mozzarella short of a pizza.

It was hard work, and some years were a failure in one way or another. They lived in a nice house in a conservative neighborhood in suburbia. The husband quit a lucrative career in "plastics" design and the couple decided to leave the rat race to grow/make/barter all their own stuff. Not farming..... plain old self-sufficiency. Growing their food, selling their excess, bartering, and depending upon the kindness of their well-to-do best friends, who live next door..... to bail them out of one nackyard farming emergency or disaster after another, who don't "get it", but lend a hand when needed, and celebrate their successes. The moral of the show is that it's rewarding and very hard work to give up everything and then gamble on succeeding. And how attached we are to our material and useless "things." But you can do it. They struggled, but they succeeded, for the most part.  And they were definitely smarter and happier.

Today, we have the internet and online information on everything self-sufficiency, handmade, and off-grid. This couple figured out most of it themselves, or through farmers and business-savvy folks. And they took on occasional odd jobs when bills became overdue, and practicality interfered.. The husband, being an engineer, helped a lot with the building of contraptions that did the important backyard farming jobs, albeit in odd ways. Their experience with backyard farm animals was trial and error. Mother Nature doesn't care how hard you worked when she sends you a flooding rain that lasts for days and ruins entire crops. No food for you, never mind having a surplus to sell to pay bills.

Another classic is the movie, "The Egg and I". A story about former city folk living off the land and being self-sufficient, and the comedy and frustrations involved.

Many urban farmers and self-sufficiency practitioners have lots of city rules and regulations to work with when considering keeping laying hens or bees, or selling any foodstuff. I don't want a farming business, but I would like to have a few backyard laying hens someday. I can do that if I follow the city's rules about noise and smells, have adequate and safe housing for animals, and have understanding neighbors.  And a dog that stays indoors.

Running Afowl  - Things That Can Go Wrong

It’s all fun and games until your dog eats one of your chickens.

A few things i've gathered from reading stories about what can go wrong....

It may seem like i'm doing a lot of negative blabbering, when all I am really talking about is the allowance of  3 backyard chickens in Pittsburgh. But it's important, no matter how many and where you decide to raise poultry.

Good advice and almost always free: There is a local chicken-raising expert, so try to find him/her/them. 

There is also a backyard chicken group and agricultural expert in almost every city. Pick their brains. Take all advice, even from "seasoned" chicken people, with a grain of salt. Everyone has some sort of pro-chicken bias.
Before you burn countless hours diagnosing chicken problems by browsing fowl fan groups and self-sufficiency blogs, find a local poultry purveyor and be done with it. Live experience and local eyeballs on the ground will do more for you, and you'll find a new friend and expert you can count on.

Can you keep just one chicken?

A single chicken will not thrive in a solitary existence. Like other social birds, chickens like to eat and forage, peck, scratch, roost and dust-bathe together. Unlike most other birds, they will lay eggs in common nests and often raise chicks communally. It's just not right to have just one chicken, even if you just wanted it for a pet. It's not recommended to keep fewer than three chickens at a time because chickens need a social life. If eggs are what you're after, you can expect a dozen eggs per week for every three chickens.

Chicken Coops

Don't build it, buy it. From what I've read, urban and "gentleman/gentlewoman farmers "are regretting building their own for a lot of different reasons. One of them is that the high quality product made by chicken people is way better at building a coop from the standpoint of the chickens, and more sturdy and efficient than your feeble attempts. And the cost is not too high, the time gained, and the end result, is way worth it. You can get a kit if you still want to do it yourself, or have someone deliver one and place it right where it should be. You can avoid the sudden and costly realization that you are really not very adept at carpentry or building anything, let alone designing a chicken chalet.

Facing Facts - Chances are Good That At Least One of Your Chickens Will Die a Horrible Death or Have to Go To A Home For Aging, Non-Laying Hens.

You will name your chickens. No sense denying it. Once you do that, you will inevitably and eventually mourn the loss of a dearly departed backyard chicken. Whether they departed through an illness, or a dog - yours, or a visitor's - or some predator sneaking into the backyard under cover of darkness.

Hens will only have about two good years of laying before their production declines and they become nothing but pets, and then you have  8-year freeloaders before leave this world. When the cost of feed is greater than the money you save in eggs, then you have to make a decision. Eat it, keep it as a pet, or sell it. Just remember you can experience the whole process all over again by buying new chicks to replace lazy old hens.

Also, just so that you don't get traumatized by not knowing.....Chickens are omnivores. They will eat anything crossing their paths if they need to, and they eat bugs, rodents, and snakes. They will also have no qualms about killing a chick that's injured or slow. Just be prepared for that, and don't blame the chicken.

Chickens Are Dirty and Smelly. And noisy.

Chickens poop everywhere and it accumulates. Yes, you can throw down more straw and even some diatomaceous earth to keep the odor down, but those are just band-aids. And you will have flies as long as your chickens poop, it's a fact of life in the backyard barnyard. The only real solution is cleaning and replacing your straw weekly. And maybe add a few fly traps. Or try to find a chicken p0oper scooper, and toss the poo into your garden as fertilizer. You'll still get flies, though.

They do make a noise before they lay an egg (wouldn't you?) and break into a celebratory clucking  after they have. Different breeds and individual chickens have different levels of vocalizing.

I can attest to the weird noises.
Someone in this neighborhood keeps chickens, and is keeping a loud rooster, which is absolutely against the ordinance. I also believe that the 3 chicken rule isn't being followed, either. The noises don't bother me unless i'm outside in the garden or patio for some downtime, peace and quiet that i've earned, and pay taxes for. Then they certainly do annoy me. A lot. This  cacaphony is coming from a few blocks away. Bear in mind that noise carries, and it carries it to neighbors like me who don't want to hear it. Strange thing for a fan of backyard laying hens to say, but there it is. I'm also not a fan of how some people keep their farm animals and their environment. Not a clean and tidy arrangement, and an eyesore in some urban neighborhoods. You will have to be a good neighbor if you're going to raise animals in your backyard. Most city residences have only a few feet of space between houses. The sound will most likely be annoying to your neighbors.

The big concern most neighbors voice is about rodents. We have urban rats, no big surprise. Where there is food, there will be mice or rats. If you keep your feed stored securely, there really should not be a problem, but keep your eyes open. Using a metal container with a clasp or tight-fitting lid is best, but a plastic bin works well also. Make sure you check the plastic bin frequently for any sign of gnawing on the plastic- rodents can be very determined, and generally eat through almost anything.

Your Family's Health

If you suffer from allergies or respiratory problems, you must think very seriously about keeping birds- chickens, ducks, or otherwise.
The dander and dust created by birds is an allergen, and it can occasionally causes reactions in people. Many people raise chicks inside their house until they are big enough to go outside- the amount of dust created is huge, and anyone suffering from asthma or similar ailments will probably become ill.

Fowl Facts and Rules of The Roost

Chickens Will Not Lay Eggs When You Want Them To.  Sorry.

A chicken will make approximately an egg a day, with or without a rooster. In fact, roosters are not necessary at all to the production of eggs. Besides, people like myself do not want to eat a fertilized egg with that blood spot on it. I like knowing I don't have to have a noisy rooster. Unless he's your only alarm clock, or you're breeding chickens, he's just an unnecessary nuisance.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason when backyard chickens will decide to lay eggs. They may lay every day for a month, then take a break for a few days, then lay every other day. Some chickens just won't do it at all. Make sure they have a good, high protein, whole grain food, water them often, and keep the light on until you go to bed. They seem to need a lot of light. Maybe that’ll work. In winter, put a bright LED light on a timer in the coop. Set it to come on very early in the morning and stay on for 14 to 15 hours a day. This will probably trick your chickens into thinking it’s still summer, and they will continue to lay.

All poultry take a break from laying each year to molt (grow new feathers to replace the old ones). You can expect the first molt at about 18 months of age. In addition, a hen will lay fewer eggs every year.

The real cost of raising backyard chickens - It Ain't (just) Chicken Feed
 - All costs approximate for keeping a few hens.

Egg-laying hens can cost between $20 and $50.

City/local Permit fees: ours is $300

Chicken coop: $500 unless you build it yourself. The coop will be inspected and changes may have to be made.

Fencing (50-foot roll): $29 to $130

Fence posts: $3.29 to $5

Nest box: $13 to $20 each

Pine shavings (8.25 cubic feet): $4.59 to $9

Straw: $5+ per bale

Food: $15/month. You can feed the chickens scraps, and let them forage for their own food. But to make sure they’re getting all the nutrition they need, you’ll likely have to supplement with chicken feed. City pickin's found in a small space just aren't that easy to forage.

Grit: $8 to $9 per 25 pounds

Oyster shell: $12 to $15 per 50 pounds

Vitamins and probiotics: $12 to $20 per 2 pounds of bird.

You’ll also need heat lamps to keep the birds warm in winter.

Chicken-related “extras”: $10/month (This includes things like wood chips, repairs to the coop and water bottles).

This doesn’t include vet bills, which would likely come up at some point. Vet bills range from $25 up to $100.
Miscellaneous costs like medicine, pest control, city applications and permit fees.

If starting your flock from chicks, you’ll have to keep your chicks safe, warm and fed until they’re ready to lay, which can take 6 months or more. Keep in mind that until they are ready to go into their coop, chicks need a protected box or brooder, which should be part of your cost considerations. You’ll also need to provide chick starter feed, chick grit, clean water, and probiotics.

Some Newbie Mistakes:

There are some other little downsides involved in the raising of chickens.

For one thing, your neighbors might not be too thrilled, even if zoning rules allow you to keep chickens. For another, chickens can attract predators and pests. That may add more time and expense if you have to put up protective fencing or enlist the services of an exterminator. Chickens can get lice and mites, intestinal worms and other parasites.

You’ll need to provide care for your little flock every day, and find a chicken-sitter if you travel. Chicken-sitting is a lot different than regular pet-sitting. The fowl have to be let out in the early morning, fed and watered, eggs collected, and in the evening they need to be securely locked in. There are also seasonal chores, and you’ll have to raise replacement layers every 2 years. Expect to spend about an hour each day feeding, watering, gathering eggs, cleaning out the coop, letting the birds out in the morning, and putting them away at night.

If you give your free range hens free reign in your ornamental or veggie garden, they will destroy it. Let there be no doubt about it. They scratch and peck  and dig All Day Long. And they will lay waste to it. Amish gardeners have a spring ritual whereby they seal the bottoms of their garden fences temporarily with boards, to keep the chicks out, and the poultry from scratching and generally running amok in the garden, pecking at heads of lettuce.

Not Having Outside Access to the Coop
Some larger chicken coops allow you to walk inside and collect your eggs, but this can pose some problems. Going into the chicken coop might result in tracking chicken poop all over the house, or intruding on the chickens while they’re looking for an available laying box. Create outside access boxes where you can grab the eggs from the laying boxes without disturbing the chickens.

Don't count your chickens before they hatch. But Count Your Chickens before you lock up
Each night, when you lock your chicken coop, you should count the chickens to make sure they are all in the coop. Even if you only have a few. Usually, the chickens will move inside the hen house when it begins to get dark. But sometimes, you’ll notice that some chickens will try and hide their nests outside of the coop. They will set up a nest in nearby bushes, and instead of moving into the coop, they will move to their nest. Count your birds each night to make sure that you don’t have any unprotected birds in rogue nests.

Chickens Get Bored being cooped up - Give Them Toys
Hang a head of lettuce or some other greens on a rope from the ceiling of the coop so that the birds can reach it. They love to peck away at the head of greens, and it gives them something to do.

Treats and Food
It's recommended that you get specifically poultry feed, and get feed with added protein during the colder seasons. Chickens like fresh and dried worms, white grapes, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, chard, Brussels spouts leaves and cherry tomatoes. When the chickens begin to start laying eggs, they will need more calcium in their diet. Ground oyster shells is a good addition to their diet.

Not Enough Light
Chickens need at least 14 hours of light to continue laying throughout the winter. Put a light on a timer in the coop to come on really early in the morning. By adding supplemental light in the morning, even free range chickens still return to the coop at the same time each night or right before dark.

Getting The Wrong Chickens
If you don't free range and plan to keep your chickens confined, be sure to pick a breed that takes confinement well. Some cooped up chickens will go psycho and cause damage when confined.

Myth: You need a rooster to have eggs.
Au contraire. Save yourself and your neighbors a lot of headaches. Hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster. He is totally unnessary to the production of eggs. His only job is to fertilize for breeding purposes and to make a lot of noise at the crack of dawn.

Using A Bucket for Watering
A chicken can go a few days without feed, but they can’t go very long without water. Many newbies just add a bucket of water into the coop that is tall enough so that the chickens won’t play in it, and is heavy enough not to tip over easily. The problem is that this encourages the birds to jump on top of the bucket and drink straight from the top - making it easier to tip over after a while. Consider using a hanging water source. preventing the birds from sitting on the top.

Building your Coop on the Ground
Having a chicken coop on the ground can allow for foxes or other nocturnal predators to work their way into the house. If there is an underground hole that you don’t know about, you may notice some of your chickens have gone missing. Buy or build a raised chicken coop that sits off the ground. Many people even incorporate removable or swing-away floors that allow for easy access cleaning.

Skipping Spring/Fall Cleaning of the Coop
The coop and surrounding area must be deep-cleaned thoroughly two times a year - fall and spring.  All used bedding is removed and disposed of. Replace with new bedding, etc.

Not cleaning out the Coop every other day
Chicken poop and soiled straw should be cleaned out at least every other day in summer, this helps to keep the coop from smelling.

Not Gathering the Eggs Every Day

Most hens lay about an egg a day, and if you don’t plan on collecting them, they will end up all over the coop, dirty and cracked. Uncollected eggs attract predators and rodents, especially in the winter. Raccoons, snakes, and even barn cats love to eat eggs. So, if you decide to get chickens, make sure you have a daily plan to collect the eggs, and a place to put them.

And now that I've armed you with lots of food for thought, I do hope that in the end, you will decide to raise a few backyard chickens. 



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