Are Chickens Right for You?

Raising chickens can be incredibly rewarding. Adding these feathered friends to your farm has a lot of benefits. They can:

  • Provide fantastic fertilizer
  • Control bugs
  • Provide a bounty of eggs and meat
  • Keep you company

It can be intimidating to know where to start. Here you can find answers to many questions you may have including how to get started, providing the best care for your birds, and more.

Two chickens, one looking at an egg

Why Chickens?

chickens outside eating food from hand of person

Backyard chickens are affordable and low-maintenance birds that are also perfect for families with kids. Each chicken has its own personality, just like any household pet. These goofy, cute birds come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Hens are great at keeping your garden insect-free. Your flock can snack on all kinds of worms, beetles, and other insects.

Let your feathered friends run free in your garden and watch them pull out weed stems and stalks with glee. After the chicken has digested the fluff from your growing space, a chicken’s manure can do more than just stink up the place. Collect the manure to use as compost for your garden to thrive.

Aside from chickens being great for insect control and compost in your garden, they can also serve as a food-producing animal.

Layers or egg-producing chickens tend to be smaller and have tougher meat with lower nutritional value than breeds used for meat production. Keep in mind, egg-laying hens don’t produce eggs right away, and eventually, they stop producing them. Until then, enjoy the tasty reward of wholesome, homegrown eggs while raising your backyard chickens.

Breeds that are used for meat production are called “broilers” and are generally larger and muscular than egg layers if you give them a high-protein diet. Expect about 150 eggs produced by meat breeds compared to 250 per year for egg layers.

Chicken Regulations

closeup of roosters face

Chickens are a wonderful addition to your bountiful backyard and a great source for healthy and fresh eggs. Before you buy your chickens, coop, and other accessories, it’s important to know your local ordinances. Local laws regulate how many chickens you can keep, coop designs, distance requirements, and other chicken-keeping activities.

A History of Backyard Chicken Laws

The invention and refinement of the incubator at the turn of the last century gave rise to today’s multibillion-dollar poultry hatchery industry. Backyard chickens became a common sight since they didn’t take up too much space and were affordable. In fact, raising chickens was considered a patriotic duty up until the middle of the 20th century.

After the end of World War II, the government stopped encouraging victory gardens and homesteading activities. As food production became industrialized, families had a fresh and cheap supply of eggs and meat ready in supermarkets. Easier travel and refrigeration methods allowed the commercialization of poultry and the lower price of eggs.

As suburban developments sprang up, restrictions on raising farm animals became more common. In the modern and metropolitan environment of suburbia, raising poultry and livestock was seen as a general nuisance and threat to public health. As the local and sustainable food movement has grown, chicken laws have become more lenient.


Most ordinances on raising urban chickens have certain limits on how many chickens you can have. Some cities and towns have no limits on the number of birds you can raise. Limits vary and generally depend on the size of your property and zoning category. Most rules allow for about three or four hens.

Agriculturally Designated Zones

Consider your city’s zoning laws, which regulates how you can use your property. Find your property’s zoning category online or from your local zoning office or city hall. An agricultural zoning designation permits you to raise hens. Residential and commercial zones, however, are subject to stricter rules.


Generally, roosters aren’t allowed in most backyard coops due to noise ordinances. Most people only keep hens for eggs, which has influenced local laws. Only a select number of towns allow roosters. Some towns may limit you to one or two roosters at most. Others may only let you keep a rooster if he is under a certain age.

Chicken Coop Regulations

Some cities and towns require your chicken coop and coop activities to meet local building guidelines. For instance, most backyard chicken laws require hens to remain in their coop at all times. Essentially, free-range chickens are banned. Other towns may not have any specific rules for raising hens.

In terms of the coop’s structure, most ordinances require your coop to be predator-proof, easily cleaned, well vented, watertight, and big enough to allow your birds free movement. Outdoor enclosures must be fenced to keep chickens on your property. Approved fencing materials include stone, wood, and wire. Fencing height requirements vary by municipality.


Some cities require you to get a permit to raise chickens. Permits may be valid for one, two, or five years. Check your city laws to renew your permit on time. Some permits may require a fee, while others may not, which depends on many factors. Permit requirements may include the submission of coop blueprints, getting approval from neighbors, and attending a required class.

Coop Location

Most city ordinances have distance requirements for your coop. These laws dictate how far your coop needs to be from neighboring houses, property lines, and roads. Most distance requirements apply to the distance of a coop to nearby residences.

Fewer regulations are in place for the distance between coops and property lines. Distance requirements between property lines and coops range from 10 to 90 feet. Distance requirements between coops and neighboring residences range from 20 to 50 feet.


Chicken slaughter rules vary extensively at the local level. Many ordinances prohibit the slaughter of backyard chickens, especially in residential zones. The few ordinances that do allow backyard slaughter, may prohibit outdoor butchering.

Selling Eggs

As your hens start producing an excess of eggs, you’ll naturally want to share them with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Some homeowners may consider selling their surplus eggs. Before setting up your own little egg-selling business, check your local laws. In places that do allow the sale of eggs, you may need a business license and be subject to egg-washing rules.

Nuisance Laws

Most poultry regulations feature nuisance laws that govern noise, odor, and pests associated with raising chickens in cities. For instance, many rats love to live under or close to chicken coops. Additionally, flies gravitate toward chicken droppings. Ordinances may address the disposal of manure and the cleanliness of a coop.

Miscellaneous Considerations

Chicken laws in cities are like a snowflake, no two ordinances are alike. For this reason, it’s important to stay informed about your community’s laws, which can change over time. Unique regulations include rules on where your chicken feed is stored. Some cities require you to store your feed in rodent-proof containers.

Some towns issue chicken permits on a trial basis for varying lengths. Permits may be limited during the trial phase of the program before re-evaluation. Some rules may allot you with additional chickens for larger properties. In some towns, coops may need to be mobile to protect the turf and reduce waste and the spread of disease.

Factors to Consider Before Buying Chickens

Before buying your birds and related equipment, research the local laws that apply to you. Contact your local government including your township hall, city council, or county board of supervisors to find out your poultry regulations. When building your coop, consider your building code guidelines that may be subject to approval from the city planning officers.

Research certain restrictive covenants that may prevent you from raising backyard chickens. Homeowners association rules may include clauses in the property deeds that ban poultry keeping. These rules may simply limit the number of birds you can keep or restrict commercial chicken keeping.

In rented properties, lease restrictions can set a limit on how many pets and birds you can keep in your home. Some towns may regulate their chicken-raising activities to their animal control office or through nuisance ordinances. For all other questions, contact a local attorney who specializes in poultry ordinances for more guidance.

What to Do If It’s Illegal?

If your city or town bans chicken-keeping, don’t attempt to break the law. Not only will that result in confiscation of your birds, hefty fines, and trouble with your neighbors, but you’ll also set back your community’s perception of these laws. Instead, focus on changing policy through a grassroots effort.

Changing the Laws

Unfortunately, not every municipality allows for the raising of backyard chickens. If they did, more homeowners would have access to fresh and healthy eggs and a lovable pet, too. Luckily, many advocates have been successful in changing community ordinances to raise chickens. If you’re interested in making a change, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Research your local ordinances to know what you’re up against. Many rules are vague and require more details. For instance, rules may ban barn animals, but not specifically poultry. Knowing the laws helps you craft laws that work for your community.
  2. Find like-minded individuals online or in-person to create a group to increase your chances of making a change. Social media platforms are an excellent tool for growing your grassroots group and bringing together people with different skills.
  3. Research policies found in nearby towns and draft your chicken ordinance to meet the needs of your own community. If possible, partner up with local nature centers or universities when drafting your proposal. Having support from one of these organizations can give your proposal more credibility to community lawmakers.
  4. Create a simple and short chicken proposal for the city council. A draft can include chicken limits, as well as slaughtering and rooster restrictions. Provisions can be added throughout the revision process.
  5. Reach out to city council members to start a dialogue about backyard chickens. Educating lawmakers and answering their questions in a respectful manner can make them more receptive to your proposed changes for raising chickens.
  6. Present your case to your local lawmakers during city council meetings when public comments are allowed. You may need to go up in front of the city council multiple times to convince them to approve your plan. Changing these laws can take months, but it can be done.

Before starting your homesteading adventure, it’s up to you to stay informed about your community’s chicken-raising rules. Keeping a chicken in the backyard has become more accessible than ever. However, not every town is receptive to these egg-laying barn animals. As more homeowners catch on the trend of raising these fluffy birds, rules will become less restrictive.

Time Requirements

woman feeding group of chickens from bucket

Raising chickens can require a certain amount of time commitment to keep your feathered buds healthy and happy. How much time you spend on your chickens is up to you but here’s what you can expect.

If you’re starting from scratch, it can take some time to build your chicken coop. Ideally, you’d want to build it before you bring your baby chicks home. Depending on the size, and how elaborate you get, chicken coops can be built in a couple of days. You can also buy a pre-built coop to save you time. All you’ll need to do is buy coop essentials like nesting boxes, bedding, feeders, and founts.

Let’s say you have your coop ready and you’re just waiting to get your chickens. Expect to spend about 15 minutes at least in the morning and in the evening to care for your small flock.

For hens that lay eggs, you should check on them and collect them once (sometimes twice) a day, which only takes a few minutes.

Chickens eating from a feeder.

Keep in mind that chickens need a certain amount of light and darkness per day. They are very light-sensitive, so they wake up early when the sun starts to rise. Chickens need about 12 to 14 hours of light and 10 hours of darkness.

Account for the basic cleaning duties you will have to perform about once a week. Cleaning can take about an hour for a small flock and includes activities such as removing manure, cleaning water containers, refilling feed containers, and adding clean bedding materials.

Hens that are stored in different pens due to differences in age can take a bit longer to care for. Expect to spend about 5 to 10 minutes feeding and watering them.

Consider how often you go out of town or on vacation. Chickens need daily tending to, so it is important to plan. Make sure you have a chicken sitter available to help while you are gone.


eggs with money

The costs associated with raising chickens vary depending on the food and water requirements. A 50 lb. bag of feed can run you about $20.  How fast do you use the bag depends on the size of your flock.

Next, you want to investigate the cost of a coop. For example, a 20 x 5 chicken run, and adjoining coop can cost about $300 for materials, not including labor costs. To be safe set aside between $500 and $700 to set up your entire operation.

Some municipalities require people to pay for a permit to raise chickens. Additionally, consider any building permit costs you need for your coop and fencing. If you’d rather save time and cost on building a coop, opt for an already assembled coop sold in Wilco stores.

The chickens, themselves, can be one of the most affordable parts of setting up your own backyard coop. Some areas may sell chicks for just a few dollars per chick. Unsexed chicks are even cheaper, but you risk getting a rooster in the bunch. To avoid the guesswork, pick out your chicks at Wilco where chick sexing is 90% accurate and done by the hatcheries.

Finally, consider the costs of your chicken-raising accessories such as feeders, waterers, perches, or roosts. You could even add some fun ones like swings, sweaters, and boredom busters to keep your chicks happy.

Appropriate Space Beyond the Brooder

backside of chicken outside

The last thing you want is to bring your chicks home and not have enough space for them in your coop. If you want to keep your chicks happy, make sure you have plenty of space in your chicken coop for water and feed containers, nest box, and roosting area.

Consider the type of breed your chicken is to ensure you have the appropriate space. Experts recommend two to three-square feet of floor space inside the coop and between 8 to 10 square feet outdoors for a medium-sized chicken. Of course, you can add more space for a happier free-range chicken. Close quarters can increase disease and feather picking among chickens.

Chickens also need space to spread their wings. Make sure you have a spacious chicken run or a fenced backyard to give them some time under the sun. Fencing prevents your pets and other predators from harming your hens. Weld wire fencing can make a great and affordable option to help with containing your flock and keeping predators out.

How Many Chickens Should I Have in My Flock?

multiple chickens and roosters in pen outside

Some may say, the more the merrier, but ideally, you want to have at least three to six birds. Chickens are just as sociable as humans and require interaction with other chickens to lead a healthy and joyous life.

Raising three to six birds can also give you enough eggs for you and your family. Since the average chicken can lay about two eggs every few days, raising three chickens can provide six eggs every few days.

Consider that hens produce the most amount of eggs during the first couple of years of their life. Older hens won’t be quite as productive, meaning you may have to replace them with younger chickens to keep your supply at the same level.

Coop Capacity

Begin by establishing how much space you need. Estimate about 2 to 3 square feet per chicken and a nest box for every three hens. You can choose between stationary and mobile chicken coops that are pre-built. To complete your coop set-up, you’ll need to get nesting boxes, feeders, and waterers.

If possible, select a spot for your coop on sloping ground to avoid flooding during the rain. Also, add perches or branches in the coop for hens to roost on and give them some variety in sleeping positions.