1) Is It Legal?
Poultry keeping is regulated at the local, state, and federal levels, and if your property is zoned as residential, you should expect certain restrictions. In addition to zoning regulations, you may also run into restrictive covenants — a clause in your home’s deed establishing constraints on how you’re allowed to use your property. If you’re subject to a restrictive covenant (or other homeowners association rules), you’ll need to determine if there are terms surrounding the keeping of chickens.
Don’t forget to speak with your neighbors before bringing chickens onto your property — it’s common courtesy. It’s likely your neighbors will turn into allies if they’re made aware of your chickens beforehand. Plus, you can always sweeten the deal with fresh eggs as a way to thank them for their patience. Keeping your neighbors informed and happy is so much easier than ending up in small claims court should they decide your chickens are a nuisance.
2) Can You Protect Them From Predators?
Depending on what part of the country you call home, any number of predators may pose a problem for your flock. Coyotes, raccoons, foxes, weasels, birds of prey, opossums, skunks, and snakes — even domestic cats and dogs — are all dangers you may face. It’s not an easy job protecting your chickens from the creatures that want to eat them — and it’s also not cheap.
Securing your chicken coop entails quite a few things. First, it needs to be raised two feet off the ground to keep snakes and skunks from lodging beneath it and stealing eggs, chicks, and pullets. You’ll need to cover all openings in the coop (think windows and vents) with hardware cloth. Your Finally, the coop door will need a sturdy, multiple step lock as raccoons are quite capable of unlatching single step locks and turning door handles.
In order to keep your birds in and predators out, the run should be made of welded-wire mesh, electric netting, or other fencing materials with small openings. If your run doesn’t have a roof, cover it with a wire mesh net to protect your flock from birds of prey. Since some predators are absolutely relentless when trying to get to your chickens, you may want to consider adding some electric fencing to your run. A ground wire placed four to six inches from the bottom of your current fence, a wire along the top (to deter climbing predators), and a 5,000 volt charger will work perfectly to keep danger out.
3) Can You Commit to Their Needs?
Keeping a happy, healthy flock requires of substantial investment of both time and money. The costs of food, a coop and run, as well as protection from weather and predators can add up fast. Just like cats and dogs, chickens require periodic veterinary care for vaccinations, illness, and injuries.
They also live outdoors — which means you have to provide dedicated, consistent care, even when temperatures soar or plummet. Rain, snow, and ice can make going outside seem like a nightmare, but you still have to do it. Requiring daily care also means arranging for alternate care when you’re on vacation or away from your home for a long period of time. Expect to do all of this for up to ten years — that’s how long chickens live.
Keeping backyard chickens can be a real joy — but it can also end in heartache if you’re not adequately prepared. Before you take the plunge, be sure to do tons of research, know everything your chickens will need, and consider what’s best for both you and your family. Only then will you be able to make an informed decision.