Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky

Example of urban poultry house
A backyard flock of three Buff Orpington laying hens. (Image by Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky).

The terms urban poultry, backyard poultry, and city chickens, all refer to flocks kept on residential lots. Keeping chickens in urban areas is becoming increasingly popular in the United States and other parts of the world. Many families keep small numbers of chickens as a source of eggs, as part of the local-food movement.

Some cities allow chickens, but many do not. Many cities do not allow roosters or the butchering of animals. Even where city ordinances may allow the keeping of chickens, many home owners associations do not. So make sure you check the rules before getting a flock of backyard chickens. Most of the cities that allow chickens, prohibit them from leaving your property. Chickens can do considerable damage to the landscaping of your neighbors yards. Regulations usually require that poultry housing be kept clean and free of bad odors, and requiring the proper disposal of poultry waster. Composting poultry wastes, as well as dead birds, controls odors and provides an excellent fertilizer for your gardens.

For those cities that have ordinances prohibiting chickens, there are many groups that have succeeded in getting the ordinances change. Hiding chickens in areas where they are not allowed can cause problems. If you hide chickens and they are discovered, you may have to pay a fine and your birds may be confiscated. In addition, hiding chickens can adversely affect efforts of others to make the keeping of chickens legal in your area.

Keeping chickens in your backyard is a good way of producing fresh eggs for the family, but do not expect it to be most cost-effective than purchasing eggs from the grocery store. Hens require a balanced diet in order to keep producing eggs, and you must supply them with a quality chicken feed designed for laying hens. Most vets will not treat chickens or other types of poultry should you encounter a health problem with your small flock. Like humans, chickens are omnivores, so they will eat a lot of food scraps. They cannot, however, satisfy all their nutritional needs this way. Hens to do not lay eggs for ever. If your chickens become family pets, you will need to keep feeding them even after they have stopped laying.

If your hens produce more eggs than you can use, consider sharing them with neighbors as part of a ‘good neighbor’ program. It may reduce the number of complaints you get about your chickens. Whether your family eats the eggs, or you share them with neighbors, it is important to follow egg-handling guidelines for proper food safety. Hens should be provided with clean nest boxes. You can clean moderately dirty eggs buy running warm water over them and removing the adhering material. You should not eat, serve, or give away excessively dirty eggs. Eggs should be collected frequently, cleaned, and then stored in the refrigerator (below 40°F) as soon as possible after collection. It is best to store eggs, even store-bought eggs, on an inside shelf in the refrigerator rather than on a shelf in the door. The opening and closing of the refrigerator door can cause the temperature of the eggs to rise above 40°F, leading to a food-safety issue.


Poultry in urban areas (University of Wisconsin)

Raising fowl in urban areas (The Pennsylvania State University)

Keeping garden chickens in North Carolina (North Carolina State University)

Urban poultry (University of Kentucky)

Considerations in raising small backyard flocks of poultry in population-dense communities (Utah State University)

Establishing a backyard poultry flock (Iowa State University)

Raising chickens in urban environments (Oregon State University)