Yes, you can keep chickens in the city! Most municipalities allow you to keep up to three hens in your yard without a permit (no roosters!) but always check your local municipal by-laws to be sure.
Raising backyard chickens is a rewarding experience. Like home-grown vegetables, home-raised chickens put us in touch with our roots, make us more self-sufficient, and provide delicious, healthy food. And chickens are fun! They will give you fresh eggs, do pest control, process your compost and give you hours of entertainment.
- You’ll get hormone- and antibiotic-free eggs almost every day — a source of protein that tastes better and is healthier than store-bought eggs
- You’ll have another excellent use for food scraps (other than straight into the compost bin or worm farm) which generates potent fertilizer (manure) for the garden
- They provide organic pest control of insects in your garden
- They can be very entertaining pets
- Your neighbours may not like the fact that there’s livestock on the other side of the wall
- You have to feed and house them, protect them from pedators every day, even when it’s raining or you are really busy with other things
- When you go out of town you need to find a responsible “chicken sitter”
- Chicken poop smells!
- It can also carry diseases
- You will get dirty cleaning the coop
- Chickens can totally destroy a garden if allowed to run loose for any length of time
Male chickens — roosters — are loud. They crow at all hours and will annoy the neighbours. They can be aggressive too. Raising roosters in an urban environment is not recommended. Many municipalities don’t allow it anyway. Female chickens, called hens, don’t make much noise. They squawk when they get excited but are quieter than most dogs. After a while you will get to know your hen’s verbalizing and be able to tell by her sounds if she is laying an egg, or if she is annoyed that her sister stole her juicy grub.
Need a rooster?
Hens lay eggs, whether or not there is a male around to fertilize the egg. The eggs purchased at the supermarket are unfertilized. Without a rooster, none of your eggs will develop into chicks.
Food and water
You will need to provide your flock of hens with a supply of fresh water. Chickens will knock over or kick dirt into any open container so it’s always best to buy a water fountain especially designed to keep these problems to a minimum. The container will still need to be cleaned every few days. An old dish scrubbing brush kept next to an outdoor tap works well for this purpose.
Chickens will eat just about anything from your kitchen. They love table scraps and will eat almost everything except citrus peels and hard things like bones or peach pits.
Along with table scraps you should have some chicken feed on hand, either mixed mash or pellets, preferably in containers they can’t tip over.
You can also just spread it on the ground (but not when it’s wet outside) in their outdoor area, because chickens really enjoy scratching for their food.
Calcium and grit
For strong egg shells, hens need a source of calcium. You can buy a big bag of crushed oyster shell and throw them a scoop every few days. Hens that get too little calcium will lay thin-shelled eggs that will be prone to breaking. Eggshells are made of calcium carbonate, the same as is found in oyster shells. There’s lots of calcium in greens too, so if they get to forage all day they may not need the oyster shell. You’ll know by how their eggs crack.
Hens that don’t get much access to the outdoors also need hard grit. Unlike oyster shell, grit does not dissolve in their digestive system. They use grit in place of “teeth”.
Quartz-based sand can be spread in their coop if they need it.
Best bug control
Chickens will chase and eat all kinds of insects. They love to scratch for grubs and worms. They’re a great help to the pest control of an organic garden as long as you watch them carefully: they can destroy a bed of vegetables in 30 seconds flat with their scratching!
It doesn’t take much of a fence to keep them out however, especially if they have other enticing areas to explore, and if their wings have been clipped, 1m will be high enough.
Many people don’t realise that chickens can fly. If they don’t have a coop they will often fly up into the safety of nearby trees at night. You can clip their wings to keep them grounded. This is accomplished by spreading one wing and cutting off the very ends (about 10cm) of the feathers. This throws off her balance, so she can’t take off. A fence of around 1m high will then be sufficient to keep your birds confined.
Chickens help compost the organic material coming out of our kitchen by processing it into piles of poop! Chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer for the garden but it must be aged first or it will burn your plants. This is easily accomplished by using a layer of leaves or straw on the ground of their coop.
Every so often rake up all the leaves/straw/poop/loose soil and put it in the compost heap. Then spread more leaves or straw.
Chicken eggs come in a subtle variety of colors and sizes. Hens will begin laying eggs at about six months old. The first two years of their lives will be the most prolific. They lay fewer eggs each following year and live from six to ten years, depending on the breed.
If you don’t plan to eat your birds, consider getting one or two new birds per year, instead of several all at once. Then you can be assured of a constant supply of eggs.
There are many different types of chickens. They have different temperments and purposes. Some are bred for laying, some for meat, some for looks (the ‘fancies’), or a combination.
Do some investigating to determine which you would like to raise. There are even dwarf chickens, called bantams, that may be more appropriate for smaller gardens.