A new trend in the back-to-nature/all-natural (or whatever the catch-word of the day is) movement is urban chickens. These chickens are raised in small numbers by city slickers (i.e. urban residents) in their yards, and are typically used as a source of fresh eggs. Not surprisingly, this concept has met with some controversy. Some people are strong supporters of the idea, while others have serious objections. Different jurisdictions have begun passing bylaws regarding urban chickens – some have implemented pilot projects and others don’t allow it at all.

Supporters claim:

  • It’s a cheap, sustainable and "all-natural" source of eggs
  • It allows people to "get back to nature"
  • It’s a more humane way to raise chickens
  • Watching chickens roam around the yard is enjoyable

Opponents counter with:

  • Farm animals should be on farms
  • Chickens smell: Very true, especially in large numbers and/or confined spaces.
  • Chickens are loud: Many places that allow urban chickens ban roosters to decrease problems with crack-of-dawn wake-up calls.
  • Chickens carry infectious diseases: Also true, but the same can be said for any animal. The main concerns with chickens specifically are Salmonella and Campylobacter, which are both bacteria that cause diarrhea. They can be passed in the droppings of healthy chickens and can be on eggs. Common sense practices such as keeping the chickens away from areas where people eat (e.g. the backyard picnic table), proper handling of eggs and good general hygiene should reduce the risks greatly, as long as the number of chickens kept is small. Avian influenza (bird flu) is another concern, although currently it’s not a major issue in North America. Anything that increases contact between birds and people can increase the risk of influenza transmission. If bird flu entered a particular region, urban chickens could be a big problem.
  • Chickens attract undesirable and potentially dangerous wildlife like coyotes, skunks and foxes: That’s certainly a possibility, and might be more of a concern in suburban regions that have ongoing issues with things like coyote attacks.
  • Most people don’t have a clue how to raise chickens: That’s why some animal welfare agencies are opposed to urban chickens. Some humane societies also object because they can end up being the recipients of abandoned chickens, with which they are not equipped to deal and which cannot be easily adopted.

Here are some important points to consider if you’re thinking about getting some urban chickens:

  • Is it legal in your town?
  • Do your neighbours like the idea? A few chickens isn’t worth a neighbourhood spat.
  • Do you know how to take care of chickens? If the answer is no (as for most people), are you willing to learn before you get your first chicken?
  • Do you have a easily accessible source of feed? If you have to drive 100 km to get chicken feed, the project is bound to fail.
  • Do you have any high-risk individuals in the house? This would include the very young, very old and people with weakened immune systems, who are more prone to developing disease if exposed to infectious agents.  These individuals should not be exposed to chickens.
  • Are you in for the long term?  Commercial layer hens are generally productive for about 12 months, but some chickens can live for years.
  • If you decide to get rid of the chickens, what will you do? Where will they go? Setting them free or dumping them off in the country is not an ehtical option. Adult hens don’t make good roasting chickens, so even if you get them butchered for meat, you’re probably left with stewing chicken at best.
  • Remember that backyard eggs are not necessarily safer than commercial eggs. Consumption of raw eggs and improper handling of eggs are risk factors for diseases like Salmonella, no matter where they come from. Don’t be fooled by the "all natural means safe" myth.