Backyard Chickens Come Home to Roost


Contrary to popular belief, raising chickens does not necessarily mean the owners will produce less expensive, more nutritious, or better-tasting food.

Many people are interested in raising chickens in an urban setting because they want to produce their own food, engage in a family activity, or develop a hobby.

No matter the reason, anyone raising chickens should be aware of common misconceptions, ordinance issues, and general maintenance requirements.

"People have false impressions about raising chickens for their eggs," says Phillip Clauer, senior instructor in animal science and a poultry specialist with Penn State Extension. "By law, poultry producers have never fed antibiotics to laying birds, so that’s not an issue. And small producers cannot produce poultry more efficiently than the commercial industry."

"What the birds are fed determines the nutrient value and taste of the eggs, so small producers can purchase fortified feed if they want, but that is more expensive."

Clauer noted that most people don’t realize chickens need 14-16 hours of light daily to stimulate egg production.

"Once you get below 12 hours of daylight, the birds will stop laying eggs," he says. "You don’t want to feed the birds for four months and not get anything in return."

By adding artificial light with a timer in the early morning hours that turns off at sunrise, the birds will continue to lay eggs through the winter.

Clauer urges residents to be good neighbors when raising chickens in their backyards. Setting coops back from neighboring residents and creating a sight and sound barrier of shrubs or fencing around them will help with acceptance, as will keeping the pens rodent and predator free.

"For neighbors, out of sight is out of mind," Clauer says. "If they don’t have to look at or hear your chickens, it prevents problems."

Some Things to Consider

Before setting up that backyard roost, be sure to do your research.

  • Know your municipal regulations. Backyard chicken coops can be the subject of controversies related to property values, appearance, health issues, odors, noise, and the attraction of unwanted animals.
  • Chickens are safer in a penned area where they are taken care of daily. Birds allowed to range freely in an urban setting are exposed to predation, vehicles, and often have access to dangerous substances they might consume.
  • Protection from weather and predators, ventilation, appropriate space, sufficient lighting, and continuous access to fresh water and feed are critical.
  • Maintain proper conditions in the chicken coop—the environment must be kept dry. Chickens can’t handle cold drafts or moisture, and they’ll get sick if their living space lacks ventilation.
  • Extreme humidity is a problem. If a coop is too “tight,” it traps moisture.
  • You don’t need a rooster for chickens to lay eggs because hens ovulate daily.

Hannah Lane