If you live in a residential area in Britain, or anywhere around the globe, you may think it’s impossible to keep some chickens without causing issues for the chickens or your neighbors.
Suburban houses often have a small amount of garden space & there is often plenty of space to not only keep chickens, but grow lots of vegetables too. Most people are not aware how much can be achieved in the average British garden.
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There are some basic requirements for keeping chickens, if you do not fit all the criteria it’s not the end of the world, there are usually creative alternatives available out there.
In this article we will cover some key aspects of how you might be able keep some chickens of your own if you live in a suburban area. My experience is in suburban Britain but there is no reason you can’t apply these techniques in other suburban parts of the world.
How much space does a chicken need?
Like any animal a chicken will benefit from being able to get some fresh air and exercise properly. Therefore it is important to consider if you have enough space to keep active & happy chickens.
The chicken coop should allow for a minimum of 2-3 square feet per chicken and at least 3.5 feet high. In the chicken run, they should have around 8-10 feet per chicken.
The law on keeping chickens in the UK
Do I need a licence to keep chickens? Compulsory registration
If you plan to keep more than 50 chickens you will need a Licence to keep them in the UK. For anything under this amount, you do not need to register them unless they are for commercial use.
For the majority of readers however I feel this is not an issue as the numbers will be far less than that.
You can voluntarily register your poultry as pets, APHA will be able to contact you if there’s a disease outbreak (such as bird flu) in your area, you’ll help prevent the spread of disease and protect the national poultry flock
For a full run down on the rules and regulations see the UK government site here.
Is it hard to keep chickens?
There are many of advantages to keeping chickens, like the abundance of free range eggs and the entertainment gained from watching them go about their day. It is also important to note the negatives of keeping an animal. If we don’t consider these too, it can result in a negative experience for you and the chickens!
So, as a heads up here are some of the not so good points about keeping poultry like chickens;
- Added cost: Chickens do come with a maintenance cost
- They can attract rats and mice: or a snack enticer for my cat!
- They require daily maintenance and looking after (..like any pet!)
- Health problems can develop
- Hens can be quite nasty to each other
Keeping chickens in a run
The more ‘free range’ you can keep your chickens the happier they will be. However, if you are keeping them in a run it is important to make sure the run is adequate. Make sure the chicken has enough space, somewhere to scratch and turn over the soil for bugs and other snacks.
Chickens enjoy rooting through a bail of hay or straw, it will keep them thoroughly entertained for hours if not days! My chickens are out everyday in the garden, they really love to pick through old leaves and scratch through the soil. If you can include these elements in your run, you should have happy chickens.
Chicken coops come in many shapes and sizes, from purpose built chicken coops to conversions of sheds, coal sheds, wood stores. As long as there is enough space and it is secure from predators you can convert pretty much anything into a chicken coop.
At the Backyard Farm, we converted a garden shed into a spacious chicken coop with 2 nest boxes. There is enough room in there for another 2 next boxes and 2 more chickens, they maybe introduced at a later date.
There are some things that are essential to a chicken coop and maintaining happy chickens. One of these is a roosting area. This is somewhere the chickens can perch when they are not otherwise engaged. It is a good idea to have at least 2 perches, one higher than the other. Chickens have ‘pecking’ orders and only the top chickens can roost on the top perch.
Nesting boxes are essential for chickens to sleep in and for laying eggs. A nest box should be around square of 12” a side, this will allow a hen to nest comfortably and feel safe. Hay or straw can be used for bedding, there is a long running debate about which is best. Personal preference is key, use which ever you prefer.
To keep chickens content in their nest boxes they should be;
- raised (no less than 18”)
- have at least 1 nest box to every 3-4 hens
Can keeping chickens attract rats?
In short yes, keeping chickens can attract rats and mice. This is not a must though and can be avoided with regular cleaning and common sense. What attracts rats and mice is the food, chicken feed is also great for rodents!
To stop rodents being attracted to your chicken coop, do not leave food out over night and clean the coop out regularly. Rats can carry all manners of pests like fleas and disease, they can also cause stress to your flock which can reduce egg production. The lice, fleas and parasites that they carry can cause long term problems too.
Water sources should be removed or stored securely and food should also be stored in a rodent proof container. If you are like me and have a cat, you already have a natural deterrent and rodent disposal unit. The scent of a cat will put most rodents off & any silly enough to wonder into my backyard will be snapped up by my cat!
Be sure to keep an eye on your eggs every day, removing them when laid. Another big attraction of rodents to your coop is the presence of eggs in the nest. Being a grade A scavenger, a rodent will waste no time in harassing your chicken to take its egg, causing stress and the loss of a tasty meal!
Whats the cost of keeping chickens?
Keeping chickens is not expensive, setting them up can be a little costly but you can equally save a lot of money by being resourceful. An example of this would be using a garden shed as a coop, or up-cycling things like fence panels or other sources of wood to build nest boxes and chicken runs etc…
There is a low monthly cost for food and bedding, for 2-4 hens you are looking around £20 p/m. As the Backyard Farms chickens are free range, the food us really a staple supplement on top of their bugs, a large bag of food lasts for quite a while. Straw or hay for bedding will cost around £10 p/m.
Are chickens expensive to keep?
Time is a cost that should be taken in to consideration when deciding whether or not to keep chickens. It is the bigger out of the 2 investments, they have a relatively low financial cost, but, do require daily maintenance & care. This takes time and is a must when being a responsible Backyard farmer. By investing time, you can save quite a few pennies.
You can keep costs down by:
- Upcycling old wood to build nest boxes and perches
- Feed your flock vegetable scraps and allow them to forage to save on food
- Clean the coop out with white distilled vinegar
- Rescue your flock instead of buying them
Keeping chickens in a residential or suburban area
As you can see it is relatively easy and inexpensive to keep some chickens in residential & suburban Britain. With a little effort you could have some fresh eggs daily and the satisfaction of looking after your flock. If you have the space & some spare time there is no reason you cannot keep chickens. As we have covered, there are no legal requirements for a flock of under 50 birds.
Are chickens noisey?
Hens are not noisy, these are the egg laying females. Cockerels can be noisy and are known to cause issues with neighbors. Unless you are looking to breed chickens, there is no need to have a cockerel in your flock. Male chickens will also fertilize your eggs making them inedible, a bit of a bummer if your keeping chickens for eggs.
Did you know?
The term ‘pecking order’ didn’t come from nowhere . Chickens & other birds have complex social structures that have a hierarchy and a ‘pecking order’ with one chicken at the top.