We’ve never heard any meaningful reasons against keeping a small flock of pet backyard chickens. Objections to urban and suburban chicken keeping usually spring from basic ignorance or a lack of education about chickens, and occasionally just a plain lack of common sense. Below are the basic objections you will hear... and as you will see, they don’t represent a single meaningful reason to make keeping a small flock of chickens illegal.
1. “Chickens are smelly!”
Chickens don’t smell bad any more than other pets do. A properly clean chicken coop has no objectionable odors. While it’s certainly true that if your chicken coop is seldom or never cleaned, it will begin to smell, the same is true of a cat box that is never cleaned, or a dog kennel that is never cleaned. There are laws against animal cruelty, animal neglect, animal abuse, and so on that apply to all pets. The bottom line is that responsible people give their pets proper care and provide them with a clean environment.
Chalk this argument up to a lack of common sense. Chickens are no different from other pets in this regard.
2. “Laying hens are loud!”
The truth is that a flock of laying hens is actually quiet, far quieter than dogs are. A hen will cackle or squawk when she lays an egg. That occurs once a day---or less, depending on the breed and age of the hen, as well as the season.
Eggs laid by hens raised on pasture have 67% more vitamin A, 200% more Omega-3s, 300% more Vitamin E, 700% more Beta carotene... and 33% LESS cholesterol and 25% LESS saturated fat.
The noise level for the squawk after egg laying is up to 70 decibels at its very loudest, or about the same volume as a normal conversation between two people... and in the same range of noise volume made be an air conditioner, a washer, or a flushed toilet. That’s as loud as they get. Lawn mowers and barking dogs register at around 90 -100 decibels, much louder than a few hens. And roosters can be loud, sure--about as loud as a barking dog--but roosters are not required for egg production.
The noise argument is based on basic ignorance about chickens and biology. Many uneducated people think they will hear crowing if their neighbors keep hens for eggs, because they think a rooster is required for egg production... but he’s not. Human women ovulate regardless of whether a male is around or not, and so does a hen. Remember, roosters are only required if you want your hen’s eggs to be fertile!
3. “Chicken flocks produce a lot of poop and waste!”
Very little solid waste is produced by chickens, and what IS produced can be composted to make great fertilizer.
By way of comparison, an average dog will produce around a pound of poop in a day, whereas a flock of four hens will only produce less than half that, about 1.5 ounces of waste per hen. Four chickens produce less waste than a medium house cat, too. Plus, composted chicken manure can eventually be used for your garden (another reason why people who have hobbies like gardening are often interested in keeping chickens, and vice versa).
Normally you don’t compost dog or cat poo, since manure is more nutritious for plants if it has been produced by animals that get most of their nutrition from plants (including cows, sheep, goats, horses... and chickens).
The worry about chickens producing too much poop comes a lack of common sense--forgetting that ALL pets produce waste--paired with ignorance that small flocks of chickens actually produce less waste than most other single pets.
4. “Chickens will attract wild animals to my neighborhood!”
Don’t be silly! Presuming you keep everything clean and tidy with your pet chickens just as you would when keeping a pet cat or dog, raising chickens doesn’t make rodents or other pests magically appear from thin air. While it IS true that if there are any pests already in your neighborhood, they might be attracted to chicken feed if you spill it or don't keep it secured, they would be just as attracted to spilled or unsecured cat or dog food, wild bird feed, a koi pond, or even to your family’s food waste discarded in unsecured outdoor garbage cans or compost piles--and all of those probably already exist in most neighborhoods, anyway. Chicken food is no different from any other pet food in that respect.
If you do have small rodents in your area, a flock of chickens can actually reduce their number, since some breeds will catch and eat small mice and moles like cats do--chickens will eat small snakes, too. Plus, they eat other pests like ticks, mosquitos, grasshoppers and the like.
Chickens are generally more vulnerable to attack by smaller predators than dogs are... but even so, small dogs and cats can be attacked by hungry wild animals, too. That said, stories like this one don’t mean that dachsunds or other small dogs are likely to “attract” predators to the neighborhood. This is another argument demonstrating a basic lack of common sense.
5. “Legalizing chickens will negatively affect property values”
Not true. Take a few moments to read some old news stories about the legalization of backyard chickens, and you’ll notice that no actual evidence indicating that property values drop due to backyard chickens is EVER cited. Instead, the media will report that opponents simply have a “fear” of reduced property values. It seems to me that reporters should follow that claim up with actual data... but there is none to be had (and you know the media these days). So this argument is like a bogeyman: it’s not real, but is frequently employed to frighten people into a position of compliance and fear. We've heard stories about realtors like this one who feel that the right to keep a small flock of chickens could attract people to buy.
Rather than driving neighbors apart, chickens are usually conversation starters, particularly unusual breeds like Polish with their huge crests, or Silkies with their fur-like feathers. And today's small flock chicken coops are boutique, high-end items designed to look pretty in the yard. Remember, neighbors who want to keep chickens are just that: your neighbors. They care about the value of their homes and the quality of life in their community just as much as opponents of backyard chickens do--maybe more. People who keep backyard chickens are often involved in many other hobbies that add value to your neighborhood, including flower or vegetable gardening, beekeeping, growing fruit trees or berry bushes and so on. Think about it: this is exactly the sort of thing that can enhance community feeling and friendship in your neighborhood. Imagine a neighborhood where your neighbors share berries, fresh eggs, zucchini and tomatoes with you... and you might “lend” a cup of sugar or share a mug of coffee. That’s what good neighbors do.
That's why some of the most expensive and exclusive communities in the country allow small flocks of laying chickens. For example, New York, Portland, Chicago and Boulder--cities with some of the highest property values in the country--allow hens. If keeping chickens negatively affected the property values of the communities that permitted them, surely the communities would be taking steps to repeal them based on this mounting evidence, right? This is not happening. Instead, in some areas with high property values, the regulations are actually becoming more permissive with regard to backyard chickens, presumably because these places have found that the quality of life has improved. For example, in 2010, Seattle went from allowing families 3 hens to allowing 8 hens, a much more reasonable number if your family eats lots of eggs, especially if you don’t want to be limited to getting only the breeds with the highest egg production.
The “property value” argument is typically based on emotions and other evidence-less prejudices. There is zero evidence that legalizing pet chickens has affected property values.
6. “People who want to keep chickens should just move to the country!”
This is probably the most ridiculous “argument” of all, if it can even be termed an argument. In the United States, no matter where you live, you have basic rights that allow you to enjoy your own property... but that means your neighbors have the same rights to enjoy their property, as disappointing as some may find that to be. If YOU are unduly bothered by your neighbors--when their activities don’t affect property values, produce foul odors, loud noise, excess waste or present other actual problems--then YOU are the one who’ll need to consider moving out of town and into the country.
Some people would be happier with a buffer zone around them so that it will be easier for them to mind their own business and be less invasive of the privacy of others who live nearby. If you are that type of person, then just purchase a reasonable amount of acreage and put your house in the middle, so interaction with your neighbors will be minimal. Out in the country with plenty of space around you, you’ll be happier and less stressed out by what any of your neighbors might be doing on their own property.
Wait, you’re thinking that telling someone to move out of their home doesn’t seem like a real, workable solution to a problem? Really? Yeah, that’s right. It’s really stupid. The sensible thing would be for everyone to live and let live, and to stop worrying so much about what's happening on your neighbor's side of the fence.