Move over cats and dogs; small chicken flocks are rapidly taking over urban, suburban and rural backyards around the country. Raising backyard chickens is becoming more popular for multiple reasons, including as a way to save a few dollars on your family's grocery bill and provide fun family learning opportunities.
But raising backyard chickens for egg or meat production is more than just a hobby. Every breed has its strengths and weaknesses. Housing, sanitation and protection from predators are all important to consider in how you build your flock. And make sure you’re managing the risks and liabilities raising chickens can create — especially if you’re selling to neighbors.
“Spend time educating yourself about all facets of the species,” according to Nationwide Agribusiness Sales Development Specialist Mekenze Cortum. “Don’t forget to consider safety as well as the educational opportunities for kids and teens in learning to care for the animals.”
What to think about when adding a backyard chicken flock
If you’re considering raising chickens in a small flock as a hobby or way to diversify existing small-scale ag production, here are the things you should think about.
- Check local ordinances/regulations. Many cities and towns regulate backyard flocks. Check with local officials to see if there are any limitations. For example, some cities may limit the total number allowed, or allow unlimited laying hens but not permit roosters.
- Find the right breeds. There’s a variety of chicken breeds with a range of traits. Rhode Island red and Ameraucana chickens, for example, are hardy, do well in small flocks and have easy dispositions. Orpington birds are better suited to cool or cold climates.
- Keep your birds housed. Native predators and severe weather can endanger a backyard chicken flock. Provide the right housing to minimize these risks. With many options, make sure the coop design you choose provides three to five square feet of space for each bird.
- Limit your flock’s exposure to other birds. Like other birds, chickens are susceptible to transmissible diseases like Avian Influenza and coccidiosis. The less you expose your chickens to other native birds, the lower the chances they’ll contract one of a few common diseases.
- Keep it clean. Good sanitation and safe-handling practices are musts for any backyard flock. This minimizes the risk of disease infection as well as any foodborne illness like salmonella that can be passed to humans when consuming infected eggs or meat.
- Be careful with electrical and fire safety. Laying hens need regular light and consistent warmth to produce eggs at their full potential. That means many chicken coops include heaters and lights. Keep heat lamps free of debris and inspect them and other electrical components often to prevent fire risk.
Make sure you’re covered
Raising backyard chickens can be a rewarding experience, whether in rural, suburban or urban setting. Make sure you’re covered so small risks don’t become big ones, whether through a homeowner’s or farm insurance policy.
“It’s important for folks to consult with their insurance agent regarding potential liability concerns and coverage considerations for raising backyard chickens,” Cortum said.