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Pros and Cons of Keeping Backyard Chickens in the Suburbs

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Close up of the face of a black and white striped chicken.

This past year I did something I had been thinking about doing off and on for a while: I got backyard chickens! This little pullet checking out the camera is Mary, my Barred Plymouth Rock, and in the background is Delia, a Golden Laced Wyandotte. Eliza, the Speckled Sussex, was exploring somewhere off camera. Since I live in the suburbs rather than in a rural area, getting chickens was something that I had to think about quite a bit to figure out some of the pros and cons of keeping backyard chickens in the suburbs to see if it would be do-able for me.

If I were in a more rural area with lots of land, then getting chickens would have probably been a simpler process, although there still would have been pros and cons to consider. Since I live in a suburban area, though, my decision was focused on whether or not it would be practical for me to have chickens in my backyard.

There were some pros and cons that I thought of when I was making decisions about getting chickens, and there were also some things that I didn’t think of until after the fact. This list of pros and cons is something that will hopefully help you if you are thinking about getting backyard chickens and are wondering if it is a good decision for you. This list is specifically geared towards people living in the suburbs, but a lot of the things would still apply even if you lived in a more rural area or even possibly if you lived closer to the city.

Pros of Keeping Backyard Chickens in the Suburbs

1) Fresh Eggs

Having fresh eggs that you can collect from your own backyard coop is the most obvious benefit of having chickens. It certainly doesn’t get any fresher that eating an egg that was laid the very same morning that you cook it for breakfast. Two of my three pullets are just starting to lay now, and it’s like a treasure hunt each day to go out to the nesting box to see what’s there. And their eggs are delicious! I think it’s a bit like going out to the garden and eating fresh-picked fruits and vegetables. They automatically taste better, and you appreciate them more, especially when you were involved in every step along the way that it took to grow that tomato or green bean, etc. Eating eggs from your own chickens is the same way, and they taste amazing!

One of the reasons why I love the idea of having fresh eggs from my own chickens is that I know exactly how those chickens were raised and what type of feed they get, etc. When you buys eggs at the store you don’t really get to know details like that. It’s pretty popular these days to buy food locally, and you really can’t get any more local than stepping out in your yard and collecting eggs from chickens that you have raised and cared for personally.

Another benefit to keeping your own egg-layer chickens is having availability of eggs rather than relying on the store. At the time I am writing this there have been periodic egg shortages in some places and increasing costs of eggs in many places. This availability of backyard eggs can be seasonal, of course, because most chickens have periods where there lay less eggs or even stop laying altogether for a little while (such as when they are molting, during the darkest days of winter, and when it’s excessively hot outside.) So, you can’t always count on getting a egg from each of your chickens every single day, and different breeds of chickens vary in the amount of eggs that they lay, so that is something to consider, too.

But even with the natural fluctuations in egg laying that occur in a backyard flock, at least you won’t have to worry about supply chain issues causing shortages when all that you have to do is walk out into your yard to gather eggs. And you won’t have the competition of all of the other customers at the store wanting to buy eggs if the shelves are stocked with limited cartons either. And since fresh eggs that are unwashed and still have the natural protective coating, or “bloom” on them can last for quite a while in cold storage, you can also save up some of your fresh eggs during the times when your hens are laying a lot of eggs to help to make up for some of the days when they lay less.

2) Compost Creation

Chickens create a lot of manure, and if you have a garden then that means that they create a lot of free compost for you! To give a more positive spin on the chore of cleaning out the coop, I think of it as collecting compost for my garden. If I didn’t have a garden, then dealing with the manure would be a chore that was just a nuisance, but since I have a garden I’m excited about the source of free compost and fertilizer.

Since this is my first year having chickens, I haven’t used their manure on my garden yet because I got my chickens near the end of the gardening season. But I’ve been collecting their manure and dirty bedding, and I’m letting that break down and compost over the winter season, and I’m looking forward to spreading some of it on my garden beds this spring. It will be exciting to see how my garden does this year with the added compost and fertilizer. And even though I can’t say from personal experience just yet about how the chicken manure will improve my garden, I’ve heard other gardeners and homesteaders talk about how the chicken manure is a good fertilizer for the garden.

Since chicken manure is too “hot” of a fertilizer to put directly on your garden, you need to let it compost for a while before you can use it, so it’s not a benefit that you can take advantage of right away as soon as you get chickens, but if you start collecting manure and letting it compost you can be well on your way to having a consistent source of free fertilizer for the future.

3) Good Entry into Homesteading Activities

Another benefit of having backyard chickens is that they are a great entryway into the homesteading lifestyle for people who are interested in homesteading but don’t have the space for a huge garden or larger animals like dairy cows, pigs, etc.

Chickens are the only farm animal I’ve ever owned, so I don’t have personal experience to compare what it’s like taking care of them to what it’s like taking care of a cow or pigs or goats, etc. I’ve heard several other people say, though, that they are some of the easiest of the farm animals to care for. And from my experience so far with taking care of my chickens I can say that they really are pretty easy to take care of.

There is a bit of extra work involved with taking care of baby chicks, but once the chickens are adults, they are really pretty low maintenance for the most part. The most important daily tasks are just making sure that they have access to clean water and food. Cleaning out the coop is something that doesn’t need to be done every day, and it could be done either weekly or you could even wait for much longer than that if you use the deep litter method for their bedding. Other than that you mainly just have to make sure that they have a safe coop that will protect them from predators (and this might mean closing their door securely every night and then opening it in the morning unless you get an automatic door set on a timer.)

And since chickens are small animals, their food and water supplies are small and manageable, too. You don’t have to worry about huge water tubs that can hold gallons and gallons of water like you would for larger animals, and you don’t need to haul around huge hay bales or use any big farm equipment like tractors, etc. So chickens are farm animals that you can care for on a small scale in your backyard without needing acres and acres of land or expensive farm infrastructures.

4) Chickens Can Be Like Pets

Having chickens be like pets could be a pro or a con, I suppose, depending on how you plan on raising your chickens. If you are raising your chickens just as livestock and you are planning on having your birds become meat for your table after they are done laying eggs then you probably don’t want to be thinking of your chickens like pets. But if you are planning on having your chickens be just egg layers and not meat birds then they can become additional pets just like a cat or a dog.

Different breeds of chickens tend to be friendlier and more docile than others, so if you want your chickens to be like pets then it’s a good idea to do some research into chicken breeds that make good pets. A couple of good egg layers that I’ve heard also tend to be quite docile are Plymouth Barred Rocks (like my Mary in the picture above) and Buff Orpingtons. Each individual chicken has a unique personality, of course, so getting a breed that is known for being docile isn’t a guarantee that your chicken will be a friendly “lap chicken” as some people call them. But getting a breed that tends to be docile will give you a better chance of having a friendly chicken than getting a breed that is known to be more flighty such as a Leghorn.

It also takes chickens a while to get used to you, too, so you can’t necessarily expect your chickens to be like pets right away. Most chickens tend to act afraid around humans until they get comfortable with you. Raising chicks as babies can help them to be friendlier, and just spending a lot of time with them letting them get accustomed to you can help, too. And feeding them treats out of your hand doesn’t hurt either!

Cons of Keeping Backyard Chickens in the Suburbs

1) Possible City and Town Restrictions

Before you think about getting backyard chickens, it’s definitely important to check with the city or town where you live to see what sort of guidelines or restrictions might be in place. Some towns don’t allow backyard chickens at all while others have limits for the amount of chickens that you can keep and the size of the coop, etc. Many towns do not allow roosters, so you would also want to keep that in mind as well.

It’s also likely that you might have to get a permit to keep backyard chickens in the suburbs. Where I live, I had to get a permit to have backyard chickens, and I had to make sure that the chicken coop was at least 15 feet from the property lines of the neighbors. It took a bit of work to get the permit (submitting paperwork and making sure that I was meeting all of the guidelines for my town) and a bit of waiting for the permit to be approved, but I am very thankful that I was allowed to get chickens where I live.

People living in more rural towns often don’t have nearly as many restrictions, if any, for keeping chickens, so this is one area in which having backyard chickens in the suburbs can be a bit more complicated, depending on where you live.

2) Space Limitations

Another potential con of having backyard chickens in the suburbs is that you might not have as much space for your chickens as you would if you live somewhere with a larger property. If you have a small yard, then it might be hard to have enough room to have a chicken coop and run without taking up too much space in your backyard or getting too close to the neighbor’s property (if you town has rules about the coop being so many feet close to the property lines.)

In my yard, for example, because there were already other designated areas in the yard for my garden and a picnic table, etc. there actually weren’t many options in the yard for where the coop could go and still meet the town’s rules for distance from the house and from property lines. So I was a bit limited in where the chicken coop and run could be. It was still do-able, but it took some thinking and planning.

So if you have a small yard, I would recommend actually planning everything out and measuring to make sure you have enough room to put your chicken coop and to have some sort of run or area where you can give your chickens a place to get some fresh air and scratch and peck around in the ground, etc. If you have a decent-sized yard then there’s a good chance that you can figure out a place to put your chickens, but if your yard is really small then getting chickens might not be very practical.

3) Manure Cleanup

I listed this one as both a pro and con because manure cleanup can be a good or a bad thing depending on whether or not you have a use for the manure. Like I mentioned under the “Pros” section, if you are a gardener and you would be buying compost and fertilizer for your garden anyways, then having a source of free extra manure is a pro rather than a con. But if you don’t have garden or even a flower bed and you don’t really have a need for any extra fertilizer, then the manure that the chickens produce could just be an extra hassle for you to deal with.

Chickens go to the bathroom several times a day and produce a lot of manure, so even if you don’t have a reason to put that manure to use, you still have to clean it out of the coop periodically. (You can do this less often if you use the “deep litter” method in your chicken coop.) You can put the chicken manure and dirty bedding in a pile and let it compost, and you might even be able to give it to a friend who has a garden and is looking for some extra fertilizer.

Before getting chickens, though, it’s important to be aware of the fact that you’ll have to have some sort of plan in place for how you are going to deal with the chicken manure, and having chickens in the suburbs makes this even more important because you don’t have large amounts of land that people in more rural areas have. On a large plot of land you could just pile the manure somewhere in a far corner of your property where it would be out of sight and out of mind, but in a smaller yard where you have less space are closer to neighbors you would need to make sure that you have a plan in place for where you are going to put the chicken manure when you clean it out of the coop.

4) Availability of Supplies

Availability of supplies such as feed, bedding, etc. will vary a lot depending on where you live and having less availability could be a potential con for chicken keepers in the suburbs. In some ways, if you live in the suburbs you might have a bit of a harder time finding access to these things because there aren’t as many feed stores around as there are in more rural areas. You might be able to find some chicken-related supplies at pet stores, but the selection will be more limited than it would be at a place that is geared more towards farm animals. You can also find just about anything you need for your chickens online, but depending on where you shop and how large your order is the shipping costs could be high. You can sometimes get free shipping if you have larger bulk orders, though.

On the other hand, though, for people who live in very rural areas where they have to drive a long distance to get into town, getting supplies might not actually be any more convenient than it is to get them in the suburbs. So it really all depends on where you live and what sort of stores are available in nearby towns. Where I live, it’s about a half an hour or forty-five minute drive to get to the places where
I’ve found some of the supplies that I use for my chickens. I’ve also ordered some chicken supplies and feed online from places like Amazon and and feed from New Country Organics.

So there are definitely still ways to get the chicken supplies that you need when you are living in the suburbs, but you just have be be aware of the fact that you might have to drive to a different town or order some things online to get the things that you need for your chickens.

Should You Get Chickens in the Suburbs?

Hopefully this list will help you to think through some of the potential pros and cons of keeping backyard chickens in the suburbs so that you can make a decision about whether or not getting chickens is the right choice for you. I personally feel that the pros outweigh the cons in my opinion, and I’m very glad that I was able to get chickens in the suburban area where I live. But each town and each person’s situation is different, so it’s a very personal decision as to whether or not you should get backyard chickens. I hope that this list will give you an idea of what chicken keeping is like from the perspective of someone who has chickens in the suburbs to help you to make the best choice for you.

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Close up of the face of a black and white striped chicken.

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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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Wednesday 8th of March 2023

Hi, Lori. In 2013 I had to petition the planning commission in my small town in Michigan for backyard chickens. They voted 0-5 in favor for my petition. I had 4 hens and loved every second of watching them scratch around in my flower beds. One even accidentally fell into my small pond and the other three ladies started cackling and flapping their wings and running around the yard to get my attention, no doubt. She was just floating in the middle of that little pond so I scooped her out and put her on dry land. No harm, no 'fowl'! :-D We bought a farm and moved to the country a year later and I adopted 23 chickens and 8 runner ducks. So glad that you adopted some of your own and are enjoying them too. God Bless!

Lori Elliott

Friday 10th of March 2023

That's awesome that you were able to get chickens after petitioning your town, and that's such a cute story about your other chickens getting your attention for the one who fell in the pond! Chickens are so much fun to watch, and that's so neat that you bought a farm and were able to get so many chickens and ducks. I'd love to get more some time in the future, but for right now I'm enjoying my three "babies" very much!

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