Are chickens the new dogs? Lured by the promise of fresh eggs from humanely raised birds, growing numbers of city folk are adding chickens to their yards. Backyard & Beyond asked readers what they want to know about starting an urban flock. Here’s a sampling of the most frequently asked questions:
Is it legal?
Q: Can you have a chicken at a residence in Charlotte? – Dave M.
Q: I live in the city limits, in Mecklenburg. Is there an annual fee to keep and raise chickens? – Penny L.
Q: Do I need the approval of my neighbors in orders to raise three chickens in my yard (in Charlotte)? Do I have to have the coop ready when the inspector comes? – Paulo R.
It’s legal to keep chickens in Charlotte, Pineville and Mint Hill. They must be confined in a coop that is at least 25 feet from any property line and has at least four square feet of floor space per bird. You’ll pay $40 annually for your permit, and before you get the permit, the city will send someone to inspect your coop.
On the permit application, you must list all neighbors whose property touches yours so animal control can contact them. William Morrison, enforcement supervisor in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s animal control division, said the goal is to “make sure your neighbors are agreeing (with your chicken raising) and that it’s not going to infringe their enjoyment of their property.”
The details of the chicken rules aren’t on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg government website. Instead, go to www.municode.com and click on “municode library.” Choose a state and a city and then click on the ordinances governing animals. The Charlotte chicken code is listed under “permits.” If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowners’ association, it probably prohibits chickens. Outside Mecklenburg, you need to call animal control for your community.
Incidentally, Morrison said the county issued 25 permits for chickens last year, up from 5 in 2006. Springtime is when he’s busiest dealing with poultry. “For March of this year, I’ve approved 11 permits and three are in process,” he said.
What kind of chicken? How many should I get?
Q: How many chickens do I need to supply four people with eggs? – Rosemarie B.
Q: What breed of chickens would you recommend? – Gavin D.
A chicken of prime egg-laying age – that’s between the ages of 5 months and 2 or 3 years – will lay about an egg a day. After that, they’ll lay only occasionally. If you buy chicks this month, you should have your first eggs in early fall. Any large breed of bird is fine – buff Orpingtons, barred rocks, ameraucanas (these lay blue-tinted eggs), Rhode Island reds are a few favorites – and you can learn about which birds are the best egg-layers from http://www.backyardchickens.com/breeds/breed-chart. Bantam breeds are smaller than standard chickens and are much more likely to fly over fences or up into trees, and they lay smaller eggs. Avoid roosters. They crow all day and can be aggressive. You don’t need a rooster to have eggs.
How do I keep them safe?
Q: We back up to a patch of woods. How can I protect my flock from predators? – Lilian W.
Q: I would like to let (chickens) free range sometimes and wonder what the safest way to do that is. – Jessie T.
Q: My neighbor and I are in the process of building a coop. We live in Barclay Downs, on a creek, and have lots of predators. Do we lock them in the coop at night and let them out in the morning? – Ruth P.
Your community may not allow free-ranging chickens in a fenced yard. But regardless of where they are in the daytime, chickens need protection at night. “You have to make sure they’re in a secure coop with a top on it,” said Julie Wallace, who sells chicks at Tractor Supply Co. in Concord. “They’re kind of docile while they’re sleeping and it’s easy for something to sneak up on them.”
Wallace’s six chickens are protected by an 8 by 10 coop with an attached run completely covered and roofed in poultry netting held taut by a frame.
“Diseases are rarely an issue in small flocks – it’s always a predator,” said David Blackley, owner of Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, which expected its first batch of chicks this weekend and will sell them through early summer. “That’s why chickens are inexpensive, because you do replace them every year.”
It’s only fair to note that not everyone is a fan of the backyard chicken trend.
“Please, no urban chickens!” wrote Jennifer B., one of several readers who not in favor of backyard hens. “I…question the ‘neighborliness’ of those who decide to raise chickens in their backyard. What happened to the days when neighbors respected each other’s right to a quiet, peaceful existence? …(N)ow we want to start raising FARM animals alongside our dogs and cats?” Another reader urged would-be chicken owners to get help from the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service to avoid introducing avian-borne diseases into the community.