Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

Things to Consider When Starting a Backyard Chicken Flock

During these times of economic challenge, many people are considering raising chickens in the backyard to augment their food supply. This has raised numerous questions ranging from how to feed chickens to addressing animal-keeping ordinances.

David Frame, Utah State University Extension poultry specialist, said resolutions to these issues are a work in progress for many communities. Many municipalities are in various stages of deciding if they should allow a limited number of chickens to be legally kept in backyards.

“It is likely that many would-be poultry keepers are first-time bird owners and may not be familiar with optimal care and management of poultry,” Frame said.

In answer to questions about raising poultry in the backyard, he said science-based education is critical for success. Be cautious of taking advice from self-proclaimed experts or people with informal training. He suggests getting information from a USU Extension county agent or poultry specialist. Factsheets about raising small-flock poultry are available at the USU Extension website.

Frame said potential negative impacts to the surrounding community and to commercial poultry flocks from the increase in backyard poultry can be minimized through careful planning. Issues that both municipalities and poultry owners should consider include noise, number and type of poultry, animal movement, animal waste, human health, zoning, enforcement of noncompliance and animal welfare.

Potential owners should first check with the city or county office to determine if there are specific zoning regulations or restrictions that might preclude keeping poultry on certain properties, he said. If poultry are allowed, it is important to be mindful of neighbors. To minimize wandering poultry, enclosures should be used to properly restrain and confine them in property lines. Frame said hens will be able to lay eggs without a rooster present, so owners should prepare to cull roosters as chicks mature to keep noise to a minimum. As a rule of thumb, eight laying hens will provide four to seven eggs per day.

Frame said owners must also be mindful of human health. Although chickens pose a relatively low risk of giving diseases to humans, there are a few that can be transmitted.

“Proper care and handling of eggs and processing of poultry carcasses are critical,” he said. “Appropriate disposal of dead birds and used litter are also important. To deal with chicken litter, in most instances, it can be incorporated into the garden soil or composted. However, improper composting or storage may create excessive odor and fly problems. Also beware of rodents, as they like chicken feed, especially in moist areas.”

Animal welfare is another important consideration in raising backyard poultry said Frame. In general, owners must properly care for, feed and protect poultry from predators and diseases. Birds need to be provided with water, a proper diet and adequate space at all times. To avoid weather stress, poultry must always have access to water or a protected coop. Adequate confined protection, such as a coop, also provides protection against predators and prevents wild birds that could carry disease from entering.

To avoid disease transmission, Frame said that chicks must be purchased from sources certifying they are free from specific diseases. Certain species of poultry can carry organisms that may do little harm to them but could cause devastating disease in another species. Mixing of species, such as ducks and chickens or chickens and turkeys increases the potential infection and spread of avian influenza (bird flu) or other serious diseases.

History has shown that diseases such as exotic Newcastle disease can become present in the hobby poultry community, Frame said. END can cause tremendous poultry death in both the small backyard flocks and in large commercial poultry operations. The discovery of END will have devastating economic consequences from both death loss as well as the loss of trade with other countries.

The commercial poultry industry contributes a significant and vital part to the agricultural economy of Utah, Frame said. Anything that jeopardizes the viability of this industry also jeopardizes the economic health of Utah.

“It is important that these commercial flocks be protected from serious diseases that would decimate this sector of Utah’s economy,” Frame said. “An upsurge in number of small backyard flocks – particularly if not properly managed – might significantly increase the probability of disease exposure to the commercial industry. For this reason, backyard poultry owners must thoroughly understand and rigorously carry out proper management practices.” USDA-APHIS has more information at Biosecurity for Birds.

For more information on how to properly manage backyard poultry, contact David Frame at 435-283-7586 or Kerry Rood, USU Extension veterinarian at 435-797-1882.