You need to know the law. I explain, so you don't break it!
In the part of rural Italy where I live, there's no problem with keeping chickens in your back yard. Everyone has them, and no-one bats an eyelid at a crowing rooster - they're a normal and accepted part of life. But it may not be the same wherever you live.
A crowing rooster may be a problem in your neck of the woods.
The last thing you want to do when starting out with your little flock is to run up against local opposition. So before you start, have a look at how the law applies in your part of the world.
The Australian government is very forward thinking - it sees the benefit in keeping back yard chickens.
As a general rule of thumb, both urban and rural parts of Australia are quite laid-back about keeping chickens as long as they are well looked after.
Problems are likely to come not from official sources but from neighbours making complaints - and even then, local councils seem to do their best to negotiate solutions.
Nationally, anything to do with the keeping of poultry is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Farming (DAFF) whose website is here.
However, the different territories each have laws about back yard chickens and local councils sometimes also impose by-laws which over-ride everything else. The easiest way to find out what's legal in your area is to check with your local Town Hall. Ask to see the regulations and use these specific words : "Poultry keeping on a small scale".
As with many other places, roosters crowing are the most common problem. They're generally frowned upon in urban areas because of the noise problem - there's even a special form called a "Noisy bird complaint form" - so avoid them if you live in a built-up neighbourhood and you should be fine.
The situation in Canada is more complex. The one consistent factor is that roosters are not allowed in any city - "noise in enclosed neighbourhoods" being the issue.
Beautiful to look at - but no crowing rooster allowed in Canadian cities!
The Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food is Canada's governing body for poultry but laws regarding backyard (as opposed to commercial) chicken keeping in Canada are set by individual municipalities and cities.
Surprisingly for a forward-thinking country, many Canadian cities still ban chicken-keeping even on a very small scale. This article is an excellent summary of Canadian municipalities which do allow back yard chickens, and of the arguments on both sides.
Most Canadian officials seem to be reactive rather than proactive in terms of whether they allow poultry to be kept. In other words, they don't go round actively seeking out people who are keeping chickens illegally, but they have to react if there's a complaint from a neighbour.
So let's hope, if you want to keep back yard chickens in Canada, that you have nice neighbours!
Europe, being a union of many countries, is more complicated still.
The European Union (EU) is a trading body and although there are many rules and regulations linked to livestock they're concerned mostly with large-scale farming and the importing and exporting of animals rather than legalities about what some member countries refer to as 'hobby' or back yard chicken keeping.
There is a great deal of information about the requirements regarding animal and poultry welfare within the EU to be found at this site of the European Food Safety Authority and at the UK's DEFRA site, but none of it relates to how many chickens can or cannot be kept in a backyard.
For that information, each member country has its own regulations. Generally speaking, once again cockerels (roosters) are frowned upon in urban areas but perfectly acceptable in a rural community.
A Portuguese cockerel (rooster) - happy in rural Portugal but may not be allowed in your area.
For information about any country within the EU, refer to the governmental website and to your own Town Hall for local regulations.
Poultry keeping in the UK is regulated by DEFRA - the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. According to DEFRA it is legal and acceptable to keep back yard chickens anywhere in the UK.
However, local councils may have by-laws which curb chicken keeping in certain towns and even on particular properties.
If you're a tenant, either of a council, a housing association or a private property, you will need to check the position with the organisation. There are no national laws but locally, decisions may be taken not to allow chickens for a number of reasons.
Equally, if you're a private home owner check the deeds to your house. It's not unknown for individual houses to have a clause preventing the keeping of 'livestock', or at least limiting it.
More than 50 chickens? You must register them!
Following the UK's notorious outbreak of Avian Influenza (more commonly known as 'Bird Flu') in 2005, regulations were put in place for people keeping more than 50 chickens which are now regarded as commercial, rather than 'hobby', flocks.
The thinking behind this is fairly simple. Bird 'flu is carried by migrating waterfowl and spreads quickly among vulnerable chickens. This outbreak was traced to some 'factory farmed' outlets which were keeping large numbers of chickens in very confined spaces. Smaller flocks are thought to be much less likely to be responsible for any further outbreak of the disease.
DEFRA encourages registration of even small flocks, but it's not compulsory. If you do have more than fifty birds you need to register here so that, is ever there should be a further outbreak, all large flocks are easily traced.
And remember - it's not more than fifty of each particular type of poultry. If you have a mixture of chickens, geese and turkeys numbering fifty or over, for example, it's seen as commercial production and your poultry must be registered.
Whether you can keep back yard chickens in America depends on 'zoning' regulations, together with laws and by-laws for your own State, town and community.
Agricultural zoned areas shouldn't have any problems with raising either chickens or roosters. You live in the country, you won't disturb anyone and it's likely that your neighbours have chickens too. Go for it!
In urban and suburban areas though, it's a different story. Roosters are highly likely to be banned and many regions of North America are not very chicken-friendly - it seems people would rather eat them than keep them.
What's the problem?
Most of it is poor information and lack of knowledge. The same problem which arises in other places about the noise of crowing roosters waking everyone from their beds at 4 in the morning is, of course, part of the problem, and not everyone understands that you don't need a rooster to have eggs.
Ratty can be kept at bay!
But much of it is fear of the unknown. People are worried about vermin, about attracting predators such as coyotes, even about creating potential health problems through chicken poop.
The fact is that predators exist anyway and can be deterred; potential vermin and health problems can be dealt with and should not a problem given proper husbandry.
Even the rooster's song is - at least in my view - more acceptable than a lonely dog left to bark all day by owners who don't have time to care for it.
What to do?
As with other countries, you need to check the legalities with your own community - and to be safe, check the deeds to your own property. Some do have a clause banning the keeping of poultry specifically.
Ask at your local city office for their "ordinances" regarding keeping back yard chickens. Take a copy and keep it for reference should you have problems with neighbours.
What will it tell you?
It will give local laws about how many chickens you can legally keep, whether or not you can keep a rooster (generally speaking the answer to that one is a resounding "no"), and whether you have to register them anywhere. There may well also be rules and regulations about the size and type of chicken coop you can have, and whether it has to be inspected.
If you want some support, or to know whether there are other groups in your neighbourhood, have a look at the Urban Chickens website - it's a detailed source of accurate information and advice, which not all websites out there are.
Giving information about every country in the world's view of back yard chickens is an impossible task. The best source is your country's governmental website, followed by your local government offices or Town Hall.
Should you have trouble in finding the resources you need, get in touch and Claudia Chicken and I will try to help you out.
Since you're hopefully clearer about the legalities of keeping back yard chickens in your area, now you need to work out whether they're a good idea for you and your family. Or, if the decision's made, you might like to join in my series about hatching your own chickens!
Click on the pics to find the information you need.