You may not realise it, but there are likely to be laws about whether or not you can keep back yard chickens, wherever you live.
In my part of rural Italy there's no problem about having chickens in your back yard. Everyone has them, and no-one thinks a flock of noisy hens or a crowing rooster is anything out of the ordinary.
They're a normal and accepted part of life.
But that's not the same everywhere. In some places, a small flock of chickens is no problem. In others, no chickens at all are allowed.
Elsewhere, there's a middle ground, often meaning that roosters (UK cockerels) are banned.
The last thing you need when starting out with your flock is to run up against local opposition.
So before you start, make quite sure you know how the law applies in your part of the world.
Please note: this article does not constitute legal advice. It is incumbent on anyone planning to keep backyard chickens to check the specific information for that part of the world.
Can I have backyard chickens in Australia?
The Australian government is relatively forward thinking. It sees the benefit in families keeping 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. 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, Water and the Environment, 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, using 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 roosters if you live in a built-up neighbourhood in Australia and the answer to your question should be "yes!"
Chicken keeping in Canada.
The situation in Canada is more complex.The one consistent factor is that roosters are not allowed in any city. The issue is "noise in enclosed neighbourhoods".
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.
Perhaps 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've been asking "can I have backyard chickens in Canada?" that you have nice neighbours!
Can I have backyard chickens in Europe?
The European Union (EU) is a trading body. 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.
There's not a large body of information in terms of the legalities about what some member countries refer to as 'hobby' or back yard chicken keeping.
There's a great deal of information about the requirements regarding animal and poultry welfare within the EU to be found at the site of the European Food Safety Authority, 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.
For information about any individual country within the EU, refer to the governmental website and to your own Town Hall for local regulations.
Back yard chickens in the United Kingdom.
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 providing they do not cause a "noise, odour or pest nuisance".
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 or at least limiting the keeping of livestock, which would include chickens.
Following the UK's outbreaks of Avian Influenza (more commonly known as 'Bird Flu') in 2005 and subsequently, regulations were put in place for people keeping more than 50 chickens.
Flocks of more than 50 chickens are considered "commercial", and must be registered.
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 the registration of even small flocks, but it's not compulsory at present.
If you do have more than fifty birds you must by law register here so that all large flocks are easily traced if necessary.
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.
Can I have backyard chickens in the United States?
Whether you can keep backyard 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 about the noise of crowing roosters is, of course, part of the problem. Not everyone understands that you don't need a rooster to have freshly laid eggs.
And 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.
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. But then, I'm a chicken lover...
What to do if you want to have backyard chickens?
As with other countries, you need to check the legalities with your own community. To be safe, also check the deeds to your own property. Some do have a clause specifically banning the keeping of poultry.
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 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 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 backyard chickens is an impossible task.
The best source is your country's governmental website, followed by your local government offices or Town Hall.
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.
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