City Chickens
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Keeping City Chickens in Seattle

In the city of Seattle, up to eight domestic fowl may be kept on any lot in addition to the small animals allowed. On lots greater than 10,000 square feet that include either a community garden or an urban farm, one additional fowl is permitted for every 1,000 square feet. of lot area over 10,000 square feet in community garden or urban farm use. Roosters are not permitted. Structures housing domestic fowl must be located at least 10 feet away from any residential structure on an adjacent lot. Many other cities are similar. Some allow less, some allow more, and some prohibit chickens. A homeowner should contact the appropriate zoning and land use department before attempting this venture so that all rules and regulations are understood.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are chickens dirty?

That depends. As with any animal (and people), chickens can be “dirty” if they are not properly cared for. A chicken that is properly cared for is just as clean as a dog or house bird.

Are roosters the noisy ones, or are hens noisy too?

Roosters are noisy. Hens are much less so. A hen will cackle at times during the day, and will occasionally squawk (especially when disturbed by an unfamiliar person or animal), but she will be quiet most of the time. She will be completely silent when it is dark, as she will be sleeping. Many hens will cackle while they are laying their eggs, but these, and most other sounds, are not very loud, and are certainly quieter than most everything else that occurs in the surrounding neighborhood. The only time where such sounds may be unpleasant is in the early morning, at times when neighbors may want to sleep late. To counteract this, many chicken owners will keep the coops dark on those days until later in the morning, or ply neighbors with fresh eggs. Roosters are not allowed in the City of Seattle.

How many eggs does one hen lay per day? Or per week?

The answer will vary depending on 1) the time of year, 2) the breed of the hen, 3) the diet of the hen, 4) the age of the hen, and 5) other husbandry practices. Most of the standard breeds of chickens that have been selected through the years for egg production will lay between 180–320 eggs per year for their first year of laying. On one extreme, there are records of hens averaging an egg a day for over a year. The rate of laying tapers in the second year and beyond, until it may only take place during the spring. Some of the breeds that haven’t been selected for egg production (selected for show, or other qualities, instead) may only lay eggs in the spring and early summer. Appropriate feed mixtures also stimulate egg production.

Should you have more than one hen?

Yes. Chickens have a strong social structure.

Do you have to have a rooster for a hen to lay eggs?

No. Without a rooster, hens will still lay eggs. There are no roosters to be found at all the mega-farms where most eggs come from. If you don’t have a rooster, the eggs can’t be fertile, and won’t hatch. However, this is not the goal of most chicken owners. Non-fertile eggs are (arguably) just as nutritious and tasty as fertile eggs.

Can they run around your yard? Do you need to keep them fenced in?

They can run around your yard, but care must be taken to protect them from predators. They should be securely fenced in most of the time, especially during non-daylight hours. If they are not fenced in during the day, they may wander too far and leave the property, inviting attacks from dogs and other animals. Some cities have regulations about where chickens can roam.

How long do they lay eggs before they become non-laying hens?

Productivity diminishes after the first year. It is still good the second year, but then declines rapidly. At about three or four years, production is not very efficient. Most commercial and farm hens are culled after their second season of laying.

Can you bring them in your house?

Yes, if you want. However, they are harder to “potty train” than most animals. They defecate more often than mammals. However, some people do keep their “pet” chickens in their house.

How do you deal with excrement?

It makes excellent compost, especially when combined with materials high in carbon. Many of the materials used for litter in the chicken yard/house (such as shavings, straw and sawdust) are high in carbon, making the mixture of chicken manure (high in nitrogen) and litter a balanced ingredient for a compost pile.

Will they eat slugs?

A chicken will eat almost anything that doesn’t eat it first. So, yes, they will eat slugs. Or they may just “shred” them by their “pecking and scratching” action, thus killing them.

Will they eat too many of the earthworms?

They might, but it is unlikely. Their instinct is to forage for a variety of menu items. They will eat too many earthworms if there is an ample supply, but they won’t eat any more than other animals would.