Even if you're free as a bird to raise hens in your back yard, you may still have to respond to an anxious neighbor or family member's fears. Here are a few of the most common objections to urban and suburban chickens--and how to keep those fears from coming true.
Odor. A properly managed small flock is almost odor-free. "If you pile pine shavings 2 to 3 inches deep in the coop and clean it out every month or two and compost it, it's not going to smell," says Penn State poultry expert Phillip J. Clauer. In some cities, including Seattle, Austin, and Atlanta, chicken owners arrange coop tours to show off what good neighbors chickens are.
Health. You can get salmonella from chickens, baby chicks, and eggs, but that is not peculiar to backyard flocks. Most salmonella infections related to chickens occur in commercially raised products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap thoroughly after handing chicks, chickens, and eggs, which also helps prevent contamination from parasites. Avian flu is another common concern. "But this is extremely hard for people to get, even from each other," says Louisiana State University AgCenter poultry expert Theresia Lavergne, Ph.D. "The people who do get avian flu are in direct constant contact with the birds--they live with the chickens in the same house, breathe the same air, which we wouldn't do in our culture."
Noise. Roosters certainly are loud, and at the worst possible time (dawn), which is why most communities ban them. But hens? "Hens cackle for about 12 to 30 seconds after they lay an egg, and that may happen two or three times a day," says Andy Schneider, who keeps a flock of about 50 hens and even a few roosters in a suburban-Atlanta subdivision. Schneider says he hasn't heard a peep from his neighbors about noise.
Rodents. Rats and mice can be drawn to chicken feed, which is why it should be stored in rodentproof containers. Shore up the coop and the run with wire mesh so rodents can't get in.