I often get asked whether there are laws on keeping chickens in the back garden. There are in fact a number of things to be aware of before you embark on your chicken keeping journey! This information covers regulation in the United Kingdom, other countries have their own rules and regulations that I don’t know about or cover here.
First, you should check with your local Council to see whether there are any local by-laws preventing you from keeping poultry. Many allow you to keep poultry but there are a few that do not.
If your Council doesn’t, please leave us a comment below so we can compile a list to help others.
Next, if your property is rented, you should check your deeds or ask your landlord whether there are any restrictions or covenants on your property covering livestock. Poultry comes under the ‘livestock’ classification, despite many a desperate chicken keeper trying to argue that their chickens are pets. Many properties that are rented have covenants to prevent you keeping poultry and other livestock.
If you are clear of bye-laws and covenants, if you intend to keep 50 or more birds, you must register your flock with the GB Poultry Register. Whilst this sounds like a lot of birds, ‘poultry’ in this case includes ducks, geese, quail, guinea fowl and so on. Don’t forget to include chicks when you have them since these are counted too.
You register your flock by calling 0800 634 1112 or online on the DEFRA website.
If you have close neighbours, they can sometimes have concerns that you may have to address before you start to keep chickens. These concerns are usually about vermin, odours or noise. Let’s look at these one by one.
Food and water left out is likely to attract vermin such as rats and mice. Both will burrow underneath housing that isn’t raised off the ground sufficiently. Environmental Health can take action against the landowner to eradicate any infestation of vermin under the prevention of damage by pests act.
The answer is to ensure that vermin is kept under control with a good eradication routine. Whilst mice can easily be trapped, rats are more difficult to deal with. Rats are covered in more depth in our pests and predators section.
Fresh poultry droppings produce odours that are unpleasant and will attract flies and other insects during the warmer months. Housing should be kept clean and suitable poultry bedding should be used to absorb moisture from droppings to help odour control.
Poultry produce reasonable amounts of manure that will need to be composted down before being dug into the garden or disposed of in other ways.
Whilst it makes one of the best manures, it is very high in nitrogen and cannot be used directly on the garden. Flies are not often a problem when housing is kept clean and compost heaps are turned regularly but if you are concerned, they can be controlled using the excellent Red Top Fly Traps which will catch thousands of flies. Remember the traps contain an attractant so place them away from living areas. If it can be proven that your birds are attracting flies which are causing a nuisance, the Environmental Protection Team may get involved.
Cock birds will obviously create the greatest noise and may cause a nuisance to your neighbours. Hens will create some noise as well, especially after laying an egg and this may be enough to upset close neighbours. If your neighbours complain to the Council, you may find the Environmental Protection department writing to you asking you to take action to avoid causing a nuisance.
If you are living in an urban setting and communicate with your neighbours about your plans, are sensible about hygiene and vermin control and where you locate your chicken coop, there is usually no reason for them to complain. A few fresh eggs are usually well received by neighbours once in a while and who knows may give them the bug to start keeping a few hens of their own too!
Chicken coops and runs, may require planning permission if they are bigger than regulations allow. It is unusual for the average sized coop to require planning permission though but you may have to check if you are in any doubt.
Not exactly a law on keeping chickens but the Animal Welfare Act 2006 states that it is against the law to be cruel to an animal and you must ensure that the welfare needs of your animals are met. This applies to chickens as well as other domestic animals.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council has established five freedoms for animal welfare which is mainly aimed at commercial establishments, but can also be applied to your backyard hens since they are still classed as livestock.
The five freedoms of animal welfare state that, at all times, you have a duty of care to ensure that your animals are free:
- from hunger and thirst – animals must have access to fresh water and a diet which will maintain health and vigour
- from discomfort – an appropriate environment should be provided, including shelter and a comfortable resting area
- from pain, injury or disease – you must ensure the prevention of illnesses, or rapid diagnosis and treatment
- to express normal behaviour – sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind should all be provided
- from fear and distress – you must provide conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
Whilst there aren’t exactly many ‘laws’ on keeping chickens, there is still reasonable and sensible regulation. Since poultry is classed as livestock, many of these rules apply to our backyard laying hens, just as much as to commercial layers.