If you live in the ‘wops’ you’re lucky, as you can keep as many chooks as you wish. But for the rest of us, don’t despair. Those who live cheek by jowl in urbania can still keep some feathered friends.

Generally speaking, you are allowed between six and twelve hens per property, depending on your council. Napier City Council allows six hens, whilst Hastings City Council allows 12 hens. Roosters are not allowed!

If keeping your chickens in a permanent run, you officially need to build the run 2-3 metres off the boundary and 10 metres away from a dwelling. As properties become smaller, Councils are becoming more lenient on these dimensions. The coop floor is required to be easy to clean, such as concrete. If you house your chooks in a moveable chicken tractor you can get around these regulations as the run is being moved around the lawn. Most Councils prefer people to keep chooks in a moveable run as there is less of an issue with odour and buildup of manure and flies.

Great pets!

As with most things, problems only occur when people do not clean their chickens’ quarters out regularly or dispose of uneaten food. This only encourages vermin and smells. Poultry ‘officially’ are not allowed to free range on your property. Of course many chook owners let their girls out for a bit of a run around in the afternoon, with the chooks putting themselves back to bed come dusk. Be responsible and make sure your chooks can’t get over to the neighbours to scratch up their garden.
The secret to successful chicken keeping in town is to inform your neighbours of your intent to keep chickens and offer them some of your free range eggs on occasion. I was the first person to keep chickens in our street, but now there are three families doing the same and other neighbours drop over food scraps or bring young visitors to pet our chooks.

Do You Have Enough Space?

Chickens do not require a lot of space if you house them in a moveable run. A good rule of thumb is one square metre for every chicken in a run (less if you keep bantams) or three square metres per chicken in a permanent enclosure. Chickens need to be part of a flock. I recommend you keep at least three chooks together. If the unthinkable happens and you lose one, at least you still have two to keep each other company. A chicken kept by itself will be stressed, never lay and will probably die. Three to four layers will keep a family well-supplied in eggs; have 6-8 hens if you are a baker!

Which Breed?

There are many breeds of chicken. Actually there are so many to choose from, it is all a bit confusing.
If space is in short supply in your backyard, it may be worth considering a bantam chicken. Bantams are around a third the size of a normal hen. Being cute and docile, they make great pets, especially for kids. They lay less frequently and their eggs are small, but they do eat less. When free ranging they do less damage and digging than larger breeds. When baking, using bantams eggs, allow one and a half eggs to one normal egg in recipes.

Bantams make great mums and will happily hatch any eggs they can find to sit on, including the occasional golf ball! They are also more susceptible to predators – for instance, crows, magpies and hawks may try and take your bantams. They can be quieter than many standard chicken breeds.

If you want the best possible egg production, limit your search to the laying breeds. I prefer Standards because of their larger eggs and reduced susceptibility to predators. And they make better gardeners.
You can go for the bog standard Brown Shavers, which are the breed used in commercial farms. They lay really well for around two years, then often start having problems such as prolapses or getting egg bound. I prefer the heritage breeds. They still lay well, are quieter than the Brown Shavers and live longer.

These are the Heritage breeds I have kept and find them good in town due to their quiet nature – Light Sussex, Barnevelder, Dorking, Rhode Island Red, Orpington, and Australorp.

Keeping a few hens in your backyard is a wonderful and easy way for us urbanites to reconnect with nature, enjoy fresh healthy eggs, have a simple way to get rid of kitchen scraps, and give our children responsibility by helping to teach them how to nurture and be gentle with small animals.

Chickens are the new black. You should keep some too!

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