Do you want to raise backyard hens?
The BC SPCA is supportive of urban consumers seeking alternatives to conventional eggs produced by hens housed in battery cages; however, raising hens in an urban, backyard environment is not a suitable practice for individuals with little to no knowledge or experience in chicken care.
Instead, consumers are encouraged to purchase eggs from SPCA Certified farmers and other certified cage-free farmers who have professional expertise in the humane raising of chickens.
If you are still thinking keeping of urban chickens, here are some important questions to ask yourself:
1. Does your city allow the keeping of backyard hens? Consult your city bylaws.
2. Do you have the knowledge or skills necessary to provide adequate care to the chickens? Such care includes:
The ability to recognize common symptoms of disease, injury, and parasitic infection in chickens, and knowledge of what to do to treat such problems.
The ability to humanely euthanize a chicken, or access to someone who can (e.g. a poultry veterinarian or experienced chicken farmer).
3. Do you have access to suitable nutrition and veterinary care in your community?
4. Hens can live for 8-10 years, yet their productive egg-laying diminishes significantly after the first year. Chickens may stop laying eggs well before they reach the end of their natural life. What will you do with birds that have gone beyond their egg-laying time-frame?
- Did you know egg-laying chickens and broiler chickens (raised for meat) are different breeds. Layers are thinner and less muscular, and therefore do not produce a lot of meat.
5. Some aspects of the urban environment are not compatible with keeping backyard hens. What will you do to prevent the following?
Attraction of rats to chicken feed or to baby chicks.
Attack from urban wildlife such as mink, coyotes, raccoons, birds of prey, and skunks? There is also risk of attack from domesticated dogs or cats roaming in the neighbourhood. This may have the unintended side-effect of encouraging aggressive behaviour in dogs.
6. How will you dispose of chicken waste, shed feathers and carcasses?
7. Are you aware that there are risks associated with chickens contracting avian flu? If there is an outbreak, pet birds are at risk of being included in the cull of all nearby urban and rural chickens.
8. Backyard chicken coops must, at minimum, abide by the requirements of the Canadian Code of Practice for egg-laying hen production. To ensure chickens' behavioural needs are met, the SPCA Certified program requires the following standards be met:
It is ideal to provide a free-range enclosure so hens can go outside, weather permitting; however, indoor free-run environments must also provide adequate space for hens to exercise and should include natural lighting.
Outdoor enclosures must be predator-proof, including perimeter fencing that extends below ground, and overhead netting to prevent avian predators.
Owners must provide enough private nest boxes to accommodate the whole flock.
Owners must provide dust-bathing material so hens can keep their skin and feathers healthy.
Owners must provide above ground perching and roosting areas for hens to rest. Hens prefer to roost up off the ground at night.
Owners must provide protection from temperature and weather extremes (e.g. heat, cold, wind, rain, snow).
9. How will you transport your birds? Do you know how to humanely catch and handle them? Check out our factsheet on Transport of Hens for Backyard Flocks.
10. Are you aware that you will be held accountable for the health and welfare of the chickens? Failure to provide them with a level of care that meets the Canadian Code of Practice for laying hens would be considered an act of cruelty and could result in fines and/or charges.
Please note: Neither the Vancouver Animal Control facility nor the BC SPCA Vancouver Animal Shelter have facilities to house unwanted chickens. Likewise, there are no facilities to accommodate birds seized from individuals who contravene sections of the community bylaw or the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
For more information on this issue, please get in contact with your local community council or email the BC SPCA.
Page updated: August 17, 2015