The Chickens Next Door3
The moral of today’s post is that a major component of suburban/urban chicken keeping involves being a good neighbor… sweater or otherwise.
Let’s face it – not everyone thinks keeping chickens is a super idea, regardless of how many benefits there are to be had. Your neighbors might be some of those people. Whether your neighbors are obstinate, hesitant or exuberant about your flock, here are some considerate things you can do to keep their interests in mind without hampering your own.
People like their privacy. In general, people also like control. When it comes to their own property, they have a right to control its use and appearance. While your neighbors don’t have a right to control the use and appearance of your property, good neighbors keep their neighbors interests in mind. Considering all of this, fencing is an important feature in a suburban homestead that includes chickens. Fences serve three purposes. First, they keep your chickens contained on your property or a portion thereof. Second, they help to keep predators away from your chickens. And third, they help to control views into and out of your property. Let’s talk briefly about each purpose.
Keeping Chickens In
Many ordinances require that suburban/urban chickens be contained by either completely enclosed arrangements (chicken run) or four foot high fencing. Besides being a matter of law, this is also a good idea. Keeping your chickens contained gives you more control over their access to portions of your property and keeps them from invading the neighbor’s yard.
Keeping Predators Out
You and I aren’t the only ones who like a plump, juicy chicken breast. Predators ranging from your neighbors dog to area raccoons and many things in between would like to make lunch out of your birds. While a fence won’t keep them all out, it will keep some of them out and possibly deter others. For ideas on good predator-proof fences, click here.
If your budget allows, a good way to ensure your neighbors won’t be offended by your homestead’s chickens is to install a beautiful (or maybe even standard) privacy fence around the whole of your property. This fence provides you with privacy but also keeps your avian-averse neighbors from seeing your chickens. This kind of fence (usually made of wood) can also serve to keep chickens in and predators out as we discussed above. However if your primary concern is controlling views, you can also plant a hedgerow (a living fence made of a line of shrubs or trees) that grows over time or grow vining flowers/fruits on fences. A hedgerow can provide benefits like nuts and berries (for you or the chickens!) depending on varieties you select. (even blueberry bushes can make a good hedge.) A hedgerow might also consist of tall ornamental grasses. Perennial vining plants may offer the benefit of beauty, attract pollinators like bees and/or provide other edibles like fruit and veggies. The benefit of using vining plants is that you can work with existing fences (especially chain link) for a nominal fee. In our garden, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and nasturtiums climb the chain link fence to partially obscure views from the east. This year we’ll also plant perennial berries on the west fence specifically to provide a more pleasant view to our neighbors (the chicken coop is on that side of the yard). We’ll also be planting climbing nasturtium and beans on the south side of the chicken paddock and evergreen underbrush throughout (such as variegated japanese sedge). These plants serve multiple purposes: Food, shelter and aesthetics for both us and the neighbors.
Some people say chickens are smelly. While this may seem like an unnecessary observation for me to make, let me just say that chickens aren’t smelly: Their poop is. If you were stuck in one spot for a long time and your poop accumulated in one spot without being moved, people would think you were smelly too. (I’m just saying…)
All the same, chickens do make waste and depending on your management method, it can pile up. Here are some good-neighbor ways to address smells.
Avoiding Coop-and-Pen Chicken Raising
The first tactic I recommend is to stay away from a chicken keeping method that involves your birds being confined to one place forever. In the typical coop and run management method, chickens live and eat in the same place where they make waste… and it all piles up. That’s where the ammonia smells affiliated with chickens comes from. For ideas on other ways to raise your chickens, check out this post.
Unless your birds are truly free range (which seems unlikely and unwise in an urban setting) you’ll have a coop for them. You could opt to clean their coop frequently (once or twice a week) to reduce odors, especially if you can’t avoid the coop and run method. The problems here are 1) that’s a lot of work 2) it’s expensive to replace bedding that often 3) that’s a lot of work 4) the waste you clean out has to go somewhere 5) that’s a lot of work and 6) every time you clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne. Also, it’s a lot of work.
To avoid having to continually clean your coop, try the deep liter method. Click here for a great article on how and why to use this method, but in a nutshell, you use a large amount of bedding and as the chickens scratch in it, the bedding and feces naturally compost and reduce pathogens. This method dramatically reduces odors and amounts to cleaning the coop much less often (between one and four times a year).
If your birds have access to roam the yard (or an area of the yard) and you’re using the deep liter method, you’ve likely eliminated the bulk of any odors normally associated with chickens. If you want to take your quest for good neighborliness a step further, you could also add fragrant plantings to your landscape. According to the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom, the following plants are both durable and fragrant: Daphne, honeysuckle, lavender, lilac, roses, sweet box, viburnum and witch hazel. Fragrant plantings are best placed near the chicken coop, near property lines or both places.
Even the most docile of chickens will make some noise. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it won’t even compare to all of the barking dogs and squealing children. All the same, here are some things you can do to reduce the impact of chicken-noise on your neighbors.
I love sleep. I wouldn’t want to awoken at dawn by my own rooster and I can’t imagine how annoyed I’d be if that rooster belonged to my neighbor! Most backyard flocks exist for egg production – skip the rooster. You don’t need him. (Also many ordinances forbid roosters in urban/suburban settings).
Be careful. Depending on the sound of the chime, this could be just as or more annoying as hearing your chickens clucking. If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, ask them in advance what they think about wind chimes.
Bring on the Birds
Not chickens – song birds. Here’s a list of ways to attract songbirds to your property. But keep in mind – some of these birdies start singing in the morning just as early as a rooster!
A Water Feature
If you’ve always wanted a pond with a mini waterfall, here’s your excuse. A well-designed waster feature may muffle chicken noises.
According to Free-Range Chicken Gardens, the following plants will create a rustling sound in the wind that may help to muffle chicken noises: Bamboo, love-in-a-mist, maiden grass, quaking aspen and quaking grass.
We’re fortunate to have great neighbors whom we talk with frequently. If you also have great relationships with your neighbors, let them know that you’re getting/you have chickens. Talk with them about your plans to keep chickens in a way that is respectful of the views and smells and sounds coming from your property. If your plan will take time to implement (as portions of ours will) it’s also important to share that with your neighbors. At a minimum, they’ll appreciate knowing that you have their interests in mind.
Also, the appearance of your coop is important to your neighbors’ perception of chicken keeping. You’ll need to get creative, get resourceful or cough up some cash, but it’s in your long-term best interest to make sure your coop isn’t an eyesore. Other Mr. Rogersish things to do would be sharing eggs and teaching neighbor kids about the chickens (with their parents’ permission).
Being a good neighbor is an important part of urban/suburban chicken keeping. If you put these tips into practice, you’ll be doing your part to minimize complaints and concerns so that your neighbors can see the true value of a backyard flock rather than focusing on stereotypes or issues that might make them miss the good stuff.
Here’s a little treat for you, neighbor.