Thinking of keeping backyard chickens? - BC SPCA
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Thinking of keeping backyard chickens?

March 12, 2024

The BC SPCA advocates for cage-free eggs to support a better life for laying hens. Raising backyard hens has become a popular option in rural and urban areas as a source of cage-free eggs while supporting local food production.

Backyard chickens in outdoor run.

If you are thinking of raising backyard hens, it is important to consider whether you have the knowledge, time, and resources to care for them. Before welcoming feathered friends into your backyard, here are some important questions to ask yourself:

Are backyard hens allowed in your municipality?

Consult your local bylaws to confirm if backyard hens are permitted where you live. If allowed, bylaws will often outline specific requirements for keeping backyard hens that you must familiarize yourself with. Bylaws will usually restrict the number of hens permitted on one property. It is important to the well-being of hens to have at least two so they don’t get lonely.

Did you know? Roosters are not required for hens to lay eggs! Many municipalities usually prohibit keeping roosters due to the potential for noise disturbance. But what happens if you accidentally get a rooster? Hens and roosters look very similar when they are chicks, and even experienced breeders sometimes mistake a rooster for a hen. Ensure you have arranged with the breeder to return any unexpected roosters.

Check out our list of the best hen bylaws. Did your municipality make the list?

Where will your backyard hens live?

Backyard hens should be housed in a chicken coop with a secure outdoor run. The coop and run must be designed and maintained to ensure adequate sanitation, ventilation, drainage, and space for all the hens. It must protect hens from the weather and predators, and prevent access by rodents. Coops must have litter for chickens to scratch around in, perches for roosting, and comfortable nest boxes for hens to lay their eggs.

Exploring the outdoor run allows hens to perform many natural behaviours, such as scratching around in the dirt, foraging through the grass, and dustbathing.

Enrichment should be provided to backyard hens for mental stimulation and provide opportunities to perform natural behaviours. If your hens are not provided with enrichment, they may become stressed and frustrated. This could lead to the development of harmful behaviours such as feather pecking or bullying of other hens.

Backyard chickens in outdoor run.

Do you have access to veterinary care?

Chickens may live for up to 10 years. Providing veterinary care to backyard hens is essential to being a responsible guardian. Is there a veterinarian in your community that has experience treating chickens? It is essential you have a relationship with a veterinarian to help keep your hens healthy and who can assist you if any health concerns come up, including euthanasia.

Do you know how to prevent and detect disease in chickens?

Chickens are susceptible to diseases that can cause serious illness and even death, such as Avian influenza. It is essential to follow basic biosecurity principles to reduce the risks posed by harmful diseases such as:

  1. Prevent contact with wild birds or other animals
  2. Routinely and thoroughly clean the hens’ environment and equipment
  3. Spot the signs of disease and contact a veterinarian early
  4. Limit exposure to visitors – people can spread diseases to hens, too
  5. Keep new hens separate until it’s known they are healthy

Are you familiar with signs of disease in chickens? Signs to look for include:

  • Lack of energy, movement, or appetite
  • Decreased egg production
  • Swelling around the head, neck, and eyes
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Nervous signs, tremors, or lack of coordination
  • Diarrhea


More information can be found through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Backyard chickens in outdoor run.

Are you aware of the risks to human health?

Chickens can carry various viruses and bacteria that can infect people, including Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter bacteria), E. coli (Escherichia coli bacteria), and Salmonellosis (Salmonella bacteria). In most cases, these diseases are spread through the feces (poop) of infected chickens, contaminated food, or the environment.

Biosecurity practices should be followed to reduce your risk of disease. This includes:

  • Always washing your hands before and after handling hens, or anything in their environment
  • Not eating or drinking where your hens live or roam
  • Not allowing hens to enter your home
  • Wearing a separate pair of shoes for hen care, and keeping these shoes outdoors
  • Remaining outdoors when cleaning equipment (e.g., feed and water containers)

What will your backyard hens eat?

Providing laying hens with a proper diet is essential to keeping them happy and healthy. Pet store bird feed may not meet the nutritional needs of your hens. Good quality commercial poultry feed should be the main part of their diet. Always consult with your veterinarian to ensure you are meeting the nutritional requirements of your hens throughout their lives.

To help your hens digest their food, they should have access to grit, such as gravel. It is very important your hens receive enough calcium in their diet, as calcium is used to produce eggs. If not, calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis (weak bones), as calcium normally used to form strong bones is instead used for egg production.

In addition to feed, hens must have constant access to clean drinking water.

How will you manage the waste from backyard hens?

How will you dispose of used litter, feathers the hens shed, and all that poop in an environmentally conscious way? Chicken waste can make great garden compost, but do you have the time and space to carefully compost it?

What will you do with hens who have stopped laying eggs?

Hens can live up to 10 years, and their egg production peaks in the first two years. Egg production drops each year after this point. Hens may stop laying eggs well before they reach the end of their natural life. Like any senior pet, older hens need special care to keep them healthy.

Laying hens can be a great addition to your backyard as a source of eggs. But like any animal, it’s important to ensure you are prepared and equipped to meet their unique needs – leading to happy and healthy hens.

For more information, email the BC SPCA.

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