American Survival Guide|January 2021

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was common to keep livestock, including pigs, cows and even chickens, in towns and cities in the United States. As the cities grew, local ordinances slowly curbed the keeping of animals in urban centers—mostly due to the issues of noise and smell nuisances—but even those were relaxed during wartime as people were encouraged to find creative ways to feed themselves. After World War II, the flight to the suburbs, thanks to the availability of the automobile, along with increased accessibility to packaged and prepared foods, made the keeping of animals a thing of the past.

By the 1980s, for the most part, only farmers (or possibly hippies) dared raise chickens. Given the fact that there’s an abundance of grocery stores in most areas, and because we live in a technology-centric culture, it would seem unlikely that individuals would consider raising livestock ... yet, the chickens have come home to the 'burbs and cities to roost!

Many cities have relaxed their regulations and made permits easier to obtain to raise and keep chickens. Large cities, such as New York, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, have chicken programs, while suburban or backyard chickens are also hatching around the country and with the support of major food producers.

Raising backyard chickens gives families more time together, teaches responsibility to children and puts food on the table, said Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) Consumer Products Business Manager and chicken expert Mike Barrett.


While the outbreak of the novel coronavirus highlighted how precarious the American food supply chain can be, and many people had to rely on food banks and donations to keep their families fed, raising chickens has been seen as a way to prepare for a future pandemic outbreak or a breakdown of society.

However, raising chickens is actually hard work and isn't something that’s as simple as building a coop and throwing down some feed.

First, suburban and urban dwellers need to check local ordinances and should consult with local experts. There are other factors to consider, including climate, area predators and how the birds will adapt to a backyard or roof garden.

When it comes to having a backyard flock, not all municipalities are created equal, Barrett explained. Before building a coop, choosing which breeds you want and buying the first bag of feed, check with your local zoning board to make sure you may have chickens at your residence. Many towns have zoning restrictions that limit each address to four to five hens, and most towns are rooster-free zones. Your local zoning board would have all the rules and regulations so you can get started the right way.

A next step is ensuring you can care for the birds properly. For instance, raising birds in Texas is going to be different than raising them in Minnesota.

Coops should be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, Barrett added. You should budget time and resources to feed, water and clean up after your new feathered pals.


A common question asked by those first getting started raising backyard or rooftop chickens is whether special breeds are required for the production of eggs, as opposed to chickens raised for meat. Chickens aren't exactly a one-size-fits-all solution.

Many breeds serve a dual purpose. However, the strategy varies for raising the best layer or best meat-quality bird, Barrett noted. Owners of layers typically plan slower growth, with the goal of laying many eggs over the bird's life span. Broilers, or meat birds, are raised more quickly and make it to harvest or finishing weight in six to eight weeks.

The associated costs are generally reasonable and, depending on the size of the coop, it can be built for under $200, while the actual chickens cost around $2 to $4 each. Five chickens could eat roughly a 50-pound bag of feed per month, which averages around $15.

For families, it can also be a fun project ... if, at times, a bit of a smelly and dirty one. Chickens provide more than eggs or meat: They provide family time, insect control and some great fertilizer for the garden, Barrett pointed out. More than that, they allow you to know where your food came from and how your food was raised. The enjoyment from watching chickens peck around the yard while you’re sipping your favorite beverage will also help the stress just melt away!


Which comes first—the chicken or the egg? The chicken absolutely comes first. As a result, it’s important to consider the right breed.

Here’s a rundown of some of the top choices for backyard birds.

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