This law was unnecessary and elitist. What this meant was that in residential areas only the wealthy could own a local source of fresh, healthy eggs. Those wealthy enough to own large lots could enjoy the benefits of chickens in their gardens. But the average hard-working Joe, who probably needs the nutritional and other advantages of keeping chickens much more than his richer neighbors, was shut out by the "Powers That Be."On November 20, 2012, the Chesapeake City Council voted to allow up to six hens on single-family residential lots with certain restrictions. There is a one-year sunset clause on the legislation, but our Facebook group, "4 Chesapeake Hens," plans to work to keep chickens legal.
The March/April, 2012, issue of Urban Farm magazine outlines the minimum space requirements for keeping chickens. And--surprise!--three acres is major overkill for a microflock of three or four hens. Author Kelly Wood has been keeping chickens, bees, and other critters on her 1/2 acres farm in Oregon for more than eight years. According to her article, laying hens require, per bird, a minimum of:
- 1.5 square feet inside of a coop
- .75 (that is, 3/4') of perch space inside same coop
- 1.5 square feet of space in a nest box in the coop
- 8 square feet in an outdoor run
A reader questioned whether laying hens need perches. Everything I've read says they are much happier when they have perches. They stay cleaner, too. Perches should be 2-3 feet up off the ground so the chickens can fly up to them. Heavier breeds may need lower perches to keep from injuring their legs or feet getting on and off them. If the birds don't have room to fly, or if the perches are higher, provide a ladder so the hens can get up there. And perches should be all of an even height so the hens don't fight over who gets the highest one. The higher perches are more desirable, and the hens can squabble over them intensely as part of their efforts to sort out their pecking order (pun intended).
**Update on 5/10/12: A recent article on chicken gardens suggests 250 square feet per hen for free-range birds. If you plan to free range them, plan on more space that in the urban farming article. But please note we STILL do not need anywhere near three acres to keep a few hens!
**Update on 7/14/12: Chicken Tractor, by Andy Lee and Patricia Foreman, recommends "one laying hen per 4 square feet minimum space." So far the book doesn't specify how much of that is perch space, how much is nest box, how much is general space inside the coop. But I have also read that hens need good ventilation and extra space to spread themselves out on their perches in hot weather, so if you live in an area of the country where it stays hot at night, you might want to find your girls some extra room on those perches.
This post was updated in late December to reflect the changes in Chesapeake's zoning laws regarding chickens.