Keeping a few chickens or ducks in your back garden for free, fresh eggs is an increasingly popular hobby. Before you start it is advisable to check your property deeds or consult your landlord to make sure there are no covenants preventing the keeping of ‘livestock’. Similarly it is unlikely that you will require planning permission if you are only keeping a few birds in a small garden-shed sized coop.
While there are no laws to stop you from keeping poultry, you may encounter problems is if your neighbours start to be bothered noise, odours or vermin issues because of the way you keep your brood. Here is some advice to help you avoid causing a nuisance under current UK law.
How many birds can I keep in my garden?
There are no limits specified but you will need to be realistic about the amount of space you have, the time commitment you can make, costs (feed, medication, parasite and disease treatment) and the impact a large number of birds might have on your neighbours. Most people base their decision on how many eggs they want.
As a rule of thumb a hen can lay between 200 and 250 eggs per year dependent upon the breed, their health, age, how well they are fed and the time of the year so three or four birds will be sufficient in most cases. You can sell any surplus unmarked eggs at your gate or locally door to door, but if you sell eggs to someone who will sell them on, such as a shopkeeper, you need to register with the Egg Marketing Inspectorate and also register as a food business with your local Environmental Health food team on 01529 414155 . In addition, if you are intending to keep more than 50 birds, you will need to register your brood with DEFRA; this is so that poultry keepers can be notified of disease outbreaks such as Avian Influenza. A link to the DEFRA website is given where you can register your flock.
Minimising impacts and problems
The first thing to consider is the location of your coop. Placing it right up against neighbouring properties may be inviting trouble if you are unable to sufficiently control noise, odour, flies and vermin. Secondly, you should consider the general welfare, house keeping and hygiene arrangements. Poultry need fresh food and water every day and cleaning out on a frequent basis, at least every few days, depending upon how many birds you keep and how dirty their enclosure becomes. Generally a well-planned cleaning and feeding regime, thoroughly implemented will help to minimise most problems, but make sure whoever looks after your brood when you go away knows what to do to maintain high standards.
Statutory nuisance and public health
Local councils are legally obliged to investigate any complaints made under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 relating to public health and nuisance issues. For keeping poultry this normally involves noise, smells, insects and vermin. Where evidence shows that any of these issues is causing a significant interference with another person’s use and enjoyment of their property we can serve a legal notice on the person(s) responsible for the nuisance requiring action to be taken to stop the problem or face prosecution for noncompliance.
So it’s important to ensure that you practice good hygiene and house-keeping not only for the welfare of your birds but also to avoid causing problems for your neighbours.
Odours, flies and waste
The coop can be a smelly place, particularly during the summer months. You should ensure that you clean the coop out on a regular basis and cleanse the area with a suitable disinfectant if necessary. It may be a good idea to use a plastic membrane underneath the coop to make it easier to do so, but be careful because sometimes mice will burrow under this and use it for shelter. Woodchip and straw absorb droppings and can be removed easily.
Do not allow excess food and bedding waste to accumulate, it will start to smell, provide somewhere for flies to breed and mice to shelter and may attract rats looking for food. Make sure it is regularly gathered up, bagged and disposed of appropriately.
Scattering food across the ground often leads to some being missed by your birds and left for rats and mice. You get more control by using proper feeders that do not fall over or allow spillage and keep out the rain giving your birds’ good access to dry pellets or grain. Try and monitor the amount of food you put out so that no excess is left for vermin. At night remove the feeders or empty them and collect up any spillage and also dispose of any domestic kitchen scraps you may have put out for them. Store your feed (and bedding) in secure vermin proof containers and clear up any spillages.
Rats and mice
Once vermin realise there is an accessible food supply they will return over and over leaving their faeces and urine to contaminate your birds’ feed and water. You will also be exposing yourself, your family and your neighbours to the diseases that rats and mice carry in their faeces and urine. You need to ensure you do as much as possible to keep the area in and around your coop as clean as possible. Some people advise putting the coop on slabs or concrete base to make it easier to clean around the area. However, mice may burrow under the foundations so this not always a good idea. It is, however, good advice to raise the coop 20-25 centimetres off the ground to prevent rats or mice moving in underneath.