The 10 Things to Know About Keeping a Chicken Coop

We can't tell you why the chicken crossed the road, but we can teach you what you need to know before considering keeping a chicken coop in your backyard.

Credit: Flickr/Open Gate Farms

Backyard chicken coops can be chaotic if you’re not prepared

After all of last year’s headlines, Vancouver’s Chicken Bylaw doesn’t seem to have ruffled too many feathers

Backyard chickens made the media cluck with headlines last year in the lead-up to Vancouver’s chicken bylaw enacted on June 8th, 2010.


Now, a year later, only 25 chicken licences have been issued by Vancouver’s City Hall, according to Tom Hammel, the Assistant Director & Deputy Chief Licence Inspector who oversees the management of Licensing & Animal Control at The City of Vancouver. In fact, there have only been seven chicken complaints since the bylaw was enacted.


But those numbers could be misleading. The Chicken Coop Co-op Forum, for example, has 78 members.


Brush up on your hen how-to in Chicken 101

“I encourage people to get a licence,” says Duncan Martin, a Vermont-native who started keeping chickens when he was a kid. Martin gives Chicken 101 workshops at Strathcona Community Centre.


This list is gleaned from Martin’s chicken insights at the most recent workshop so check in with the Strathcona Community Centre to register for the next class: (604) 713-1838.

Ten things you should know before starting a chicken coop

  1. You can only keep four hens—no roosters. Hens are for egg-laying purposes only and you can’t buy chicks because chicks can turn out to be roosters. When you go to get your hens, Martin says to purchase pullets, which are four to six months old.
  2. Yes, hens lay eggs without the help of a rooster. Female chickens produce eggs whether or not a male fertilizes them. But all animals have instincts and chickens can get “broody”, which manifests as a motherly desire to sit on and hatch her eggs.
  3. Broody hens don’t contribute to egg count, which can bring down productivity. Martin says you can avoid this by collecting your eggs daily. 
  4. You can count on a productive, healthy hen laying about five to six eggs a week. This should last from about six months to five years of age, but depends on the breed. Martin says to do your research before buying a breed.
  5. Each breed has its own temperament, laying capacity, weather hardiness etc. Some are egg layers and some are ornamental. Others are meat birds. Ameraucanas are hearty in all climates, lay blue/green eggs and rate “average” in the “broodiness” column in a breed chart found on
  6. To buy laying hens, Martin suggests joining VillageVancouver to find postings from local members. Or you put “chickens for sale” into a search on Craigslist to find Fraser Valley farmers selling chickens. Free range Brown Layers in Abbotsford were going for $3 each on May 11th. Or try the Fraser Valley Auctions in Langley. They’ve been selling livestock for 25 years.
  7. Before you get your “gals”, get a licence first. They are free—just go to the City’s online registry. Be advised that you will have to review the city’s regulations and hen care documents like Bird Health Basics.
  8. Bird health has to do with pests and predators—you have to ensure protection from both. Martin gives good tips on how to make a coop that will keep your chickens safe from urban predators, plus he has some ideas about mites, fresh water and what to do while you’re away on vacation.
  9. If your birds do get sick, you’re left with a choice. Vets, like Night Owl, service birds but they are expensive, and Vancouver’s City bylaw does not allow for slaughter within the city limits.
  10. If you want to meet the backyard chickens of East Vancouver, you can join Velopalooza’s Tour de Coop, June 7th, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm. Stopping at 10 different coops in the Grandview-Woodlands neighbourhood, Colleen Kimmett organized the ride as a way to learn more about backyard chickening. The ride begins and ends at 1831 McSpadden Avenue.

Backyard chicken policies in other cities

And just a note to those that think keeping chickens is a lark; New York City, Chicago, Portland and Seattle allow backyard hens. Closer to home, chickens can be kept in North Vancouver Township, Delta, Port Coquitlam (as long as they are not ‘at large’), Victoria, Surrey and Maple Ridge.


In Richmond, you can keep chickens if you have ½ acre or more. And in Burnaby, although there is nothing in the animal control bylaw prohibiting chickens, the zoning bylaw keeps them from most areas of the city.

A table of Canadian and American cities and their approach to chickens can be found here.