This hen is one of about 48 laying hens that Star City High School poultry science students are raising. The project enhances their classroom education and doubles as community outreach. Each Tuesday, the kids donate about 200 eggs to Lend A Hand Food Pantry in Star City.
From Barnyards to Backyards
Chickens Take Over
Photos and story by Deborah Horn
As Nathan Reed expertly slid his hand under the plumage of a large Rhode Island Red, the chicken clucked a few times in protest. Nothing more.
Standing in a chicken coop built by Star City High School students, the senior explained that sitting hens can be “a little cranky and some are protective of their eggs.” If upset, the chicken might peck at the approaching hand or arm. Nonetheless, he said, “You learn to do it.” He recommended approaching the bird calmly, and he seemed to possess the magic touch as he continued down the row of laying boxes designed to accommodate egg production.
Reed and more than a dozen students also built the enclosed chicken run and were raising nearly 50 Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and Red Sex chickens as part of their Poultry Science class. The multi-year course is hands-on, running seven days a week, according to Leanna Britton, Poultry Science and Agriculture Education teacher. Next year’s juniors and seniors will take over the poultry project. “It’s more than just a grade,” Britton said, explaining that each week, the students donate about 16 dozen eggs to the Lend A Hand Food Pantry. Sarah Taylor, 12th grade, said, “We know we’re doing something good.”
While Britton’s students are preparing for real-world jobs in the poultry industry or for college, she said anyone with extra yard space can raise chickens. However, Britton added, “Chickens require daily care.” Every day, the yard and pen need to be cleaned and the chickens fed, as well as the eggs need to be gathered, cleaned and stored. A chicken farmer can’t just take off for the weekend or a longer vacation. Just like dogs and cats, “They need care,” she said.
Check city ordinances
Star City has only one regulation concerning chickens within its borders. “The coop must be kept clean,” said city Treasurer Alicia Hawkins. Additionally, loud chickens, especially roosters, would fall under a noise ordinance violation, Hawkins explained.
In Little Rock, roosters aren’t allowed under the noise ordinance, and, said Tracy Roark, Little Rock Animal Services manager, “Guineas could also be a problem because they tend to be noisy.” Currently, the city is working on tightening its chicken ownership regulations, including limiting the number of chickens and ducks a homeowner can have on their property to 12.
The department has other requirements, too. “The chickens need housing and space, and we do inspect for cleanliness,” Roark said. Each bird needs at least 3 square feet of space, ducks require access to water, and the coop and chicken pen or run must be in the backyard at least 25 feet from the nearest neighbors’ property line and 5 feet from the owner’s home. The coop and pen needs to be secure, offering the birds protection from four-legged or overhead predators, but it also keeps them from running around the neighborhood causing problems.
The amended regulations are based on the department’s experiences and best practices. Roark suggested calling his department for specifics before getting started, as well talking with the city’s zoning department concerning any construction permit requirements.
Although Little Rock doesn’t require a permit if a resident wants to raise backyard birds, the city of North Little Rock does. “It’s $10 annually,” said Animal Control Director David Miles. In addition, an animal control officer will inspect the chickens’ living conditions before the permit is issued. The city also requires that a coop and yard be at least 75 feet from the nearest neighbor. The birds aren’t allowed to run free, and the coop must be cleaned every 48 hours.
The city’s ordinance covering chickens doesn’t have an individual bird space requirement but states the resident must provide the birds with “adequate space,” Miles said. Both Miles and Roark agree that because each city’s regulations vary, it’s best to check before committing time and money.
Prior to deciding on specific plans or designing a coop, Roark said to determine where on the property it can be built. Britton said, “The plans (for the Star City High School chicken coop and pen) were designed by the students.” The coop is 4 by 16 feet and includes one box per chicken, and the covered pen is 16 by 48 feet. The entire project cost about $2,500, and it took the students about three weeks to research, design and draw the plans to scale.
Caring for poultry
“Clean water and the proper nutrients are crucial to good and safe egg production,” said Erin Payne, a livestock technical assistant with Heifer USA. She was leading a class at November’s Arkansas Urban Homesteading Conference held in North Little Rock.
According to Payne, individual needs determine the best breed selection, as some breeds of chickens are best for egg production while others are best for meat production.