‘Don’t just wing it! Know the rules around keeping backyard chickens’

Oct 20, 2020
Were you aware that the rules differ between states? Source: Getty.

Sometime in the past 10 years, Australia underwent something of a chicken revolution. Aussies, suddenly and collectively, hit upon backyard chickens as a way to both save the planet and spice up their dinner tables, and they took to the backyard chicken coop in droves. However, keeping chickens isn’t exactly an easy bandwagon to jump on; in addition to all the practical chicken raising information it can already be difficult enough to find, there are also all the regulations that need to be considered when adopting a flock of chickens.

Some of these guidelines, thankfully, are obvious and intuitive; most councils limit the number of birds a person can keep, for instance, or have minimum requirements about coop construction, and almost all ban roosters except in rural areas because of noise concerns. Some of the rules, however, may not seem very intuitive at all, and are certainly not obvious. And to confuse matters further, they also differ between states and territories across Australia.

Here are some of the rules you need to know before setting up a coop at home.

1. It is illegal to give chicken feed to other livestock.

While it might not seem like a big deal if some chicken feed gets left out or mixed in with something else, for anyone who also keeps ruminants – such as cows, goats, sheep, or llamas – on their property will need to be careful not to cross-contaminate their feed with the chicken feed or chicken litter. The rules, while stringent, are all part of the national campaign to keep Australia free from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – mad cow disease, which can be transmitted whenever ruminants come into contact with meat or other meat products or animal byproducts – including chicken feed.

2. In Melbourne, all chicken coops must be at least 18 metres away from the road.

Since rules about chicken-keeping are generally set by local councils, they often vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Many councils have rules requiring chicken coops to be set back from neighbours’ fences or property lines by anywhere from one to six meters. In Moonee Valley and Maribyrnong, however, coops must also be at least 18 metres away from any roads the property fronts. This is presumably an attempt to keep chicken coops out of front yards and out of sight – which some other jurisdictions in Melbourne, including the City of Yarra, just mandate outright.

3. In Hobart, keeping a rooster requires written permission – from the whole neighbourhood.

While most residential areas in Australia ban roosters outright because of noise concerns, and those that do allow them usually require a permit, those looking to raise a rooster in the Hobart municipal area have to take a slightly different approach. Roosters are allowed only if every resident living within 300 metres of the proposed rooster’s home provide a written statement that they consent to its presence.

Otherwise, Hobart’s poultry regulations are relatively lax – there’s no upper limit on the number of hens a person can keep, so long as they are set back from fences and neighbouring properties and don’t impede upon neighbours with their smells or sounds. Since it’s almost impossible, though, to keep roosters in a residential area without them being a noise nuisance, anyone looking to keep a rooster in Hobart will have to start knocking on their neighbours’ doors – and may need to be ready to offer them some free eggs.

4. Know how to deal with predators, such as foxes, that threaten your chicken coop.

For most predators, simply keeping them away from the chicken coop with fencing, deterrents and vegetation control is all any chicken owner can ask for. Foxes, however, present a special problem for Australian chicken owners, because they’re not a natural part of the ecosystem that needs to be protected. They are, instead, a deeply pernicious invasive species that has been terrorising indigenous wildlife and driving rare creatures toward extinction since the 19th century. As such, Australian chicken owners dealing with a fox problem are empowered to take slightly more extreme measures – specifically, baiting foxes with a poisonous salt called 1080. The compound is highly toxic and needs to be used cautiously, by a licensed professional – especially in residential areas where it might also be accessed by pet dogs and cats.

5. Other potential predators, like quolls, are legally protected and need to be deterred carefully.

The rich biodiversity of Australia has unsurprisingly produced some animals that love to snack on chickens, and the rise of invasive species and urban development has unsurprisingly left some of these chicken thieves on lists of threatened and endangered – and therefore protected – species. One of these is the quoll, a carnivorous marsupial that haunts the Australian coasts and Tasmania (though not Queensland, where they’re officially classified as extinct).

Fortunately, quolls can usually be put off your hen house through the usual methods of deterring ground predators – buried fencing, cement floors, motion-sensor lights. However, anyone who catches a quoll in the act should be careful about chasing them off without killing or injuring them; their status as endangered also means any chicken owners who find a quoll caught in their fence or otherwise trapped has the potentially unpleasant task of rescuing the animal that tried to kill their chickens.

Establishing a flock of chickens in the backyard can be one of the most fulfilling ways to bring animals into a household, not to mention one of the most practical and efficient. After all, unlike dogs and cats, chickens put food on the table, both by laying eggs (or potentially ending up on the table themselves) and by helping to weed, fertilise, and remove insects from the garden.

However, all these benefits don’t come without some restrictions – potentially a lot of restrictions – and anyone with a coop in their backyard would do well to check – and double check – their local council’s rules. Some of them are weirder than you think.

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