Much ado about nothing?
Does the resident next door complain about your chickens? Julie Moore offers advice on how to placate even the most vociferous grumbler
The ‘for sale’ sign next door has been replaced with a ‘sold’ board. Your long-standing friendly neighbours are finally moving. But who will replace them?
While you have dutifully checked your property deeds to ensure that there are no covenants preventing the keeping of ‘livestock’ and you have complied with all the regulations imposed by the local council relating to the four hens you keep in your back garden, it is not long before you discover that your new neighbours are less than enthralled with your flock. So how can you mitigate any potential conflict?
Firstly, invite your neighbour to coffee one morning — baking some goodies using your girls’ eggs might just be the icing on the proverbial cake. In an informal environment over a drink, you can tell your neighbour how you started keeping chickens and how they benefit your life. Share any amusing incidents that have happened involving your hens. If you allow non-family members to visit your coop, give your neighbour a tour and let them see your hens close up.
Encourage your neighbour to air their concerns about your birds and ask questions. Listen to them carefully so that they can tell you exactly why they object to your birds.
TURN THE SOUND DOWN
While you might like the sound of your girls performing the egg song, you need to appreciate that their musical talents aren’t to everyone’s taste. If noise is a problem, is it possible to move the coop
further away from next door? Siting your coop right up against neighbouring properties is likely to invite trouble. If you have a small garden, you could consider planting shrubs that grow to 3-4ft (90-120cm) as a sound barrier and potential windbreak around the coop and run. The shrubs will provide shade and cover from the elements and predators if you free range your flock.
If your neighbour complains about rodents, look at your set up. Scattering food across the run often leads to some being missed by your hens and left for opportunists such as mice and rats. Use proper robust feeders that can’t be knocked over and don’t allow for spillages. Only put down enough food for your girls. Remove feeders at night and be sure to clear up any accidental spillages. Keep your feed stored in rodent-proof bins in a secure area.
Many people fear that chickens will attract predators. The truth is they are already in your back garden. Foxes and squirrels all enjoy urban living with its many food sources, and they certainly aren’t shy in searching out food. A neighbour told me that a fox comes inside his house when the back door is open to eat the dog food left in a bowl in the kitchen. Remember that chickens are also predators and will contribute towards balancing the local ecology, eating snails, slugs, rodents and even snakes.
As a responsible chickenkeeper, you should employ good husbandry and security to protect your flock so that predators move on to easier pickings.
SCOOP THE POOP
If smell is an issue, perhaps you need to clean the coop and run more often. Employing dropping boards beneath the roosts enables quick scraping of the overnight poop into a bucket. The contents can then be put straight on to the compost heap. Using sand as litter means that as the poop
dries out quickly there is no smell or flies, plus you can easily remove it each day by scooping it out. When you add the poop to your compost heap, add a layer of browns on top to keep any odour down and the flies away.
Even if your hens are confined to their coop and run, ensure that there is a sturdy fence between your property and that of your neighbour. It will reassure those living next door that their newly planted flower bed won’t be your chickens next dust bath. I have found that there is a lot of truth in the old saying that good fences make good neighbours.
More often than not, a friendly conversation can alleviate any tensions while educating a non-chicken keeper about the virtues of your hens. Hopefully, your neighbour will soon realise that there is far more to chickens than their stereotypical image. And don’t forget that it is impossible to beat the flavour of a freshly laid egg, so a gift of a dozen eggs should go a long way to softening even the hardest heart.
Sometimes, even though you have done everything you can, your neighbour will remain unhappy and you will have a feeling that they will employ other tactics.
If you think that your flock is in danger, increase security around the coop by:
• installing motion-sensor lighting — the sudden light should deter predators too;
• setting up an alarm for the coop door at locking up time and deactivating it in the morning;
• installing a security camera on the coop would capture any instances of trespass and allow you to see who actually does visit your coop at night — hopefully not your neighbour.
Keep a diary and log every incident.
Even though you have complied with local council regulations, re-familiarise yourself with them. Local councils are legally obliged to investigate any complaints made under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 relating to public health and nuisance issues. For chicken keepers, this normally involves noise, odour and the attraction of insects and vermin.
Where councils find evidence showing that any of these issues are causing a significant interference with another person’s use and enjoyment of their property, they can serve a legal notice on the poultry keeper requiring action to be taken to stop the problem or the keeper will face prosecution for non-compliance.
While complaining appears to have become a national pastime in recent years, bear in mind that for all the grumblers there are also countless good-natured neighbours who have an affinity with hens.
ABOVE: Julie’s neighbour, Genevieve, quickly realised that there is far more to chickens than their stereotypical imageBELOW: Installing a security camera would capture any instances of trespass
Chickens are also predators and will contribute towards balancing the local ecology by eating snakes
Employ good husbandry by removing the overnight poop daily
Using a robust feeder will ensure that there are no feed spillages to attract rodents
ABOVE: Good chicken-proof fences will help to keep the neighbours happy BELOW: A gift of some eggs should go a long way to softening even the hardest heart BOTTOM RIGHT: Share any amusing incidents that have happened involving your hens over coffee and biscuits