Chickens are a wonderful addition to your bountiful backyard and a great source for healthy and fresh eggs. Before you buy your chickens, coop, and other accessories, it’s important to know your local ordinances. Local laws regulate how many chickens you can keep, coop designs, distance requirements, and other chicken-keeping activities.
A History of Backyard Chicken Laws
The invention and refinement of the incubator at the turn of the last century gave rise to today’s multibillion-dollar poultry hatchery industry. Backyard chickens became a common sight since they didn’t take up too much space and were affordable. In fact, raising chickens was considered a patriotic duty up until the middle of the 20th century.
After the end of World War II, the government stopped encouraging victory gardens and homesteading activities. As food production became industrialized, families had a fresh and cheap supply of eggs and meat ready in supermarkets. Easier travel and refrigeration methods allowed the commercialization of poultry and the lower price of eggs.
As suburban developments sprang up, restrictions on raising farm animals became more common. In the modern and metropolitan environment of suburbia, raising poultry and livestock was seen as a general nuisance and threat to public health. As the local and sustainable food movement has grown, chicken laws have become more lenient.
Most ordinances on raising urban chickens have certain limits on how many chickens you can have. Some cities and towns have no limits on the number of birds you can raise. Limits vary and generally depend on the size of your property and zoning category. Most rules allow for about three or four hens.
Agriculturally Designated Zones
Consider your city’s zoning laws, which regulates how you can use your property. Find your property’s zoning category online or from your local zoning office or city hall. An agricultural zoning designation permits you to raise hens. Residential and commercial zones, however, are subject to stricter rules.
Generally, roosters aren’t allowed in most backyard coops due to noise ordinances. Most people only keep hens for eggs, which has influenced local laws. Only a select number of towns allow roosters. Some towns may limit you to one or two roosters at most. Others may only let you keep a rooster if he is under a certain age.
Chicken Coop Regulations
Some cities and towns require your chicken coop and coop activities to meet local building guidelines. For instance, most backyard chicken laws require hens to remain in their coop at all times. Essentially, free-range chickens are banned. Other towns may not have any specific rules for raising hens.
In terms of the coop’s structure, most ordinances require your coop to be predator-proof, easily cleaned, well vented, watertight, and big enough to allow your birds free movement. Outdoor enclosures must be fenced to keep chickens on your property. Approved fencing materials include stone, wood, and wire. Fencing height requirements vary by municipality.
Some cities require you to get a permit to raise chickens. Permits may be valid for one, two, or five years. Check your city laws to renew your permit on time. Some permits may require a fee, while others may not, which depends on many factors. Permit requirements may include the submission of coop blueprints, getting approval from neighbors, and attending a required class.
Most city ordinances have distance requirements for your coop. These laws dictate how far your coop needs to be from neighboring houses, property lines, and roads. Most distance requirements apply to the distance of a coop to nearby residences.
Fewer regulations are in place for the distance between coops and property lines. Distance requirements between property lines and coops range from 10 to 90 feet. Distance requirements between coops and neighboring residences range from 20 to 50 feet.
Chicken slaughter rules vary extensively at the local level. Many ordinances prohibit the slaughter of backyard chickens, especially in residential zones. The few ordinances that do allow backyard slaughter, may prohibit outdoor butchering.
As your hens start producing an excess of eggs, you’ll naturally want to share them with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Some homeowners may consider selling their surplus eggs. Before setting up your own little egg-selling business, check your local laws. In places that do allow the sale of eggs, you may need a business license and be subject to egg-washing rules.
Most poultry regulations feature nuisance laws that govern noise, odor, and pests associated with raising chickens in cities. For instance, many rats love to live under or close to chicken coops. Additionally, flies gravitate toward chicken droppings. Ordinances may address the disposal of manure and the cleanliness of a coop.
Chicken laws in cities are like a snowflake, no two ordinances are alike. For this reason, it’s important to stay informed about your community’s laws, which can change over time. Unique regulations include rules on where your chicken feed is stored. Some cities require you to store your feed in rodent-proof containers.
Some towns issue chicken permits on a trial basis for varying lengths. Permits may be limited during the trial phase of the program before re-evaluation. Some rules may allot you with additional chickens for larger properties. In some towns, coops may need to be mobile to protect the turf and reduce waste and the spread of disease.
Factors to Consider Before Buying Chickens
Before buying your birds and related equipment, research the local laws that apply to you. Contact your local government including your township hall, city council, or county board of supervisors to find out your poultry regulations. When building your coop, consider your building code guidelines that may be subject to approval from the city planning officers.
Research certain restrictive covenants that may prevent you from raising backyard chickens. Homeowners association rules may include clauses in the property deeds that ban poultry keeping. These rules may simply limit the number of birds you can keep or restrict commercial chicken keeping.
In rented properties, lease restrictions can set a limit on how many pets and birds you can keep in your home. Some towns may regulate their chicken-raising activities to their animal control office or through nuisance ordinances. For all other questions, contact a local attorney who specializes in poultry ordinances for more guidance.
What to Do If It’s Illegal?
If your city or town bans chicken-keeping, don’t attempt to break the law. Not only will that result in confiscation of your birds, hefty fines, and trouble with your neighbors, but you’ll also set back your community’s perception of these laws. Instead, focus on changing policy through a grassroots effort.
Changing the Laws
Unfortunately, not every municipality allows for the raising of backyard chickens. If they did, more homeowners would have access to fresh and healthy eggs and a lovable pet, too. Luckily, many advocates have been successful in changing community ordinances to raise chickens. If you’re interested in making a change, here are a few tips to get you started.
- Research your local ordinances to know what you’re up against. Many rules are vague and require more details. For instance, rules may ban barn animals, but not specifically poultry. Knowing the laws helps you craft laws that work for your community.
- Find like-minded individuals online or in-person to create a group to increase your chances of making a change. Social media platforms are an excellent tool for growing your grassroots group and bringing together people with different skills.
- Research policies found in nearby towns and draft your chicken ordinance to meet the needs of your own community. If possible, partner up with local nature centers or universities when drafting your proposal. Having support from one of these organizations can give your proposal more credibility to community lawmakers.
- Create a simple and short chicken proposal for the city council. A draft can include chicken limits, as well as slaughtering and rooster restrictions. Provisions can be added throughout the revision process.
- Reach out to city council members to start a dialogue about backyard chickens. Educating lawmakers and answering their questions in a respectful manner can make them more receptive to your proposed changes for raising chickens.
- Present your case to your local lawmakers during city council meetings when public comments are allowed. You may need to go up in front of the city council multiple times to convince them to approve your plan. Changing these laws can take months, but it can be done.
Before starting your homesteading adventure, it’s up to you to stay informed about your community’s chicken-raising rules. Keeping a chicken in the backyard has become more accessible than ever. However, not every town is receptive to these egg-laying barn animals. As more homeowners catch on the trend of raising these fluffy birds, rules will become less restrictive.