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Can I Legally Keep Chickens in My Backyard?

Girl with Chicken

In many areas local ordinances prohibit keeping backyard chickens, but regulations vary from one place to the next. Before bringing home your first chickens, check applicable zoning regulations, municipal codes, homeowner association rules, and lease restrictions. You will learn whether you can keep chickens at all, and, if so, what restrictions might pertain to your chicken-keeping activities and whether a license is required.

Read all the applicable regulations yourself, recommends Kathy Mormino, author of The Chicken Chick’s Guide to Backyard Chickens. In her book she describes her own introduction to chicken keeping regulations: “You’d think that as a bar-admitted attorney in my state, I might have known to read the zoning code in my farm town prior to getting my first chickens, but the thought never crossed my mind. My neighbor had kept three horses and a small flock of chickens on a lot the same size as ours, so it never occurred to me that keeping chickens might not be legal in our neighborhood—but it was.

“I had called the town clerk’s office to ask whether a building permit was required to build a coop and was told it was not—but it was. Failing to read zoning codes and ordinances myself was a mistake. Misinformation from town employees doesn’t help when a notice of violation from the zoning department arrives at the front door, which it did. Over a period of several years, I defended a lawsuit brought by the town attempting to force me to get rid of my chickens; although I ultimately beat City Hall, the battle was costly.”

To give you an idea what you might be up against, The City Chicken website lists many, but not all, chicken keeping regulations enacted in various states. Common statutes include the following types of restrictions:

  • Limit to flock size —no more than 4 chickens is typical.
  • Hens only — in many areas no roosters are allowed.
  • No free ranging — a flock may need to be cooped at all times.
  • Building permit — coop must comply with building regulations.
  • Setbacks — distance of coop and fence from houses and roads.
  • Activity restrictions — for example, no egg selling or butchering.
  • Nuisance laws — control of noise, odors, flies, and rodents.
  • Manure management — storage and disposal, or composting.
  • License required — often involving payment of an annual fee.

If you discover you aren’t allowed to keep chickens, or you don’t like some of the restrictions pertaining to keeping a backyard flock, you might be able to change your local chicken laws and ordinances. Many people, including children, have succeeded in changing local regulations to accommodate chicken keeping.

Begin by understanding exactly what the regulations are, so you can be specific about what you want to change. Research regulations in nearby towns that already allow chickens. They might be used as a model for formulating your own town’s regulations. Further, showing that neighboring towns allow chickens may help your cause.

Know what objections might be raised and be prepared to counter them. In her book, Ms. Mormino busts six common myths about chickens with facts to present to lawmakers that will “take the wind out of the opposition’s sails.” Network with other local citizens who are also interested in keeping chickens, and get local media involved. The more interest you can generate, the better your chance of success. Avoid getting carried away by emotions. Stick to the facts.

With all your facts documented, along with supporting documents, arrange to meet with your local lawmakers so you can present your case. After many months of preparation, changing the chicken laws may take many more months, so be prepared to remain polite but persistent.

And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.

Gail Damerow, author, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens

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