Backyard Chickens: Smoke and Mirrors


A photo of the Chicken WhispererMany cities across the country are changing their laws to become more backyard chicken friendly, or so it appears. Many of the headlines read, "City votes to allow backyard chickens" or "City is now chicken friendly," but when you actually read the article you find out that the city is anything but chicken friendly. The headlines tend to be a little deceiving to say the least.

Because of the increased popularity of keeping backyard chickens across America, cities have been forced to look at their current laws to determine what exactly they say about keeping backyard chickens. Many laws are written to restrict commercial chicken farms, but mention nothing about keeping a small backyard flock. Many refer to livestock, but say nothing about poultry. Some are just plain vague. This puts both the city and property owner in uncharted waters.

In many cases when a city finds out that a resident is keeping backyard chickens they just presume that it must be against the law, because who would keep chickens in the city? Little do they know that hundreds or even thousands of residents in their city are already keeping backyard chickens and have for years! Then, the city does what it does best and sends the resident a citation. Yes, even if backyard chickens are allowed the resident still receives a citation that the chickens must go. Unfortunately, many will take the city’s word for it and remove their chickens from the property even though there is no law stating they have to do so. This could go on forever until a resident takes the time to do a little research and challenge the city.

Some cities are treading very lightly and offering a trial period by issuing a limited number of permits to residents who want to keep backyard chickens. Other cities however are claiming to be backyard chicken friendly, but then knowingly write the laws so strict that it eliminates most of their residents from keeping backyard chickens. This is what happened where we live. When we first started our backyard flock we lived in an unincorporated part of the county. The law stated that chickens had to be 25 feet away from any neighbor’s occupied dwelling. About two years ago we became a city and when the new government found out that some residents kept backyard chickens they went to work rewriting the law. The new city council voted to increase the footage requirements so now the chickens must be 100 feet away from any neighbor’s occupied dwelling. One would have to think they did this knowing good and well that it would eliminate most residents in the city from keeping backyard chickens. Instead of just flat out banning backyard chickens and looking like the bad guy, they just made the law so strict that practically no one could keep backyard chickens in the city. This way they can make claims that they allow backyard chickens, residents just have to abide by certain parameters.

As stated above, there is a city that is only going to allow a total of 12 permits to residents interested in keeping backyard chickens. They also are requiring the residents to do something you only hear about in grade school. They are requiring the residents to get signed permission slips from each neighbor stating that it’s ok for them to keep backyard chickens. Another city is requiring that the lot be 5000 square feet and is only allowing 4 chickens. If you wanted more chickens you must have an additional 2000 square feet per chicken. This means that if you have 8 chickens your lot must be at least 13,000 square feet, even if your chicken coop is just 12’x12’ or 144 square feet. Does your home have 2000 square feet per person?

I understand that keeping backyard chickens is not for everybody. Some people are dog lovers, some people are cat lovers, and some people are chicken lovers. However, it amazes me how far some people will go to do whatever they can to ban backyard chickens in their city when they have such little knowledge on the subject.

9/9/2009 10:10:23 PM

Oh to have chickens --I'm just going to have to get brave and talk to the city officials about it. I haven't heard of anyone else asking about chickens yet so I'll guess I'll be the first. vickie

7/22/2009 8:28:12 AM

Our town just passed a chicken/duck ordinance this year and I ran to the nearest farm store for ducklings. I had wanted chickens for years, but having had ducks when I was young made me want them again. I LOVE having them and they provide at least 3 eggs per day. I have 5 hens and 1 drake right smack dab in the middle of town. The great thing about having town poultry is that you don't really have predators. Even our neighbor cats don't seem to even be interested in the ducks. We yard range them always and don't even put them in a pen at night anymore. The only drawback to ducks and neighbors is if you get a really loud "honker", which I happen to have. I am constantely worried she is driving everyone crazy. So far, the neighbors tell me no. Good communication is also key with city poultry and giving your neighbors eggs once in awhile might keep everyone happy!

7/20/2009 10:48:56 AM

My sister lives in - what we call a coal-patch town -- and she had to fight her township for the 'right' to have 15 chickens. She did the research into the township policies and the policies said that they banned all agricultural. This would include gardening, which township residents did frequently.

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