The Fight for Raising Backyard Chickens in the City

For raising backyard chickens in the city, you may need to change the rules to keep an urban flock.

  • The Chicken Revolution DVD
    The face of the Chicken Revolution and Chickens In The Yard.
    Barbara Palermo
  • Chicken in the Yard
    Keeping chickens in the city may mean leaving the rooster on the farm. Jurica
  • Chicken and Dog, Backyard Pals
    Chickens and dogs are best kept separate, and a fenced-in area or coop will help.
    Barbara Palermo

  • The Chicken Revolution DVD
  • Chicken in the Yard
  • Chicken and Dog, Backyard Pals

SALEM, OREGON – The urban chicken movement reflects a growing uneasiness among city dwellers who have come to rely, perhaps too heavily, on outside resources. As we become increasingly troubled by the economy, the environment, food safety, animal welfare and emergency preparedness, many of us strive to become more self-reliant. Now learning what our grandparents understood, we are gardening, canning food and raising chickens for eggs – activities that provide a sense of security and relaxation in an urban setting. There can be obstacles to living a more sustainable life, however.

Changing the Chicken Laws in the City

My husband and I spent three years turning our backyard into a permaculture system where everything works in harmony and little is wasted. It began with a vegetable garden. Soon, we were digging up lawn to make room for a second garden, then some fruit trees and berry bushes. Next, we installed a small greenhouse and a composter. Things were coming together, but there was one thing missing – chickens.

When we looked into the legality of keeping chickens, we discovered they are not specifically mentioned in the city code. Instead, there’s a list of “approved land uses,” which include raising a 100-pound potbelly pig. A different section of the code prohibits “livestock” in the city. Later, we discovered the city’s definition of livestock includes poultry, but we weren’t worried because it also includes “all species of swine,” yet pigs are permitted. We reasoned that if you can have a pig, then certainly it would be OK to have a few harmless little hens. Because Salem’s ordinance was vague, confusing and contradictory, we gave ourselves permission to build the chicken coop.

Soon, half the yard remained traditional lawn and flower beds, and the rest had been converted into a productive ecosystem that would sustain us, while saving money and resources. My girls had just begun to lay beautiful eggs when the unthinkable happened. 


In August 2008, I was shocked to discover a code compliance officer at my door. A neighbor had seen my chickens while working on his roof. It wasn’t about noise or smell. He just saw them. I refused to give up my pets without a fight.

7/6/2016 11:23:37 AM

Thanks for the article. I, too, can not get my City Council to agree to allow us to have a small rural city in NE Wisconsin. I used to live in NE Portland, where we enjoyed our 4 funny and valuable pest controllers and egg developers. Archer.

7/2/2016 9:25:50 PM

Hi from Joplin Missouri and I have lots of chickens. I live outside the city but we still have trouble. People just let thier dogs run free. Therefore I had to fence in my chicken run. I really wanted free range on my 3 acres but the neighbors dogs will kill them. I think no matter where you are people should be able to keep at least some hens. They are great to have and fun pets. Plus the eggs are delicious. We are in a world that is trying to be more humane. What great way by not supporting the egg industry. It's horrific how they are kept. That's what got me to get chickens. I could not stand the idea that my eggs come from chickens that are kept like prisoners. Hurting and not cared for. We need to allow anyone with a yard to have chickens. It should be our right to have healthy eggs for a healthy lifestyle.

7/1/2016 7:53:25 AM

Our small town just passed an ordinance ALLOWING up to 18 chickens - hens only - in the backyard. I'm happy - because I already had five girls roaming my fenced yard. When one of our girls was suddenly a rooster, we found a farm for him so we would not harass our neighbors. I'm happy to live in a chicken-loving town, where people wear their "Mother Hen" t-shirts proudly.

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