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Chicken Laws and Ordinances (And how to change them)

IS IT LEGAL TO KEEP CHICKENS WHERE YOU LIVE?

 

As with any agricultural enterprise, keeping chickens is subject to a variety of often complex laws and regulations. Most towns and cities in the USA have some local law and/or ordinance regarding livestock and poultry in place and no two towns' restrictions and allowances are identical, so before you get started with chickens you should find out what the local laws and ordinances in your area is. First of all find out what jurisdiction you are in, municipality, township, parish. Then contact your local government and find out what the laws and ordinance in your city or town is. Go to the information desk at your local municipality and ask to speak to a person who is knowledgeable about the local laws regarding livestock. Most local governments also have online resources available, so it is well worth an online search. If the law is unclear or confusing or if no-one at your local municipality knows for sure what the laws are regarding chickens, your local animal control officer may be able to assist you. If you don't live in a city or town, visit your local courthouse to find out what your local laws are. Also view our database of local laws and ordinances to see if your town or city is listed.

 

Depending on where your property is located you may run into subdivision covenants. These are even more vague than municipal ones. They are not enforced by the government so the association has to get a lawyer to go after you which they may not want to do, so you may have some room to bargain. Also your association may have gone inactive after the development you are occupying was built, so their may not be anyone left to try and enforce anything.

 

LAWS AND ORDINANCES YOU MAY ENCOUNTER

 

Permits and fees

 

Some towns and cities may require a permit or a fee, or both. This is no different than requiring one for dogs and cats, which is the case in most cities. Some towns and cities will require permits only if the number of birds exceed the amount set in the ordinance.

 

Number of birds permitted

 

Most towns and cities have a limit on the number of chickens you can keep on your property, though some towns and cities do not have limits in place. Distances from property lines and lot sizes are usually taken into consideration when determining the number allowed. Most cities, however, state a specific number, usually between 2 and 25 birds. The most common number of birds permitted is either 3 or 4. However, in some cities the ordinances are flexible and if you wish to keep more than the stated number of birds, for example 3, you are allowed to apply for a permit to do so. 

 

Regulation of roosters

 

Roosters are subject to noise ordinances in some towns and cities. Though a few towns and cities allow them, many of them don't. Some towns and cities will allow you to keep a rooster only if he is under 4 months of age. Since one of the main reasons people keep chickens is for eggs, it is generally accepted to only allow hens.

 

Enclosure Requirements

 

Some towns and cities have set requirements regarding coops and enclosures, some are unclear and some have no set requirements. Many do not permit birds to "run at large", i.e. free range around your backyard. In some towns and cities you may need to have your coop plans and building materials approved before you can start building.

 

Nuisance Clauses

 

There is a variety of nuisance clauses stated by different towns and cities and some have unclear nuisance regulations. The nuisances stated, however, include one or more of the following: noise, smell, public health concerns, attracting flies and rodents, cleanliness of coops and disposal of manure. 

 

Slaughtering Restrictions

 

Regulations regarding the slaughtering of chickens in residential areas are unclear in many towns and cities. A few towns and cities do not permit it at all and some do allow it, but put restrictions on the process. For example some towns and cities will only allow the slaughtering to take place inside a building, which could help prevent neighbours' complaints.

 

Distance Restrictions

 

Distance restrictions between the location of the chicken coop and property lines or nearby residences are stated in some ordinances. Again, some towns and cities have no restrictions and some are unclear. Most distance requirements are coop location distance from nearby residences and fewer were distance from property lines. The distance required from property lines could range from 10 to 90 feet and the distance from residences range from 20 to 50 feet. If a town or city chooses to to have distance regulations, average lot sizes will need to be taken into consideration. Distance requirements to neighbouring homes are generally easier to achieve as the distance includes part of the neighbouring property as well as the chicken owner's property.

 

Unique Regulations

 

Most towns and cities' regulations have some of the above in common, but some have unique regulations in place as well. For example:

 

- Chicken feed must be stored in rodent proof containers

- Pro-chicken regulations are on a 1-year trial basis, with only a set number of permits issued before the yearly re-evaluation.

- For every additional 1 000 sq feet of property, 1 additional chicken may be added to the set minimum for that area.

- Chickens are allowed in some multi-zoned areas. (Allowance in single family zoning is more common)

- Coops must be mobile to allow protect turf and prevent the build up of waste and pathogens.

- Some have minimum square feet requirements per bird in the coop and run.

 

CHANGING THE LAWS 

 

Many people have been successful in changing their local laws and ordinances. Here are some tips for changing the law where you live:

 

1. Find out exactly what your local ordinances are and make sure they are sufficiently specific. Some ordinances may be vague enough for you take advantage of, for example one that prohibits "barn animals", but doesn't specify poultry.

 

2. Start a thread in our Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances section. Name your city/town in your thread title to make sure others in your area read it and ask if anyone else is already busy trying to change your local laws. If not, invite others from your area and create a support group. There is strength in numbers and the more people sign on, the better your chances of success will be.

 

3. Make sure you know and understand the current laws. Find out if chickens will be allowed under certain conditions that can be amended or if a new ordinance is needed. Get your information directly from the city, in writing.

 

4. Find out if there are any chicken friendly cities or towns near you, then contact their code compliance office, mayor's office and other officials. Ask about their policies, how it works and if it has been successful. Then draft an ordinance that is appropriate to your town. 

 

5. Assemble an informational packet, based on the information you get. State facts, cite your references, include maps charts, photographs and letters of support.

 

6. Once you've got all the information you need, contact your city council and request the issue be placed on the agenda. Find out how your council meetings work and when public comments are allowed. Learn the protocol for submitting an item for discussion with your public officials.

 

7. Expect for this to take months. Changing city ordinances is neither easy nor quick, but it can be done. Stay polite, friendly, firm and persistent. This will help win your council's favour and show them you are serious.

 

For more helpful links and references on changing local laws and ordinances see here.

 

Comments (9)

Question:   Is there an accepted definition in place that excludes chickens as livestock?   My deed restrictions say "no livestock", and my position is chickens are poultry / fowl, not livestock.   So far so good, but if it comes up again I need a definition that excludes chickens from livestock.  To me, livestock generally has four legs/hooves.  Any suggestions on where I might find something to support my position? 
You may not get a definition, accepted or otherwise, of what is "livestock". 
Don't just stop with your local officials either. You may not get an accurate answer. You may be getting one person's opinion. Check your state laws as well. You may have some type of right to farm law that takes precedence over local jurisdiction. 
 
Even if you are permitted or protected or otherwise allowed to have fowl on your property you may still run into issues with neighbors or local authorities. You may have to fight for your rights.
 
You can see what I've been going though by reading my article in this forum.
If your community has a "Planning and Zoning Commission" that would be a good place to start. Ask to put on their agenda. Then go in to the meeting with your plans, a sketch of your proposed coop and run area (be sure to include setbacks) and state your case clearly. In our town the P & Z checks for compliance and ascertains whether there are conflicts in the town's development code. If they see something they can work with, they will usually issue a "Compliance Permit" and then they'll report that to the town council at the council's next meeting. They either forward your application, sketches and plans to the council with a report that they have approved your plan, or will forward it to them with a recommendation to approve or deny a variance if your plans have some issues that might cause problems. And it never hurts to go into either meeting with a fistful of letters from your closest neighbor saying that they have no objections to your plans for a few backyard chickens. Be prepared to answer questions honestly.
Mine says, No Livestock or Poultry. But my chickens are pets, like cats and dogs:)
When I bought my house 20 years ago, we had no restrictions. It was a high priority on our MUST HAVE to be in the country where we could have animals after we retired. Fast forward to retirement - YAY! Our house is nearly paid off and I was in touch with a local zoo for a couple of endangered heritage breed goats. And of course a chicken coop was a no-brainer first step. The goats would take awhile so we set out on our chicken project. A website I found had a nice step by step guide and one step was to check local zoning code. I actually laughed and almost didn't bother because I KNEW there wasn't any. Imagine my surprise when I was hit in the gut with a book of brand new sparkling regulations for COUNTY dwellers. Now mind you - we don't live in a city or even a subdivision with covenants. We are on a little over an acre in the COUNTRY. So come to find out the county slipped a new gaggle of bureaucrats in under the dark of night. Our taxes skyrocketed and our rights plummeted. The wording was restrictive to the point of gardens! No gardens were allowed. Since I was ignorant of these highly restrictive new codes, my beautiful garden was in full swing. I challenged the new 'Community Development' office during a county board meeting. The county administrator laughed and snorted, "with the two car garage, 3000 sq foot house, and the pool, where would you put chickens anyway?" I did not join the laughter that filled the board room.
 
Next, I went to the local farm bureau for help and they sold me out. They said they didn't want small micro farmers in the county, and sided with the county community development office. When I had asked to on the agenda for several months the local fox news got wind of the growing challenge. They came to my house and filmed me in my garden, a violation by the county code. The community development leader was mad. She did not like to be challenged.
 
When I called the county community development office and spoke with the office leader (don't know her title) and she threatened me  - "maybe I need to send someone out to do a sweep of your neighborhood." WHAT!? I had little success changing our lock-down into the mass market food supply. In order to follow our dream, we had to move away from our family and friends. So we are closing on our new homestead in two days. Our home is still for sale but we can't continue living under the thumb of local small government tyrants.
 
The last news is that people continued pressuring for change and that gardens are now allowed. There is also the potential that a homeowner will be allowed chickens. A permission form must be completed and submitted with an accompanying $150 nonrefundable fee. The county board and community development office make a decision regarding the request to own chickens. If it is denied, the homeowner is out of luck. If the application is approved, there is an accompanying five pages of rules regarding the placement, number, and of course, no roosters or...


Great article.  Luckily chickens are allowed where we live in upstate New York which are incorporated in our local zoning laws. 
Nice article! My town/county alows chickens it's my neighborhood that i'm unsure of. Just posted a threed about what to do,but if my neighborhood doesn't alow chickens I'll be using this to help me change that. 
not sure where to post this young gal wanted to find the ordinances for LaConner Washington state http://www.codepublishing.com/WA/LaConner/#!/laconner06/LaConner0605.html#6.05
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