Question about Pennsylvania's state wide chicken laws - do they exist?

frannyglass

In the Brooder
5 Years
May 30, 2014
91
7
31
central PA
Hello. I'm wondering if anyone knows if Pennsylvania has any state wide laws regarding the keeping of chickens? Or if our Right to Farm Act actually covers chickens at all. As far as I can tell, it only seems to apply to properties of over 10 acres.

I live in Lancaster County, in West Donegal Township. My family owns property that covers 7 1/2 acres, and has since 1996. We kept 2 dozen chickens in the late 90s, early 00s, and let them completely free range during the day and never had any problems. This spring I got chicks. Now I keep running into problems.

Our coop has been in place since 2000. This summer we built a secure, covered run attached to it, because we have many predators. Someone in our neighborhood noticed this, complained to the township, and we got a letter notifying us that they hoped we were not planning on keeping chickens or other animals in there, because it was too close to the property line. Apparently at some point since 2000 they have changed the ordinance, and it now must be 50 feet away from the property line. We went to the neighbors whose property it edges on, and they actually have no problem with it, they were not the people who complained. The township is completely uninterested in the fact that the only people it actually effects are not bothered, OR the fact that it was in place and being used before the ordinance went into place. My mom tried to talk to a lawyer, but basically was told that trying to fight this would cost $600 to apply for a variance (that they might not agree to) and constant fighting at town meetings, where the township officials seems very hostile to the keeping of chickens. It would cost a lot in lawyer fees as well.

Additionally, there is NO ordinance against roosters. Because we were no longer permitted to keep them in their coop, my chickens were living on a screened in porch which did not muffle the sound of crowing at all. This only happened for a few mornings before I started keeping the 2 roosters in a small coop in our garage. My neighbors still complained, without talking to us first, and the township informed us that even though roosters are legal, and they were aware that the only reason the neighbors could hear them was because they were on the porch rather than in their coop, which was the township's fault to begin with, we had to rehome them. Those roosters were my sweetest chickens to be honest, and it was pretty devastating.

At this point I don't believe fighting them on either of these issues is possible, but I'm wondering about general state laws. I am listing my township's ordinances below. It seems like, according to those, I am only permitted up to 12 "small domestic animals" which need to be penned, including chickens, turkeys, and ducks. Once I rehome the two very young roosters that are still here I will only have 8 hens, but I am worried that they will count the unpenned ducks that live at my pond towards this number, or try to fine me for having 4 unpenned ducks (on my half acre pond!) My chicken coop/run are sized so that by the most generous estimations I could have 17 chickens in them, and I would really like to get more chicks next year. The area where the large-enough coop/run will be is hundreds of feet from any neighbors, and since I have 7 1/2 acres and live in a rural area in Lancaster County, I really do not understand why this is not allowed. Weirdly, the ordinances seem to allow for 1 1/2 "large domestic animals" per acreage, which means that I could have 10 of these "large domestic animals" which I assume would be sheep or alpacas or such. Certainly that would be more disruptive than 13 chickens? I do not understand why the large domestic animal allowance goes up per acre, but seemingly the small does not.

Anyway, I would appreciate any insight that anyone has on this issue. ~ Meagan

West Donegal Township ordinances:
B. It is permitted to maintain small domestic animals up to a total of 12, provided the following conditions are met:
(1) Maintaining small domestic animals shall be within the rear yard area.
(2) Maintaining small domestic animals shall be on a noncommercial basis and be strictly as an incidental use.
(3) The area within which small domestic animals are kept shall be enclosed by a fence designed for containment.
(4) Such fence shall be at least 50 feet from any lot line and not closer than 100 feet to the nearest dwelling other than that of the owner.
(5) The area within which small domestic animals are maintained shall be kept in a suitable grass cover and shall not be allowed to degrade to an erodible condition.
(6) The owner of the small domestic animals shall exercise suitable control over the animals and shall not allow a nuisance condition to be created in terms of excessive noise, dirt, or odor.
(7) For the purposes of this subsection, small domestic animals shall include animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchilla, and fowl such as chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and pigeons, but shall not include wild or exotic animals held in captivity.
C. The ownership of large domestic animals shall not exceed 1 1/2 animal units per acre, provided the following conditions are met:
(1) Maintaining large domestic animals shall be within the rear yard area.
(2) Maintaining large domestic animals shall be on a noncommercial basis and be strictly as an incidental use.
(3) The area within which large domestic animals are kept shall be enclosed by a fence designed for containment.
(4) No building, corral, fence, or stable shall be closer than 100 feet to the nearest dwelling other than that of the owner.
(5) The area within which large domestic animals are maintained shall be kept in a suitable grass cover of at least two acres in area and shall not be allowed to degrade to an erodible condition.
(6) The owner of the large domestic animals shall exercise suitable control over the animals and shall not allow a nuisance condition to be created in terms of excessive noise, dirt, or odor.
(7) For the purposes of this subsection, large domestic animals shall include animals of the bovine, equine, porcine (swine), and sheep families, but shall not include wild or exotic animals held in captivity.
 

gawildlife

Chirping
5 Years
Nov 3, 2014
212
23
61
Hampton, GA
Is this the same Lancaster County, Pennsylvania known worldwide for the "Pennsylvania Dutch" farmers?

You don't need ten large animals just one glad to talk to you jack. Get the right one and it's "let's make a deal" time.
 

madicakes

Songster
6 Years
Mar 6, 2014
261
27
136
South-Central Pennsylvania
Wow, I can't believe the strict rules for your location, considering the amount of acreage you have. I would think the township ordinances would outweigh the state laws, but I am not certain about that. My township allows 10 fowl, and my coop only needs to be 10 feet from the property line!!! And that's on 1/3 acre!!!

I personally would just move the coop, if possible, or build another that is within the ordinance rules, as ridiculous as they may be. That stinks though, that you find all of this out after you built your girls the nice covered run.

I'm guessing with the roosters, they cited the "excessive noise" mandate? That leaves it wide open, doesn't it?!? I still don't understand why it's okay for people to have dogs that roam at large, and bark all the time, but chickens are so frowned upon.
 

frannyglass

In the Brooder
5 Years
May 30, 2014
91
7
31
central PA
We are moving the coop. I really wish they could have made this complaint when we were building the run last summer, when it was nice and warm. Because it's a converted 10x7 shed we cannot move it ourselves and no one was available until this week. I have a shelter for them on my screened in porch, but it is not as secure or warm as a proper coop would be, and it's been down to the 20s this week!

I can't believe we have these problems in Lancaster County either! I admit to not looking up the ordinances before I got my chickens, but that was only because we've had chickens before, at which point there were none. I had no idea that they'd put all these ridiculous restrictions in place. I feel like they should be required to inform people when they are making these kind of changes, not just show up one day and insist that they move their 14 year old coop, or get rid of birds that they'd previously been allowed to have?

I do not have the money, facilities, or time, but I so wish I could get a larger animal and put the fencing exactly as many feet from the property line as required while still making sure my neighbors could see it. Ugh.

Also yes, apparently it is unacceptable for my neighbors to ever hear my rooster, even during the day, but somehow it's perfectly fine that all the dogs in their neighborhood bark all afternoon long. And the neighbors who complained are actually the ones who have a child who screams bloody murder all day, every day. I have nothing against children playing, but this child actually shrieks like she is being hurt, sometimes I actually am concerned that she IS being injured. The parents never ask her to calm down, either. Of course, they themselves frequently have screaming arguments in their yard at 11pm. I wasn't that annoyed about any of this until they filed noise complaints against ME without bothering to speak to me in person.
 

Patti59

In the Brooder
Mar 24, 2021
2
14
27
We're moving PA and I'm going to have to rehome my small flock of 3 hens, because they require you have at least 10 acres to have chickens (we're not even talking about roosters!)
What is up with PA?!!!
 

jakedaniel

Chirping
Apr 4, 2020
41
85
66
Let this be a lesson to everyone who has backyard chickens in-compliance with local laws/ordinances. If you’ve got them, KEEP THEM, and make sure to check back periodically in case ordinances have been changed so you can have the fight over being “grandfathered” right then instead of years later when someone eventually complains.

OP had chickens on the property legally up until the early 2Ks. If they’d have kept chickens up past the ordinance change, they’d be “grandfathered” and would be able to tell the complainers to pound sand. Since they didn’t have chickens immediately prior to the change, however, they’re out of luck.

Anyway, my point is that if you have chickens legally, then don’t get rid of them. If you do, you might not be able legally to have them again afterwards.
 

Susan-B

Songster
Mar 3, 2021
141
165
111
Southeastern Pennsylvania
PA has really strict and weird animal laws....I looked at buying a horse farm and though I was allowed to have horses, I couldn't have 6 dogs (who are 6-14 lbs).....the limit was 4. Yet a neighboring township, in the suburbs, has no dog limit.
 

Kovigirl

Hatching
Sep 29, 2021
1
0
6
I'm a new chicken owner from central PA as well but I have other concerning issues. My township does not state any ordinances against chickens, and when called before their purchase I was also told there was no ordinances for them. But now I'm at fault for owning chickens. They state "if it's not permitted it's prohibited" and that feel really vague. They could easily say I'm not allowed to do jumping jacks in my yard because that also isnt permitted. The head manager in the township building said he wasn't enforcing the chicken "rule" unless they got complaints.
Well they got complaints from my neighbors neighbor. She can hear my chickens and see them in my backyard when she goes into her backyard. I was told the rooster is too noisy. But alas, the township doesnt have a noise ordinance either. I've been looking for a lawyer because it's at this point petty hate from a lady I have never met. Is there anything else I can do?
 

U_Stormcrow

Free Ranging
Jun 7, 2020
5,227
15,782
626
North FL Panhandle Region / Wiregrass
I'm a new chicken owner from central PA as well but I have other concerning issues. My township does not state any ordinances against chickens, and when called before their purchase I was also told there was no ordinances for them. But now I'm at fault for owning chickens. They state "if it's not permitted it's prohibited" and that feel really vague. They could easily say I'm not allowed to do jumping jacks in my yard because that also isnt permitted. The head manager in the township building said he wasn't enforcing the chicken "rule" unless they got complaints.
Well they got complaints from my neighbors neighbor. She can hear my chickens and see them in my backyard when she goes into her backyard. I was told the rooster is too noisy. But alas, the township doesnt have a noise ordinance either. I've been looking for a lawyer because it's at this point petty hate from a lady I have never met. Is there anything else I can do?
Without seeing your actual townships regulations, its hard to comment conclusively. However, surely you understand the imposibility of expressely prohibitting everything individually - your jumping jacks example, for instance. Therefore many (most, actually) zoning regulations expressly forbid EVERYTHING. They then inclusively and individually allow certain activities and structures on either a permitted or conditional basis.

Best to read the zoning, as a whole, rather than relying on an unenforceable claim of a phone cal to an unknown city employee at some past date.

and "right to farm" laws, generally, exist to protect ongoing commercial operations from being shut down by the uncertain, oppresive, and often mercurial operation of "nuissance" law. It doesn't exist to protect homeowners with vanity flocks in the back yard.
 

suburbanfarmermi

Songster
Aug 11, 2021
105
374
116
Jenison, Michigan. USA
My Coop
My Coop
Wow, I can't believe the strict rules for your location, considering the amount of acreage you have. I would think the township ordinances would outweigh the state laws, but I am not certain about that. My township allows 10 fowl, and my coop only needs to be 10 feet from the property line!!! And that's on 1/3 acre!!!

I only have a .25 acre lot in the suburbs and I am allowed 6 chickens 10feet fromt the lot line and 20 feet from my house.... no roosters

Seems like with 7 acres you would have a bit more freedom than me on my .25 acres

Good luck Frannyglass

what a pain
 

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom