Whether it’s fresh eggs, goofy and entertaining pets, or imitating a favorite celebrity, there are lots of reasons to want to keep chickens. But before you spend that money on a heritage breed, there’s an important question you need to ask: are you allowed to raise chickens in your backyard?
If you live in the country, you can raise all the chickens you want! However, if you live in a more suburban or even urban area, you might run into some problems. City ordinances may contain regulations from the local board of health and the zoning commission that prevents raising livestock in your backyard. Homeowners’ associations also frequently have rules about animals that would include chickens, so if you are a member you’ll need to check with them, as well.
Because there is more than one group you’ve got to check with, figuring out if chickens are allowed in your city, town, or neighborhood can be a bit tricky. If you live in an area that is agriculturally zoned, likely outside city limits, there should be no problem keeping chickens. Residentially zoned areas have more varied rules and regulations, and that is where you could run into problems.
Are You Allowed to Raise Chickens
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If you are jumping on the internet, a good place to start is with a search is using your location and “animal ordinances”. Simply asking “Are you allowed to raise chickens in your backyard?” is probably going to bring you too broad a response, so you want to be specific in your search terms. Even if the ordinances are not listed online, that search should get you the local officials’ contact information, which gives you a starting place if more direct research is necessary.
Once you’ve found the ordinances online, search them for keywords like poultry, fowl, and chickens. This will help you find the ones that pertain specifically to what you want to know despite the technical language of the legal code.
A call to city hall may help, but not all local officials and office workers are going to have the ordinances at their fingertips, so they may not be able to give you correct information. That call should be able to tell you where you can get a copy of the ordinances, though, and having a copy on hand will be useful – not just for planning your flock, but also in case of future concerns.
In some cases you will need to get a permit, at least to build the enclosure or coop. Other communities will also require you to maintain a permit, generally renewable yearly, to keep the birds themselves.
What Are the Regulations for Raising Chickens
The ordinances are probably not going to just be a simple yes or no situation. They will likely regulate how many and what kind of birds you can have, as well as where you must keep them. There are a lot of factors that the regulations will cover.
Many cities have limits on the number of birds you can have, with some places only allowing four birds and others without limits at all. Because of a concern with noise, many places also do not allow roosters in residential zones. No roosters doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to have fresh eggs, but the eggs won’t be fertilized, so it does mean no baby chicks.
Building requirements for your chicken coop will often include the size of the lot, the size of the building, the distance you enclosure is from the property line or other residences, and sometimes even the design and construction of the coop.
Another of the concerns that the regulations will probably have is waste management, as well as food storage. This is because both of these aspects can attract pests, particularly rats, which most urban planners would rather not have in their communities.
There are also regulations concerning slaughtering animals which may come into effect if you are choosing a breed for meat. You will likely need to take your birds to a professional, rather than killing them yourself.
What if Raising Chickens is not Allowed
If your local ordinances don’t allow chickens, that does not have to be the final answer. You will likely have to fill out some paperwork, and attend council meetings to get things to change. It’s a good idea to reach out to your community and build support, since many ordinance changes happen due to popular opinion. There are also national support organizations that can help connect you with resources and other like-minded community members.
You probably have allies in your community you don’t even know about. Check with your local gardening groups, environmental groups, animal rights groups, and even senior and community centers. The more support you can gather, the more likely your success.
It’s also helpful to be aware of the concerns and have examples of how other cities have successfully implemented laws that open up backyard chicken possibilities. There are several national examples, but it’s better and more relatable to have nearby examples of cities that have legalized keeping chickens.
Talk to Your Neighbors
Even if you are not part of a homeowners association, it’s a good idea to talk to your neighbors before you get your birds. They may have concerns that will be easy for you to lay to rest when you’ve had a chance to talk about them. Starting off on the right foot can make for a much more welcoming community when it comes to the new avian members.
Choosing Your Chicken Flock
Once you’ve gotten the rules out of the way, the fun part can start – choosing the kinds of chickens you want to keep. There are hundreds of different breeds you can choose, depending on what you are looking for in your flock.
Some breeds are better for meat, but don’t lay much or as often. Make think about the personality of the breeds you are looking at, since some are really friendly and others can be a little mean. Also consider the climate of your location and how much space you have, and get a breed that matches with your conditions.
Remember that if you are looking at meat chickens, there are often special residential regulations about slaughtering meat. Another consideration is that if you choose a breed that lays more eggs than your family can eat, there are also sometimes rules about selling eggs, so check up on those regulations as well.
As we’ve seen, there are a lot of considerations and variables when it comes to backyard chickens. Hopefully, now you have a better idea of what you actually mean when you ask “Are you allowed to raise chickens in your backyard?” It’s not a simple question, but the answers are out there when you know what to look for.