Poultry Outlaws: Chicken Laws Around the U.S.

As the days get longer the chickens have started cranking out more eggs. In honor of our first four egg day, pictured above, we present a sampling of arbitrary and strange municipal codes around the country pertaining to chickens. Recent chicken controversies in Missoula (see our post on that dust-up) and Chicago, prove that urban poultry is still controversial.

Albuquerque: Zoning allows the raising of unlimited poultry if penned at least 20 feet from neighboring dwellings.

Atlanta: Up to 25 chickens may be kept if adequately housed, i.e. 2 square feet per adult bird, and their enclosure is 50 feet from the nearest neighbor.

Austin: Up to 10 fowl per household, but keep in an enclosure that’s 50 feet away from neighbors.

Boston: All residential zones in Boston forbid “auxiliary keeping of animals,” which includes poultry and other livestock. No person shall keep any live fowl of other farm animals, except in accordance with a permit from the Division of Health Inspections, Inspectional Services Department.

Chicago: May keep unlimited number of chickens for personal use, but their slaughter is forbidden.

Detroit: Unlawful to own, harbor, keep, or maintain, sell, or transfer any farm animal on their premises or at a public place within the City. [Despite this, we hear tell that there is some pretty progressive urban farming going on in Detroit, including plenty of livestock.]

Los Angeles: Chickens may not be within 20 feet of owner’s residence, and must be at least 35 feet from any other dwelling. Crowing fowl must be 100 feet from any dwelling. [Looks like we're breaking the law again!]

Madison: Up to four chickens per household. Not allowed to roam free. Keep pen 25 ft. from neighbors. $6 annual permit required.

Miami: May have up to 15 hens, no roosters. Must be contained at least 100 feet from neighboring structures.

Minneapolis: Must obtain permission of 80% of your neighbors that live within 100 feet. Must be kept penned.

New York: Health Code § 161.19 Keeping of live poultry and rabbits.
(a) No person shall keep a live rooster, duck, goose or turkey in a built-up portion of the City.
(b) A person who holds a permit to keep for sale or sell live rabbits or poultry shall keep them in coops and runways and prevent them from being at large. Coops shall be whitewashed or otherwise treated in a manner approved by the Department at least once a year and at such other times as the Department may direct in order to keep them clean. Coops, runways and the surrounding area shall be kept clean.

Portland: Any animal may be raised for noncommercial purposes with no animals kept on any lot less than three (3) acres or closer than one hundred (100) feet to any street or lot line.

Raleigh: No limit on number of chickens kept.

San Francisco: You may keep any combination of four small animals on your property (dogs, chickens, etc.) without permit

Seattle: Three domestic fowl may be kept on any lot.

Even if you follow the laws above to the letter, you can still have problems with the neighbors. See the excellent Hen Waller blog for their Portland poultry saga (and some snappy vélocouture).

Considering how loud our perfectly legal Doberman is compared to the hens, these laws are ridiculous. You’ve gotta fight the Man if you want this–backyard eggs with homegrown Swiss chard and Italian parsley served on home-baked wild yeast bread:
Reviewing the laws, it’s obvious that the Man wants us to shop in his crappy supermarkets.

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29 Comments

  1. I understand the desire to have your own chickens. It’s great that many people in our country are rediscovering traditional American folkways. Ironically, California yuppies now embracing backyard chickens as “cool” would probably look down their noses at the Great Depression era folks in red states who still keep chickens (Greatest Generation types who are now in their 80s, take part in gauche activities like Elk’s Lodge card games and still drink Budweiser instead of artisan beer — you know, people who don’t find anything remarkable or revolutionary or punk or “guerilla” about growing one’s own vegetables. I also understand the responsibility municipalities and counties have for public health. And let’s be honest: If everyone in average American neighborhoods were to house a few chickens in their backyard, the results could be less than desirable, less than sanitary and potentially disastrous from a public health perspective. It’s no exaggeration to point out that avian flu could potentially thrive in such conditions.

    • I doubt I can disabuse you of your ill informed misconceptions. However, in the interest of equal time, here goes.
      1. It is much easier to clean up chicken litter than to clean up dog poop. Chicken litter is great fertilizer in your backyard garden and it is safe too.
      2. Eggs from backyard chickens are much better for you than caged eggs. The commercial egg industry has many dirty little (big) secrets.
      3. An ideologue is someone who is quite happy with their own ignorance.

  2. Anonymous,

    I appreciate your comments. I hope someday that this blog will be a forum for debate. A few observations:

    The “Greatest Generation” abandoned backyard chicken keeping and vegetable gardening after WWII. It was their parents who were the last generation to engage in these activities—this earlier generation was part of the first big wave of folks who settled in Los Angeles in the 1920s, including my own grandparents, who came from the Midwest. This earlier generation kept chickens (including roosters) in their backyards. The “Greatest Generation” left these practical skills behind in favor of convenience foods and consumerism. As for yuppies taking up chickens and vegetable gardening, more power to them. In my neighborhood yuppies hire mow and blow gardeners to maintain their lawns and have no interest in vegetables, let alone chickens.

    Now let’s take a closer look at the old geezers quaffing Bud and playing cards at the Elks Lodge. Cards I have no problem with—better than playing video games I suppose. The Bud, I’m afraid will cause me to “look down my nose” at them. One hundred years ago in America there were 2,000 independent breweries, all of them brewing hearty beers that make Bud taste like heavily diluted urine by comparison. Am I a snob, or have our geezers been duped by the advertising industry in laying down their hard earned cash for tasteless piss water? What would the Greatest Generation’s German and Irish immigrant parents say about Bud? I suspect they’d look down their noses along with us here at Homegrown Evolution.

    As for the Elks Lodge, mismanagement by the Greatest Generation has brought fraternal organizations in America to the brink of extinction. See our friends at http://www.burningtaper.blogspot.com for more on this issue.

    As for the silliness of vegetable gardening as “punk” or “guerilla”, we’re guilty as charged, but unrepentant. True, our Pilipino and Latino neighbors grow vegetables and keep chickens and don’t blog about it. On the other hand, believe it or not, other bloggers seem to think that they invented urban backyard vegetable gardening and have gotten proprietary on us to our shock and amazement. We live in a world of marketing, media, and advertising that is inescapable. We see our job as learning how to navigate the “spectacle” as the Situationists used to call it, not to pretend it doesn’t exist.

    Lastly, about the biosecurity threat posed by backyard chickens–there is a far greater danger from factory farming. A shed full of thousands of immunosuppressed poultry poses a far greater danger than a couple of hens in the backyard. I suspect that if you look at the spread of bird flu and other poultry diseases you will find that they coincide with shipping routes more than the pathways of migratory wild birds. I’m very suspicious when the issue of biosecurity is bought up, since I believe it’s a way for entrenched factory farm interests and their friends at the USDA to make us all believe that what they do is safe, while behind the scenes they shove downer cows with forklifts into the meat grinder. These same interests destroyed the livelihood of small farmers who now have nothing else to do but drink Bud and play cards at their abandoned Elks Lodge.

  3. Wow, looks I provoked quite a response. On that first point about the Greatest Generation bailing out of the old ways, I’m gonna have to beg to differ. You’ve obviously never been to my neck of the woods, and I live in a mixed urban-rural metropolitan area of more than a million people. I live in a particular red state (one of the reddest) and the Greatest Generation types (I know quite a few) keep tossin’ back that piss water made by Budweiser (marketing dupes, though they may be, I myself am quite the effete beer snob), keep mighty big veggie gardens, can and otherwise store the overflowing produce, have backyard chickens for fresh eggs, harvest pecans from their backyards, harvest peaches from their fruit trees (usually one or two), make homemade sausage (don’t ask), bake their own bread, raise their own grass-fed beef and constantly foist this bounty upon us young ‘uns. On those other points, I’ll have it to give it some thought. Chickens are dirty, though. Don’t kid yourself on that point. Doesn’t mean I don’t like eggs, and that I don’t enjoy their flesh covered in batter and deep-fried. Both good and tasty. But let’s be “unmediated” and realistic about things, too, shall we? Don’t get me wrong. I myself have taken up veggie gardening in the past few years, I’m all for composting, worm composting, localvore behavior, etc. Heck, I even mow my lawn with a push-reel, and getting plenty of strange looks. At the same time, I also don’t think it hurts to have a healthy dose of skepticism, or to be able to laugh at our own yuppie foibles (see the infamous satirical Web site, “Stuff White People Like” for more). Trying to pass off gardening as “punk” or “guerilla” (complete with a skull and cross bones) would have to qualify in that “let’s laugh at ourselves” territory, I’m afraid.

  4. I’ve had 5 chickens for a year now, and I don’t find them to be any dirtier than my sister’s two dogs (one large mix, one small mix). They all poop wherever they please, but chicken poo hoses down into the grass easily and fertilizes the grass/trees quite well. It also doesn’t smell nearly as bad a doggie doo. It doesn’t smell at all if it is dry. I have an elevated coop with room underneath for the droppings to accumulate and dry until I layer them into the compost or use them to make a batch of liquid fertilizer. I am well aware that we may need to euthanize should an epidemic occur, but that’s just life.

  5. I totally agree on the author’s point of the keeping of chickens. There is no more harm chickens can cause that a dog couldn’t. Somehow, dogs had made its way into the normal-ness with society but chickens hasn’t. The complaints against chickens can pretty much be made back at dogs; but somehow, dogs are superior and thus are exempted. We act as if we “know” dogs are better animals than chickens; yet when we come to think about it, it would probably be the other way around. Dogs can be good companions in that they are loyal and can keep good company; yet there is a bad consequence to that, and that is that because of its loyal-ness, there can result in deaths/attacks by the dog(s) toward(s) others that are not its master. Chickens on the other hand, do have consequences as well, but not ever to that extreme; instead it is even a source of food! I understand that disease can follow from a chicken, but it is not like disease only comes from chickens. The having and raising of chickens should be legalized.

  6. I know this was last year, so you may or may not get the comment. We have im’d before…Just wanted to let you know that our town *suddenly* discovered out chickens and decided that they were illegal. We have 2 1/2 acres. you can read it here:

    http://www.examiner.com/x-2531-Dallas-Cooking-Examiner~y2009m3d3-City-of-Lancaster-bans-sustainable-livingmore-or-less

    we do, of course, intend to fight it. If we lived on a 0 lot I could see the mentality..but we don’t.

  7. The person who thinks “chickens are dirty” must have never kept chickens. The stray dog poop in my front yard that my kids step in is much grosser. And these dogs are from people I’ve already asked to keep their dogs out of my yard. This has happened at every home we’ve ever lived in. Chickens are kept penned; they don’t stray. Now cat poo is another story. At my old house in the city of Portland, I trapped no fewer than 20 cats. There was so much cat poo in our yard it was ridiculous. Some were feral, most were just from people who kept “outside cats.” I asked these owners many times to keep their cats on their own property and they refused. Yet if the government tried to tell you that you couldn’t keep a dog or cat, there would be an uproar. You have to “manage” a dog or cat’s poop just as much as you have to manage a chicken’s. And the idea that if “everyone kept chickens” it would be overwhelming, I just don’t believe that. If every household with a back yard kept just three hens, the waste stream of waste feed and garden waste would be greatly reduced (see articles on the ‘net about this.) There would be no need to buy commercial plant or garden fertilizers granules. There would be no need to buy eggs. (Yes, three hens can totally supply a family with eggs, and enough left to give the neighbors.) Lastly, to think backyard chickens will lead to bird flu…that’s just ignorance. Read some articles about bird flu before you assuredly say that.

    –Katy
    thecitychicken.com

  8. I guess you would call me a California yuppie, the pre-school I work for has both chickens and a vegetable garden. The chickens thrive on the leftover veggies, and the garden thrives on the chicken’s “leftovers”. The children get to experience the miracle of birth and learn responsibility while caring for the baby chicks. We keep our chicks in the classroom for the first 6 weeks and I can guarantee you that the children are considerably messier than the birds. They also carry more diseases..lol. I find that any creature can be messy when not properly cleaned up after or cared for, and that through dedicated daily care these creatures can be wonderful pets. I like to think that our little band of contraband fowl have positively influenced the educations of hundreds of students over the years.

  9. gah! Anonymous, our kindergarten keeps chicks in the classroom too, I found out. This is terrific, in theory, but they release a dust when they are growing up and this dust can irritate the lungs–I think I read somewhere that the same dust has irritated bird breeder’s enough to give them a hypersensitivity called Bird Breeder’s Lung. I’m going to lobby to take the brooder box out of the classroom; everyone can still enjoy it outside. Just thought I’d pass that on in case you are as paranoid as me! :)

  10. Poultry lung is a problem in large scale operations. I doubt a classroom brooder would cause this disease. Also, studies have shown that children who grow up on farms exposed to animals and their dander and poop are less likely to develop allergies later in life. The thinking is that most children these days live in conditions that are too clean and don’t develop antibodies that will protect them later in life. Personally I think that the more children are exposed to animals and nature the healthier and happier they will be. I’d keep the brooder indoors.

  11. An Organic Valley Rep has just told me that their eggs sold in California are, by law, from chickens not allowed to be in the pasture. The Organic Valley California chickens have minimal barn space, and a small concrete and straw outdoor area. Is anyone aware of this law? I can’t seem to find it. I have a small yard in the Bay Area, and can’t raise my own, nor do I know anyone who does. If anyone knows how to get pasture raised eggs in CA, please pass the word along. 2/12/2010

  12. Anonymous,

    As far as I know, there is no law against pastured poultry in CA. Someone let me know if I am wrong. I would try a farmer’s market–you shouldn’t have a problem finding pastured eggs in the bay area.

  13. i live in Salina and i’m doing a science project on hatching chicken eggs was wondering if i kept the chicks for a bit after they hatch if that would be illegal???

  14. Hmm. I’m sort of a farmer’s son/city boy who doesn’t find chickens particularly exotic or fascinating. We had them when I was a kid. Since my city just enacted a reasonable chicken ordinance, I got some and will keep them for eggs. The only real restrictions here are no roosters / no slaughtering. The last part I don’t really intend to abide by. It should read “no slaughtering in front of anyone who might be upset by it,” wouldn’t you agree?

  15. Jeffomatic,

    A no slaughtering rule makes no sense to me either. It’s the same here in Los Angeles. You can buy factory farmed chicken at the supermarket (raised in appalling conditions) but you can’t raise your own meat? In fact the most ethical poultry keeping practice is probably to buy a straight run, eat the roosters and keep the hens for eggs. Even if you intend to keep just hens, the hatchery has to do something with the extra roosters . . .

  16. Having moved into town, in the city limits of Billings, MT, I am winging the chicken raising. There is nothing I can see in the city ordinances re: chickens. We built a nice, just adequately-sized chick house/tractor, and tucked it out of sight on the side of the house. I only meant to get two, but couldn’t help myself and got four (my husband just shook his head). A young couple w/three kids moved in next door, so I hope they don’t mind–no remarks yet. As for the previous comments about the mess–I have the most awesome garden/flowerbed (a third of the backyard), because the waste is incorporated into a compost pile so there is NO smell. All recycled into the “circle of life” (argh! such a cliche!ha!) To those thinking of jumping in feet-first: the more of us who do–the more successful we will be!

  17. I live in an up-scale suburb of Los Angeles and find that I am not alone in backyard chicken raising. As a child I brought a chick home from school and as it grew my parents were paniced that it was a rooster and someone would call the police. They did not research the law and we eventually got rid of the chicken. When my daughter was young I welcomed pet chickens, a duck and a rabbit over the years. I think children benefit from the pride of taking care of an animal and its companionship. Ducks are messy and smelly but chickens are relatively clean. I had chicks mailed to me this spring for a new flock. I was skeptical about whether my local post office could deal with chicks by mail(to get very special breeds) but it went great. I compost all bedding material and chicken droppings. The chickens love yard clippings and kitchen scraps and chicken feed is very inexpensive. Not only do I know when my eggs are coming from but what ever I grow or produce in my own yard is not being trucked across the state. Over the years I have also planted fruit trees even though I have very little open land. I think this may be part of a greening trend.

  18. I am up for third night in a row. My neighbors decided to get four roosters three nights ago and put them fifteen feet from my bedroom window. Not to mention when it rains the rainwater from chicken pen is coming straight into my front yard where my two grandchildren both under the age of three play when they come over.

  19. I live in SF and my f-ing neighbors just got chickens and they won’t shut up! I’m sorry but you all are rude and disrespectful if you live in a city and get chickens.

    • You are a idiot. Please do a proper research before you blame everyone. The internet is a powerful tool. Use it.

  20. I really dont think its that rude to have chickens in cities. Cities are already loud and I really dont think chickens would be doing any harm to the environment. Plus you get natural eggs that are not pumped with chemicals.

  21. chickens are awesome but it you gotta regulate it otherwise you get stuff like in chinatown where they keep like 20 chickens in 8 square feet of space- thats chicken cruelty

  22. We used to live in a quiet neighborhood until our neighbor got a chicken.
    You need to have a permit in most citys to have backyard chickens. You also must have at least 10,000 sg ft. of land in most cities.. Our window is less then 20 ft from our neighbors chicken and are woken every day by the squacking starting at 6:00am that goes on for 2-6 hours a day as the chicken walks around and around the tiny backyard. I would no more allow my dog to bark for hours and hours then allow or even have a chicken in a confined suburban neighborhood. It is rude and very unneighborly. Our neighbor also has a beehive boxes. The bees path goes right through our yard and we are now never in our beautiful backyard. And asking them to reconsider got us a brochure for new windows(which we have) and ear-plugs. Yes the neighbor left them in our mail box. Rude huh!

  23. This is a topic my readers on my blog at http://kernschickenfarm.com debate about frequently. Some of my readers get sad when they find out they can’t raise chickens because of the laws their cities have. I have started to notice that more cities are becoming more chicken friendly tho. It may take a while but I think most cities will become more accepting to our chicken friends.

  24. Pingback: Allow Residents to Raise Chickens in Chicago - ForceChange

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