Hen near fence

Local Laws For Chicken Keeping

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and begin raising your own flock of chickens, congratulations! Now you might be wondering how and where to start. You should expect to encounter some pretty ambiguous and strict laws you must abide by, unless you’re lucky enough to live out in the sticks with a ton of land.

That’s not to say those with a ton of land don’t have rules to follow (for the most part all members of the chicken community have rules). Usually the chicken laws in the more rural areas are a bit more lax. Also, the likelihood that they will easily irritate their neighbors enough to make them tattle and bring out the enforcers of such laws is fairly low.

If you live in an urban area, or one of those close-knit neighborhoods, there may even be a chance that you’re not allowed to own chickens at all. These are the types of laws that have dashed the hopes and dreams of many chicken enthusiasts and wannabe chicken owners.

If you find that you are allowed to own and raise chickens in your area (Yay for you!), you may have a little difficulty finding the specific rules and laws for your zone. When you do finally find them, you might have a hard time understanding the laws for owning chickens. They will use verbiage that will inevitably include complicated legal jargon or they may just be too wordy and unclear (which is the case with most laws, not just those that pertain to chickens).

What Type Of Rules/Laws To Expect

While the exact rules a chicken keeper may have to follow vary greatly from city to city and state to state, there will be a high chance that you’ll find common laws. Below are a few that you’re likely to come across:

1. Limits On The Size Of The Flock

The total number of chickens you’re allowed to keep on your property. Sometimes these don’t include chicks up to a certain age, so read all the fine print to check number limitations.

2. No Roosters Allowed

While some people just love getting awakened at the crack of dawn, most people don’t. Those people just aren’t chicken people, they don’t get it. Anyway, many urban cities and areas restrict owning and raising chickens to solely allow for hens. Besides the noise issue caused by roosters, this will also help to prevent additional baby chicks from appearing and expanding the size of the flock.

3. Space And Lot Requirements

Some places require that you have a certain amount of space to keep your flock of chickens in. For example, to even be eligible, your zone may require that you have a minimum amount of acreage or square footage. There may even be restrictions on how far your coop must be from your neighbor’s property or other property lines.

4. Permits And Fees

While the actual chicken keeping is fairly low-cost compared to other livestock and farm animals, the initial set up and approval may cost a pretty penny. Even if you have the necessary space and plan to let your flock be free-range, your town might have another idea as some zones don’t allow for chickens to “run at large”.

Some ordinances require that you use a mobile coop and then there are cities that require you to have a permit to construct your chicken house and run. Others may even go a step further and require you draft up and submit plans and blueprints for the construction and then wait for approval.

Even if your town doesn’t require the above-mentioned steps you can expect to at least have to pay a little out of pocket. You will need to do a thorough search to find what your exact location requires.

5. Purposes Of Your Chickens

In the more suburban areas chickens are generally used for supplying fresh eggs, so it makes sense that they would have restrictions regarding what you plan to do with your chickens. Most cities prohibit slaughtering chickens for poultry meat to be strictly indoors only or not allow it at all.

6. Type of Property

There are always restrictions to consider depending on your living situation. Do you currently own or rent your residence? This factor alone may contain its own set of regulations. While there is no static list of rules or laws to abide by, it’s easy to see that you will not only have to find the set for your exact location, but you will also have to ensure that you stay up-to-date on them. 

There are advocates out there that actively pursue changes to get chicken laws loosened or modified for the betterment of the chicken community. Occasionally, when these advocates are successful, the laws will get updated.

Can’t Find Your Local Laws For Chickens?

If you’re not able to hunt down your area’s rules and regulations for owning and raising backyard chickens, you’re not alone. Some people believe there’s a conspiracy to make this information hard to find to reduce the number of applicants and owners.

A good place to start your search would be online. You can do a query for “(your city) chicken laws” or “(your city) municipal codes”. This search should yield some results that are worth your perusal. If you don’t find too much valuable information online you should reach out to the animal control office for your city. They should be able to offer general information for you and possibly point you in the right direction to where you can find the real information you will need.

If you have the time, you can also head on down to your local municipality office and find out who you would need to speak with for information regarding poultry and livestock laws. They should be able to at least give you a direct phone number to contact the appropriate party regarding your situation.

The Chicken Police

So, maybe you’re considering just ignoring the ordinances you did find. Maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? it’s just a couple of chickens. Who’s going to be out in my yard counting my chickens’ heads anyway?”. 

The answer is The Chicken Police. No, that’s not an official title, although it should be because it sounds cool. While you may get away with a few chickens inside your private fenced yard, and this is hoping that your neighbors don’t rat you out the first moment they smell a hint of chicken poop or hear so much as a “cluck”, chances are it won’t last.

You can’t fly under the radar forever. Not to mention that raising chickens illegally means that you’re going to be raising them with tons of paranoia or stress that you might get caught at any moment. That’s no healthy way to raise a chicken and it won’t be fun! If you get caught illegally raising backyard chickens there are a few consequences you may encounter.

The best you can hope for, if you get found out, is a fine and an order to rehome your chickens (or worse, they’ll be confiscated!). Also, if you’ve constructed any coops or runs you will probably be required to tear it down. Worst case, though it will depend on your city and how strict they are, you could face jail time and criminal charges that’ll go on your record.

It’s relatively safe to assume that most members of the chicken community are fond of their chickens, but maybe not that much. Do you know what they do to chicken people in jail?! Just kidding, but just know that if you decide to break your city’s chicken laws (which we are in no way recommending or condoning, by the way), there may be consequences. 

You can’t count on being able to use the “I didn’t know” excuse either. Pleading ignorance will only get you so far, and even though it may be difficult (read: darn near impossible) to find the necessary information, let alone get a full understanding of the local laws for owning chickens, it doesn’t mean that they’ll go any easier on you.

So, What Can You Do If You Find Too Many Restrictions?

f you were able to find the necessary information to begin your journey to keeping chickens, but discovered that you wouldn’t qualify for one reason or another (or worse find that you’re not allowed them at all) don’t give up just yet – you still have hope!

First you should look for legal loopholes. This is where actually reading the laws in full may come in handy. If you notice that an ordinance specifically forbids “livestock”, but doesn’t prohibit or even mention “poultry”, you may still have a chance to exploit that law. This technicality may only be a temporary solution.

As mentioned earlier there are advocates out there that are fighting to change unfair rules for would-be chicken keepers. If there aren’t any in your area, be the first! Many towns are becoming more and more open to allowing chickens in residential and urban areas. We all know that owning chickens presents more pros than cons after all.

You can easily start a petition for change and present it to the appropriate government head, maybe your mayor or senator, to start. Unfortunately you won’t get very far without some support from other members of your community. You can quickly gather a following (or flock of supporters, if you will) by creating groups on some (or all) of the major social media sites. These supporters can sign your petition and help get the process moving quicker.