How to Help Legalize Chickens in Our Cities and Neighborhoods.
Chickens sure can be wonderful pets to own.
They can be incredibly affectionate towards their owners, and they also provide an excellent source of fertilizer, eggs, and meat.
They also help keep your backyard tidy by munching on unsightly weeds!
However, a lot of cities in North America, such as Detroit, Iowa City, and Calgary, don’t allow chickens as pets – especially on small properties.
This means a lot of families across the USA are missing out on the joys these birds can bring to a community.
Here are some tips on what you can do if you’d like to own chickens, but they are currently illegal in your city.
Strategies for Your Town, City, County or Homeowners Association
Familiarize Local Chicken Laws
The first step is to find out whether chickens are illegal in your city.
Although some websites (ex. Backyard Chickens) can provide you with an extensive list of chicken laws across the country, they can sometimes be inaccurate or outdated.
Familiarize yourself with your city’s municipal code.
You can usually find your area’s code online via their official website.
Once you have the code in hand, look for a section named “Animals” or something of the like.
Cities tend to outlaw specific animals, generally those that tend to be dangerous or loud. If chickens are outlawed in your city, they would be listed in this section.
Do Your Research
If chickens or roosters aren’t specifically outlawed, then that’s a good sign.
Regardless, you’ll need to do a bit more digging to be completely sure.
Check the Zoning section.
Each zone will make it clear which animals are legal in your residential area.
This will tell you if chickens are legal to keep, and the number you’re allowed to own.
Is it Illegal In Your Area?
If you find that chickens are illegal in your area, don’t lose hope! It’s possible that they are tolerated in your city provided your neighbors don’t file a complaint.
Don’t be shy; ask your neighbors whether they would mind you having some chickens (you could even offer them some freshly laid eggs!) and pledge to only keep a small flock.
There aren’t really any repercussions for keeping chickens illegally, at least for most states.
The most you might get is a small fine, though this is rarely enforced unless a neighbor complains.
Instead, you’ll probably be asked to rehome your chickens.
For example, in Philadelphia, the fine for keeping backyard chickens (if caught) is between $150 and $300. However, according to Animal Control, this rule isn’t usually enforced unless a complaint from a neighbor has been filed.
Form a Chicken Advocate Group
Individuals who own chickens illegally in your city are likely to be hesitant to make their stance known.
Join or form a chicken advocate group (4-H is worth looking at!) to help you gain support, knowledge, and an effective strategy for legalizing chickens in your community.
Get Things Going
Generate email campaigns to your local city officials, get letters from supportive neighbors, and find other allies who keep chickens.
Try contacting: local food advocates, farmers market people, chefs, hospitality business owners, community gardeners, etc.
You could work to tackle negative opinions early by gathering testimonies from neighbors and others, who support their local community owning chickens.
Your Right to Grow Your Own Food
The Declaration of Local Foods Rights states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people have certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness, and the right to grow one’s food in their yards – including a family flock of chickens!”
This appears to only apply to some states, but it should be a nationwide law. Everyone has the right to grow their own food, but this sadly wasn’t the case for a couple in Florida.
A Case From Florida
Hermine Ricketts and her husband, Tom Carroll, received a courtesy notice back in 2013 from a code inspector that told them they’d need to remove their front yard vegetable patch due to a new zoning code.
The pair had been tending to this garden for 17 years, growing all kinds of vegetables, including 12 varieties of Asian cabbage!
They saved hundreds of dollars from growing their own food, but elected officials of Miami Shores Village had adopted a new zoning code that prohibited vegetable patches in front yards for “aesthetic purposes”.
It’s Worth Fighting For
This was in 2013, and after many court meetings and appeals later, front yard vegetable patches are no longer banned in Florida.
This shows that with determination and perseverance, you can win battles that initially seem impossible.
So, stand up for your right to have your own food supply!
Emphasize the Economics of Chickens as Biomass Recyclers
Looking to increase the quality of your garden? Own a chicken!
Chickens are great little fertilizer machines!
Their manure can be used to compost leaf and yard waste, as well as help you grow plants and crops.
This effectively reduces the amount of garbage collected and potentially dumped into a landfill.
By keeping city chickens, you can do your part in minimizing the waste output in your community.
This is not only ecologically-friendly and sustainable, but it could also help the local taxpayers save money!
Spread The Word
Make this advantage clear to your elected officials, and don’t be afraid to argue against anyone “green” inclined who doesn’t support backyard chickens and composting.
One can’t claim to be environmentally-friendly while dismissing folks who own city chickens!
I once met an environmentalist at a meeting who told me chickens were livestock, not pets. He didn’t know about the benefits they bring to a family and a community.
Despite discussing my views and providing him with evidence that a family flock can save taxpayers money by reducing household waste, he still wasn’t convinced.
However, everyone else at that meeting agreed with my stance.
I even managed to educate a few other environmentalists about the advantages of backyard chickens, so it wasn’t a completely lost cause!
Chickens As National Defense Protectors and Emergency Preparedness Partners
Chickens enable the local food supply, which is vital to our national defense.
The food and water supplies are the most vulnerable sections in America, according to the Department of Defense.
When the going gets tough, food supply lines can be severed, affecting what your local grocery stores have to offer.
As we’ve seen recently as a result of the pandemic, hoarders and panic-buyers are capable of leaving stores completely bare and ramshackled.
This leaves the vulnerable and most at risk groups without the basic essentials they need.
If you keep a backyard flock of chickens, then you can get some peace of mind knowing you’ll still have fresh eggs and even a chicken dinner in times of emergency.
Real Estate Property Values
It’s not uncommon for neighbors and realtors to fear property values falling if a flock of chickens were to live next door.
There has never been a reported case of chickens impacting the value of properties.
In fact, some home sellers and developers like GreenWay Neighborhood in Virginia offer a free chicken coop with every house or lot sale. Not too shabby, right?
While forming or joining chicken groups can help make your voice heard, have you ever thought about bringing your chickens to official meetings and even to court?
This could help build your case of showing that chickens aren’t just livestock, but affectionate and friendly pets with personalities of their own!
In fact, a young girl from East Hampton shared this perspective at a board meeting when she was told she’d have to give up her hens.
I’ll go into more detail about this story below – but don’t worry, it has a happy ending!
Keep Chickens as Pets
Just because chickens are often seen as merely livestock, that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t make good domestic pets.
A 10-year-old girl from East Hampton, MA, used this point of view to her advantage:
The young girl was granted a variance for her 4 hens after neighbors complained to a zoning enforcement manager about her chickens, she stood before the board and convinced them that her hens were pets, not livestock.
One board member was even quoted saying “What’s a farm animal? Dogs live on farms. Are they farm animals, too?
I disagree that a chicken is always a farm animal. I think that it can be a pet”. (The Boston Globe)
Consider the Rights of Neighbors
Before you consider owning chickens, try to see your birds from your neighbor’s perspective.
Loud crowing roosters could be a problem – no one probably likes the idea of being woken up at the crack of dawn when they’d rather sleep in!
Avoid Potential Complaints
An unkept or unsanitary backyard caused by your chickens would be a sure way to receive a complaint.
Try to eliminate any potential issues like these before they become a mark against you or even warrant a visit from the police.
This means you should keep your coop and backyard clean and hygienic, only own a small flock of chickens, and speak to your neighbors before they have a chance to complain.
Try Having a Discussion First
If someone is unhappy with your backyard chickens, try and have a friendly discussion with them to see if you can make a compromise.
For example, if your neighbor isn’t satisfied with the cleanliness of your backyard, then vouch to give it a good scrub so they can see that you’re actively trying to improve things.
Cleanliness Is Essential
Regularly maintaining your chickens’ habitat is not only mandatory for their health and wellbeing, but also good for your own health (and your neighbors’).
Chicken coops, tractors, runs, arks, and compost always need to be kept odor- and fly-free.
Bedding and coops will need to be rodent- and pest-proof, too.
Effects On Chickens
It’s crucial that you care for your chickens properly by keeping their habitat clean.
Also, you’ll of course need to make sure they always have access to fresh food and water.
Keeping too many chickens in an undersized coop is a path headed for disaster and could lead to chickens eventually displaying behavioral problems.
This will affect the health of your flock, as well as make it more likely that neighbors complain.
Be sure to only keep a small number of chickens (3 to 4 is a good sized flock) and make sure their coop is a decent size.
Design Tractors, Coops, and Arks to Be Attractive
When choosing the design of chicken coops, arks, tractors, etc., keep an eye on their visual attractiveness and size.
No neighbor wants a great big bulky eyesore to look at each time they look out their window.
Make sure you consider the size and height of your systems as well as the type of siding, fencing, and roofing you use.
You could plant flowers, shrubs, or install attractive fencing around your poultry system to make it less prominent.
City Chickens Will NOT Spread Avian Flu and Salmonella
Contrary to popular belief, backyard chickens do not spread salmonella or avian flu.
Large corporate factory farms with homogeneously-bred, mono-cropped birds raised with weakened immune systems are much more likely to cause an epidemic of avian flu than well-kept pet chickens.
Salmonella is caused by unhygienic and unsanitary food handling practices, as well as insufficient refrigeration of poultry.
Keeping chickens in your backyard should never lead to an outbreak of either of these illnesses.
Be Diplomatic, Positive, and Persistent
Change, especially on a large scale, generally isn’t something that happens overnight.
In your attempts to legalize chickens in your area, diplomacy, positivity, and persistence are key.
Don’t give up; keep looking for innovative ways to showcase chickens as not simply livestock, but as worthy pets that can bring undeniable benefits to any community.
Since owning these lovable birds, I’ve learned a great deal about being self-sustainable and how to reduce my household waste.
But, not only that, my flock have become a huge part of my family, each with their own unique personality.
They truly are pets with benefits.
If you’re thinking of keeping these lovable birds but they’re currently illegal in your city, then hopefully, this article has helped you find ways to change that.
Additionally, a great project to learn more about if you want to own a family flock is the Gossamer Foundation.
They offer a lot of information and resources on chickens and self-sustainability, which could help you on your journey to legalize backyard chickens.