Legalize City Chicks – Lessons Learned

All across the North America, codes and laws are being changed to legalize chickens. Addressing the legality of keeping city chicks has taken twists and turns that surprised us all. Both sides of the fence hold remarkably strong and sometimes valid opinions. Below is a summary of what we’ve learned about the politics of city chicks. This summary is condensed from hundreds of experience in different cities and adapted from the book: City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Creators, Biomass Recylers and Local Food Suppliers,

1. Local Laws Pertaining to Chickens
If chickens are illegal and you want to change the law, then develop a strategy to change it. Get to know city officials individually and ask their positions. If they are against chickens, then present them with the facts that counter unbiased or false beliefs surrounding keeping a family flock of chickens. Just about every city is concerned with saving money so explain how chickens can help save taxpayer dollars by bio-recycling kitchen and yard waste. Explain how important chicken skill sets are in local food supply and for emergency preparedness.

2. Form a Chicken Advocate Group.
Local poultry clubs including 4-H are a good place to start. Reach out to other chicken advocates across the country who can help with strategy and facts. Generate Email campaigns to your local city officials that favor micro-flocks of family chickens. At public hearings, have your group wear yellow, pro-chicken t-shirts, and hats. This, shows visually how strong the poultry advocates are. There’s power in numbers, votes and persistence.

3. Your Right to Grow Your Own Food.
Invoke your right to have, and control, your own food supply. 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!

4. Emphasize the Economics of Chickens as Biomass Recyclers.
It’s quite simple, chickens eat food scraps and their manure can be used to compost leaf and yard waste. This decreases the amount of trash that has to be picked up, transported, possibly transferred and dumped into a land fill. Encouraging residents to keep city chickens is a no-cost, appropriate, ecological and sustainable technology will save local tax payer dollars. Any elected official that “talks green” but doesn’t support — and even encourage — micro-flocks of chickens and backyard composting is simply not walking their talk! City council members have lost elections due to their voting records on allowing folks the right to have a family flock and supporting green projects.

5. Chickens as National Defense Protectors and Emergency Preparedness Partners
Family flocks of chickens enable the local food supply which is critical to our national defense. According to the Department of Defense, the food and water supplies are the most vulnerable points in America.
In times of emergency, food supply lines can be cut and in your local grocery is at most 3 days before the shelves are bare. With a backyard flock of chickens, you can still have eggs and even a chicken dinner if the going gets really rough.

6. Real Estate Property Values
Realtors and neighbors can sometimes be fearful and vocal about concern for property values if a micro-flock of chickens live next door. The bottom line is that we have NEVER seen one documented case of property values dropping because of a family flock of chickens. Not one documented case! On the contrary, some home sellers and developers — as a sales incentive — are offering a free chicken coop with every house or lot sale. GreenWay Neighborhood in Buena Vista, Virginia is an example of using this strategy (

7. Chicken Ambassadors.
To help change the prejudice and stereotypes of chickens, take your sociable chickens to City Council meetings and even to court. In a “Chickens as Pets or Livestock” court case in Maryland I took a Buff Chantecler hen as an “expert witness” that chickens can be pets. She charmed even the guards and the press.

8. Consider the Rights of Neighbors.
Try to see your hens from your neighbor’s or a passer-by’s point of view. If there is anything that could be annoying, correct it before you receive a complaint or a visit from the police.

9. Cleanliness is Essential.
How you keep your birds will quell, or stoke, controversy. Chicken tractors, coops, arks, runs, and compost must be kept odor and fly free. Design your system to handle waste and keep up with it. Keep bedding clean and coops rodent and pest proof.. Your chickens must always have appropriate care, including constant access to feed and clean water. Your system must include arrangements for the safety, sanitation, and well-being of the flock. Compost bedding along with kitchen, yard and garden scraps to build and enrich top soil.

10. Keep Chickens as Pets.
A young girl used this approach successfully.
 The Associated Press ran an article entitled “How to Get Around Zoning Boards” on September 27, 2007. The Associated Press (AP) reported that a girl in East Hampton, MA, was granted a variance for her 4 hens.
Her neighbors complained about the chickens to a zoning enforcement officer. The girl lives in a zoning district that prohibits poultry and farm animals. The 10 year old girl went before the zoning board and convinced them that her hens were pets, not livestock. The members of the zoning board agreed. One was quoted as 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”.

11. Design Chicken Tractors, Coops, and Arks to be Attractive, Worthy of Being in the City.
Take into consideration the type of siding, roofing, fencing, size, and height of your systems. Plant shrubs, flowers, or install attractive fencing that will help your poultry system blend in.

12. Keep Flocks Small and Sized to Match the Chicken Housing.
Just as with people, overcrowding causes behavior problems and filthy environments.

13. Be a Local Food Activist.
Point out that folks interested in keeping hens in the city are doing so primarily as an act of taking control of their food supply and reducing their carbon footprints. Educate the powers that be of the importance of local food supply to emergency preparedness, national defense and healthy food.

14. City Chickens will NOT Spread Avian Flu and Salmonella.
On the contrary, keeping backyard flocks can help prevent the spread of the H5N1 virus. It is the huge multimillion-bird, fragile-flock factory farms that raise immune-compromised, homogeneously-bred, mono-cropped chickens that are a far, far greater threat of causing an epidemic of the flu virus. Salmonella is the result of poor food handling practices, and insufficient refrigeration. Backyard5. Document the Lessons You Learn and Share the Results.

Utilizing urban hens is on the cutting edge, and there is a lot to learn and quantify. Document how much biomass is diverted from the trash and converted into compost. Track how much you save on feed by giving hens kitchen and restaurant residues. Estimate the government funds saved by not having to transport, transfer, and landfill biomass trash. Document other benefits to your household and the community, such as increases in local soil fertility and garden production. Get the facts on how many complaints there were in your city, and others about chickens compared to dogs or cats.

15. Be Diplomatic, Positive, and Persistent
These attributes make your City Chicks efforts unstoppable. The realities of finding economical and ecological waste management solutions and a sustainable, wholesome local food supply will create new paradigms and overcome poultry prejudice. Be persistent about your right to keep a family flock. It might even take a new petition submitted shortly after every election or appointment of new city officials. Know the voting track record of your elected officials and let voters know who’s “Green” and in favor of local food security.

There is a pervasive underground “city chick” movement sweeping across North America. Cities that don’t allow chickens have flocks residing illegally and quietly; and the numbers are exponentially growing. Thousands of baby chicks are being donated by hatcheries collaborating with local sponsors to offer “Chicken Stimulus Packages” and “Chicks for Charity” fund raisers to support local food supply. The purpose of these programs are to help more folks gain experience with keeping family flocks.
Grass roots campaigns are leading municipalities to allow chickens within city limits. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz of Madison, Wisconsin stated in 2004:“It’s a serious issue . . . it’s no yolk . . .Chickens are really bringing us together as a community. For too long they’ve been cooped up.”
— Mayor Dave Cieslewicz Madison, Wisconsin

Mayors and city council members across the country are agreeing that it’s time to “think outside the coop”
and employ chickens—and their skill sets—to serve their communities.

“We hold these truths to be self evident…there are certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, pursuit of Happiness and the Right to grow or raise food on land you own.

Eggs and hope spring eternal.
…and may the flock be legally with you — evermore!


Here’s some great advice from the Prince George’s Hens in Maryland. This has been collected from their movement to legalize chickens.

Hi neighbors! Thanks for all the thoughtful discussion on the chicken issue. I understand that many people have negative associations with chickens. One thing to remember is that we’re talking about modern urban/suburban pet hen keeping. This is not your grandpa’s dirty old coop on the farm, just as modern pet house cats are not the same as wild, mangy barn cats on farms.

Over 500 cities have legalized pet chicken keeping in the past two years (according to Pat Foreman, author of City Chicks). Reports from those cities indicate that there are very few complaints about chickens. On the contrary, many neighbors are delighted to have hens nearby. Many people actually report improved neighbor relations – chickens help them make friends with their neighbors, especially those with children.

Ft. Collins, Colorado, legalized chickens in 2008. There was a big outcry and people had many of the same objections that you have. Here’s the report for the year after they were legalized:

“Director of animal control with the Larimer Humane Society, Bill Porter, says that of the 14,314 calls to animal control since the chicken law went on the books, 6 calls were about chickens (0.04%). Four of those were about roosters. “The other two regarded smell and location of the coop, and both cases were unfounded.”

Here’s another report from Missoula, MT, which recently legalized hens:

“So far, however, Missoula’s urban chickens — which are specifically what Wilkins and Deschamps were concerned about — are remarkable for how little trouble they’ve turned out to be.

“All in all, we don’t see any huge problems with the chickens,” Missoula County Animal Control Supervisor Ed Franceschina told me this week. Franceschina’s records show a total of just 14 complaints about chickens in the last year.

Considering this record, Wilkins says he’s changed his mind. “I was worried that there would be a lot of complaints, but it seems to be going all right,” he says.

In fact, more than one chicken owner I spoke to said that having chickens had improved neighbor relations, like Julie Gilbertson-Day, who used to keep chickens at her house in the University District.

“It actually helped us get to know our neighbors better,” she says. “Families stopped to show the chickens to their kids. People knew who we were because we were the people with the chickens.”

Leigh Radlowski, another Missoula chicken owner, agrees. “Most people are really positive,” she says. “They may not want chickens wandering into their yards, but that’s fair enough. It’s what you’d expect with a dog, too.”

Shivali, I’m sorry you have had negative experiences with PG Animal Control. But, actually, they seem to do a very good job of enforcing chicken regulations. Over the past few years, Animal Control has busted many families that were keeping chickens responsibly. They seem quite capable of responding to complaints and evidently have plenty of time and money to do so already. (although it’s entirely possible that if chicken keeping were legal, Animal Control would have to spend LESS time on chickens because they would no longer have to waste their time on responsible owners.)

I don’t see this law requiring much, if any additional funding. Chickens will be covered under the noise and smell nuisance clauses of the Animal Control code, just like any other pet, which Animal Control is already familiar with. The only reason it would add bureaucratic burden is if there is an additional chicken permitting and inspection system, which is why we do not want a permitting system. Please correct if I am wrong.


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