Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Backyard Chickens, do it legally and responsibly

Chickens, there is something about having a few roaming your backyard. They are fun to look at, have distinct personalities, and provide amazingly yummy eggs. The popularity of backyard chicken keeping has been and continues to be on the rise across the country. While many areas legally allow the keeping of chickens, other communities are still in the process of find what will work for them. One thing you need to keep in mind when you decide backyard chicken keeping is for you, is to first and foremost, before bringing home a single adorable chick, is to check your local laws.

While some communities limit the number of hens or prohibit roosters, require specific housing, or upkeep, this is valuable information to have before you proceed. Laws are made for a reason and while not everyone will agree with every element of an ordinance, it is still your local law! Trust me, our family was heartbroken when one of our pullets turned out to be a roo. Our city ordinance states no roosters, so as much as my oldest cried, we had to find our roo a new home, because, well, that was the law. And I must say our neighbors were very kind and understanding (because Blackie was LOUD) when we explained we were looking for a new home for him.

But what do you do if your area does not allow backyard chicken keeping? You change the law, the right way! You follow the process in place to bring the topic to your town and rally folks to your cause. When we first started looking at having a few hens, our town did not allow “fowl“ within the city limits. But within a year, the ordinance was changed allowing chickens. You do NOT just break the law and do as you please. If everyone just did as they wished, well, you can imagine the outcome. I personally want a goat but it is against the law (for now) and no matter how much I want to, I can not just go get one.

If you already have chickens and discover, either through personal research or heaven forbid, legal action against you, that keeping backyard chickens is illegal in your area, you really only have two choices. You either rehome your birds or appeal and start the process of educating your law makers and working to get the law changed. Time and time again I am heart broken by individuals who either think they are above the law or just don’t care about taking the time to do things right. Why is this heart breaking? Because it ruins it for everyone else. Every time someone breaks the law and “fights” their law makers instead of working together toward a solution, they make it harder for those that do try to follow the process to legalize backyard chicken keeping in other areas.

I know right about now, a bunch of you just went, “But they're my birds and I have a right to fight a law I don’t agree with.” No, you don’t… you have the right to help CHANGE the law, not to make a three ring circus out of the fact you broke the law to begin with. Okay, now this is the point when someone stands up and says “but I am covered under the Right to Farm act!!!.” Everyone keeps claiming that these days and well, time and time again, the legal system has proven that backyard chicken keeping is NOT covered by the Right to Farm act.

What! Why? Well I have read the act, and from MY understanding of the whole mess, it goes something like this…. The act covers Farmers and farms in a zoned agricultural area to be able to do what they need to do in order to farm (aka noise, smell, etc.) If you are keeping BACKYARD chickens you are most likely zoned in a residential area. The Right to Farm act does not cover residential zoned “farmers” or what ever you wish to call yourself. If you keep chickens in your backyard illegally then you have broken a zoning ordinance and are then subject to the consequences.

So before I step down from my soap box, I just want to say, keeping a few hens in your backyard is a wonderful thing. I wish everyone could have a few. I am a “bad influence” on my neighbor who just started her own little flock! Why did she want chickens? Because she saw how responsible we are with ours. She saw how we cared for them, the joy they bring, and the fact that we were considerate of her when we ended up with a rooster that we rehomed. Even if roosters were legal, the fact that he was causing noise issues was a fact we took seriously. Regardless of what the LAW says, still be mindful of being a considerate neighbor! Remember that neighbor's complaints can ALSO change a law the other way. Being responsible is important.

In order for everyone to get the chance, those of us who already own chickens need to be responsible citizens of our communities. We need to be role models to not only other towns but to younger generations. What kind of message do we send the world (and our children) when we break laws!?!? If you are considering keeping backyard chickens, please, for the sake of all who want chickens, do it right.

So here is the reality of life folks….. Either know the law BEFORE you get chickens or change the law BEFORE you get chickens. If you have broke the law because you didn’t check or because you didn’t care, appeal to your town in a friendly way to change the law or except the fact that your “fight” with the legal system could end in not only the lose of your birds, but a big fat hole in your pocket. No matter how many people you get to yell and scream (which is the wrong way to approach lawmakers), or donations you can rally to cover your legal costs, in the end, you are breaking the law.



  1. great post! My wife and I are getting chickens. Should be a lot of fun. I am reading up on everything I can find so I can do it right.

    1. I am so excited for you Mike, you are going to love being a chicken parent LOL

    2. thanks! I can't wait ... I want to jump right in and get started, but I am being patient, learning first, and getting the area set up before I do anything. Just with the few things I have read, I did not realize the varying differences in chicken breeds. Confusing at first, but "I think" I am getting to know them. :)

  2. We're having to start that battle, too. We're allowed, but the zoning restriction on lot size is so bad that few houses actually qualify because the way the city was built, it's rare that a lot size is large enough to meet the requirement. So we're off to change it! We want chickens! Glad I found this through the Homestead Hop!

  3. Love this! We are very lucky to live in a city that is very chicken friendly!

  4. Great advice! Don't forget to check ordinances at both the city and county levels, just to make sure you've done your homework and need to defend your position. Knowledge is power!

  5. Great advice! I am passing the link along to my daughter who would love to have chickens yet lives in a suburb. thank you so much for sharing your post on the Home Acre Hop! Nancy

  6. Well said. Be good ambassadors of the backyard chicken movement! :)