The other day, a friend of mine asked me whether backyard chickens are allowed where they live. Since so many people have this, I thought I would right out everything I’ve found out. This is the most definitive way to figure out what you can actually do on your land.
Can you keep chickens in your back yard? While many cities allow keeping chickens, some do not. Almost every city has some limits on what you can do, which you can find in the city code.
While you hear many things from people about what is or isn’t allowed when keeping chickens in the city, the best way to be certain is to research the laws yourself. I have heard of cases where even city officials have made wrong assumptions about what the laws really allow. Finding out what the real chicken laws in your area are isn’t always straight forward, which is why I go in to more detail on the entire process below.
How to Find Out If You Can Keep Chickens
There isn’t just one place to look to find the laws that may prevent you from having chickens. Laws relating to keeping chickens or livestock in general may appear in a variety of sections and topics relating of city and/or county codes.
Likewise, there is no one definitive answer to who can or cannot keep chickens on the basis of living in the city vs living in the country, or whether you live in a particular state. Laws regarding chickens are made at the city, and sometimes the county level. So, some areas of California allow chickens while others do not.
If your county or city does not explicitly prohibit keeping chickens in some way, then you are allowed to keep them as long as you follow all other laws. Especially those pertaining to noise and sanitation.
City Chicken Laws
If you live in the city, the first place to look is in your city code. Most cities offer an online version of their laws accessible via their website. You can also check the collection of city codes in Municode, to easily get access to the chicken laws in your area:
You may find laws relating to chickens under several different areas of the law book, including:
- Livestock Regulations
- Zoning Laws and Allowed Usages
- Health and Sanitation
- Nuisance Laws
- Noise Ordinances
In some cities that I have looked at, there was no law directly relating to chickens, but their are nuisance laws the prohibit keeping livestock that offends your neighbors. In that case, it is hard to say if chickens are actually allowed, because you can legally keep them until one of your neighbors decides to complain.
County Chicken Laws
On the county level, the most important laws regarding keeping livestock, and chickens in particular, tend to be the county zoning laws. In many states, county zoning laws apply to you even if you live in a city. If you live in the country, then county zoning laws may be the only chicken related regulations that you need to consult.
Zoning laws, or zoning ordinances, are regulations that assign every piece of property a specific use, residential or commercial for instance. Although you probably live in a residential or agricultural zone, even these are split up in to different types of use such as R20, R5, or RR (in my area).
Every county is different, and can choose to set their zones as they like. I have seen some zoning laws limit the type and number of livestock that you are able to keep, typically on a per acre bases.
For help finding your county zoning laws, try searching for you county’s website, or try the online law listing below.
Chickens and HOA’s or Covenants (CC&Rs)
A covenant is an agreement that you make when you purchase a home or piece of property, and in the United States are typically recorded on the property deed. In most cases, covenants are intended prohibit certain activities on your land which the original developers thought could potentially impact quality of life and thus property values in the neighbor hood.
Covenants, if your property has any, very commonly restrict which livestock and how many you can have on you property. Or, they may profit any livestock, including chickens, altogether. Check your deed to see if you have any covenants that pertain to chickens.
Additionally, your covenants may require that you me a member of a Home Owner’s Association (HOA). If you are a member of an HOA, you are probably aware of this, since almost all HOAs charge dues. Your HOA may choose to restrict chickens in your neighborhood. To see what your HOA allows, check the current HOA by-laws, which you can get from the appropriate HOA officer or secretary.
Are Roosters Allowed in the City?
One particularly common restriction that I have found regarding keeping chickens in the city is the prohibition of keeping roosters in city limits.
This is because of the iconic rooster crowing, which is a hallmark of country life, but tends to disturb the neighbors in town.
It is very common for cities that explicitly allow some number of hens within city limits to specifically write in a law that disallows keeping roosters. Other cities will have a round about law that prohibits noise disturbances or nuisance animals, which indirectly restricts the keeping of roosters.
However, some cities do allow keeping rosters. Check your city ordinances to see what is allowed in your area.
Can I Slaughter Chickens Where I Live?
Even if chickens are allowed where you live, you may not be able to slaughter chickens in the city. Typically chicken slaughter falls under city health ordinances, which may limit any animal slaughter within city limits.
However, if there are no city level restrictions on poultry processing in your area, than harvesting chickens for personal or family use is allowed in the United States, so long as you don’t sell the meat commercially. Commercial meat is subject to additional scrutiny.
Some states have exemptions for small scale poultry production. This guide is a good place to start if you want to sell some of your meat:
How Many Chickens Can I Have?
Some cities have laws the limit the total number of chickens you can have per lot. This can be as little as 2 or 3, or as much as 10 or more.
Other cities that allow chickens, don’t specify an exact limit on the number of chickens you can keep, but undoubtedly would have a problem if the chickens were kept in an unsanitary manner. Be sure to give your flock enough space to be healthy, and to keep their living area clean.
How Much Space do Chickens Need?
For a backyard chicken flock, a good general rule of thumb is about 2 – 3 square feet of space inside the coop per chicken, and about 8 – 10 square feet of outside space per chicken. This amount of space is comfortable for a nice domestic flock of chickens, although even more outdoor space is always appreciated.
However, in commercial farming, the space allotted to chicken is much less. The National Chicken Council specifies only half a square foot of living space per bird, for broiler chickens.
What is the law on keeping chickens at home?
Many cities allow keeping chickens in residential neighborhoods. Laws on keeping chickens vary from from city to city, so check your local ordinances. Some cities limit the maximum number of birds, their proximity to the home, or allow hens but prohibit roosters.
Are roosters allowed in city limits?
While many cities allow hens, some cities prohibit roosters specifically or indirectly through noise or nuisance ordinances. The only way to be certain if roosters are allowed in your city is to check your city ordinances.