Can I Keep Chickens in My Backyard?

Thia is a guest post by Nate Smith

If you have made the decision that you would like to try your hand at keeping some chickens in your backyard, there are a few considerations that you might want to make first, and although you have probably thought of some of these, there just might be a few that might come as a surprise.

Legality of Raising Backyard Chickens

Probably the very first question you should ask yourself about raising chickens is, can I raise chickens in my backyard?’ You know, legally. I know, I know. If you are slightly stubborn like I tend to be you are probably saying to yourself, ‘this is my property, so surely I can do whatever I want on it’! Am I right? If that thought crossed your mind, or anything at all along those lines, trust me, I know where you’re coming from. Here’s the deal.

If you live within the boundaries of a city as most (but not all) of us do, you will want to start out by getting info on whether or not you can even keep chickens in your backyard while staying within the confines of the law. The last thing you want to do is to build or buy a chicken coop, purchase a few starter hens, buy some food, get the entire family excited about the adventure that lies ahead, only to have a bureaucrat pay you a visit and let you know (kindly or otherwise), that what you are doing against a city ordinance and that not only will you have to get rid of your new chicks, you will also have to pony up for a fine they’ve decided to hand you. What a slap in the face!

Basic Types of Zoning and Chickens

There are a few different types of zoning that exist, each one having different laws and regulations on what you will and what you will not be able to do. If your property happens to be zoned as agricultural, then you probably won’t have any problem raising chickens or constructing any type of chicken coop you might want to have. Most people reading this article will not fit that description however, and will live on property that is probably zoned as residential.

Don’t let that discourage you in regards to chicken-raising, as many, many residential areas will allow people to raise a few chickens on their property. The best thing that you can do to make sure is to contact your city offices and simply ask them if there are any ordinances on raising chickens in your backyard, and what they are.

You will find typically that there are two different areas of laws that will affect what you are able to do. First, there are often laws specific to the actual birds. How many birds you are able to have on your property (it might depend on the size of your property), what sex they can be (roosters, anyone?), and in some cases, although not extremely common, you might even have to get written permission from your neighbors! I know, that last one sounds a bit strange.

You haven’t burned any bridges there, have you? The second set of laws have to do with the type of housing you use for your chickens. How large can your chicken coop be? Do you have to get a permit to build or even own a chicken coop in your backyard? Will this chicken coop need to be inspected?

I hope I haven’t scared you away from the idea of even wanting to start raising chickens in your backyard, and honestly I believe I have found some of the more extreme laws that you might want to, as your own city ordinance might include anything from having nearly no regulations at all, to maybe just one or two of these issues, which might not seem like much of a problem at all. Remember, as you are going into this and inquiring about the local laws of your city just remember that joy of fresh eggs, chickens and the family experience is all very much worth it in the end!

A Personal Example on Chicken Keeping Laws

It has been a number years now that raising chickens in your backyard has been allowed here in my city. In regards to how many chickens can be kept here, a person can keep up to 12 chickens, depending on the size of your property. Anywhere from house lots as small as 5,000 square feet keeping just two chickens, up to larger lots being allowed 12. There was a small public hearing where people were able to voice their opinions on the matter. For the most part it was thought that people being able to raise chickens in their backyard was fine, and that there wasn’t really any detriment at all.

Even public officials mentioned that when it came to complaints about chickens from neighbors (which were extremely rare as it is), the complaints were never about noise, and never about a smell (neither of those things seemed to be any problem at all). The only complaints on file were for the occasional chicken getting loose, which was always promptly gathered and put back in its place. I’m sure we can all point to that neighbor of ours that would be the first to complain about the slightest inconvenience, or really anything at all.

Whatever the case may be where you live, make sure you have it on good authority that you are able to keep chickens before going out and finding chicks and a chicken coop. Don’t take the advice of a friend or a neighbor or a real estate agent even someone near you that might be raising chickens. Sometimes when laws are passed that ban certain things, those who were practicing before the law came into effect are exempt from the new law; they are grandfathered in.

What if My City Does Not Allow Backyard Chickens?

If you find that your municipality does not allow raising chickens, don’t panic just yet. All might not be lost. The process of getting a simple law like this changed is often times much more simple than you might think. You might be asked to attend a city council meeting to state your case, and often times that will be enough for the city to take a vote on the issue, and I think often times you will find that no one wants to be the lone councilman putting their foot down on people wanting to become more self-sustaining.

Be patient on the matter as this process doesn’t usually happen overnight. It can take months for the ball to get rolling, but you can be a part of making great changes in your area if you stick with it. If you can find others in your area that back you on this issue and will be willing to work with you, even better.

Nate Smith has been homesteading and dealing with backyard chickens for a number of years. He encourages people who are looking to begin raising chickens to gather information first on the best breeds of chickens, types of chicken coops and requirements that go into raising backyard chickens.

Comments

  1. Sharoola says:

    Ah! This is a subject near and dear to my heart! I live in Baltimore County, whose zoning laws state that one cannot have any poultry without having at LEAST 1 acre of land. In Baltimore CITY, however, you can have up to 4 hens so long as they are 25 feet away from any neighbors and are kept in a coop, so even row home owners can have chickens.

    Living in the county, this irritates me to no end. So I have been a part of a group of residents who have been campaining to have the zoning laws changed to something more like that of the city. We have been working on this for about 2 years and are finally starting to get somewhere. With the support of a member of the MD Agricultural Dept and County Animal Control, I think the county council is feeling the pressure.

    Wish us luck, and good luck to the rest of you in a similar boat!

    • Mrs. Prepper says:

      Sharoola,
      Well my goodness…nice to see someone from Maryland on here (I moved out of state 7 yrs ago). I know for OPSEC purposes won’t go into personal info other than I will say…I was a teenage Hilantown Hon……and lived near P Park until I graduated high school and then ran for the “country” with my DH some nearly 28 yrs ago….we still visit Baltimore quite often as we have family in the surrounding counties and we visit Ocean City couple times a year. And the crabs…oh how I miss my steamed crabs–people look at you crazy when you say you want crabs and they aren’t from Ballmore! Good luck with fighting City Hall–don’t give up–been there, done that but on another issue (school buses) and you can fight and win–we did….you just have to pester them til they can’t take it anymore. LoL. Take care and keep on prepping.

      • Sharoola says:

        Mrs. Prepper,

        Ah! A fellow Hon! I;m actually an MD transplant, but B-more is home:) I bet you still have Old Bay in your cabinets! It makes a good prepping spice too!

        • Mrs. Prepper says:

          Sharoola,
          you betcha we have Old Bay in our supply! We use it on all kinds of food–awsome on corn, green beans, salmon, shrimp, cornbread. Now that I think about it, I definitely need to adjust my stock up list. I’ve never checked the shelf life on it before, b/c we go thru it so fast. Oh my, I can’t imagine post SHTF with no Old Bay! We still travel to Chesapeake Bay to go crabbing, just not as frequent as we’d like. It ain’t officially summertime til we have a big ol steamer pot going with some Old Bay, vinegar, rock salt, beer, corn of the cob and Maryland Blue Crabs. Nothing like it and I just know there will be Maryland Blue Crabs in heaven! DH and my 3 children love vinegar dipping for their crabs. My mouth is watering just talking it about. We are also Raven fans–although we’re smack dab in the middle of Raven hating country! Take care and God bless. keep on prepping hon!

    • MtWoman (N Central Texas) says:

      Wow Sharoola….in the CITY they can have chickens, but in the COUNTY you can’t? That’s just wrong! Good luck.

      • Baltimore City is its own entity–it’s not part of Baltimore County, just for clarification. The reason it is surprising is that residences in the city are rarely on more than .2 acre lot (most are rowhomes and are on .02 acres!), whereas the the county is much more spread out and could more readily handle chickens.

    • Charissa Bowman says:

      I am interested in joining the group of Baltimore Couny folks who are petitioning the local goverment to allow backyard chickens. We also live in Baltimore County near the city line and would like to have a few backyard chickens. We have a half acre with a BIG backyard and vege garden and would love to add a few laying hens to the mix!!! How can we get involved?

      My email is boarderccb@gmail.com. Can you email me the info?

  2. This is an issue for my DW and I. We have a very small backyard, but I would like to have 2-3 chickens. They would meet our needs. We will be looking further into this as I found a hen house that will fit our needs.

  3. charlie (NC) says:

    There are a good number of chicken coop kits available from farm supply companies. Some are very economical. Here is one as an example. http://www.agrisupply.com/CHICKEN-COOP/p/76953/&sid=&eid=/

    Also, look at the county zoning and see what is allowable as a pet.
    You might have to name your chickens but if it works it works.

    • Sharoola says:

      Charlie,

      I just checked my county website and it says that Animal Control MAY let you obtain a permit to have a wild animal as a pet. So I just emailed them to ask if I could get a permit to keep a couple of chickens as pets.

      Thanks for the idea! Gotta love those loopholes!

      • Andy O. says:

        I am also very interested in joining this group. I live in arbutus and cannot believe we can’t have a few hens.

  4. I live in Prince William County,VA and we cannot have any chickens unless you have both an acre AND you reside a particular semi-agricultural district within the county. Plus a $100 permit. STINKS! But that is actualy the new law that took 2yrs to get passed. No backyard chickens here!

    • SurvivorDan says:

      That’s just what we need. More laws. Even if a new law facilitates some activity that citizens have a right to then we should simply repeal the old laws that prevented the activity. Not make more damn laws!
      “Are you in compliance with AR245-170 requiring you to have at least a 1 acre property? Do you reside in semi-agricultural zoning? Did you apply for and get issued your live chicken raising $100 permit? No? You filthy criminal. Turn around and place your hands behind your back. Do it now!”
      Sorry folks. But excessive laws including ‘chicken laws’ just piss me off!

      • Mrs. Prepper says:

        SD,
        I hear ya! I want chickens so badly and this article is making my poor DH eyes twitch. He’s so tired of hearing me cry about chickens. He says I manage to get a conversation going about chickens near most everyday. LoL. It boils my blood that it’s OK to eat ‘em and eat the eggs, but God forbid we want to raise a couple for our own personal use. What the heck?!! DH says I’ll be the Chicken Whisperer when we finally get our piece of dirt.

  5. A good laying hen will lay 5-6 eggs a week and if you have 6 chickens, then thats about 3 dozen eggs per week. The extra eggs (that you don’t eat) could potentially be donated to some of your neighbors, especially any that might be the complaining type, and allow you to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Just a thought on avoiding nosey neighbor issues.
    I thankfully live in a rural area and don’t have trouble with chickens, goats, horses, cows, or pretty much any critter I want to keep.

  6. One other thing you might need to look at is if you have a Home Owners Association. I used to live in one that stated everything that was legal and everything that was not. Any type of farm animal or fowl was strictly forbidden. Glad I left there and moved back to my hills.

  7. SurvivorDan says:

    I am from Oahu and there are chickens everywhere! In the middle of Honolulu you will wake up to the sounds of roosters crowing. In the country, chickens can be seen running around the front yard of a home with no fences. Hawaiians love fresh eggs and the occasional roast chicken. I don’t think I can trust my dogs to leave the chickens alone so I have never tried to raise any. My friend had a half dozen or so but the cats and their own dogs kept decimating them. Maybe giant pugnacious chickens…..

    • charlie (NC) says:

      Dan, from what I have seen in my trips Kauai gets the prize for the most chickens. The things are litterally everywhere on that island. I got a kick out of watching them duck under little bushes when it rained.

  8. SurvivorDan says:

    Also not sure about the godawfulheat here in the Sonoran desert (my current stomping grounds). How do chickens do in the desert? Does extreme heat affect their laying?

    • Iguana One says:

      I know thw answer to that one! Yes. Chickens don’t like heat. In fact anything above 98 degrees is a problem. I live in Arizona and it get 118 for a month straight here. I plan to supply a mister for the chickens. A lot of drinking water. And I even thought about a small dog door into the house via a vestibule so the birds can enter into a plastic “dog kennel” that is vented so the A/C in te house will effect their encloser. It’s just for sleeping at night. In the day , they go out to forage and scratch. our chickens are great! They don’t know how good they got it.

    • SD,
      I live in FL and the heat is just as bad here as the desert -Very high humidity and 110 degrees for days on end. I have four hens and they laid all summer. I have red sexlinks and I get one extra large egg a day from all four of my girls! I researched breeds a lot before I got them. They are a smaller variety – 4-5 lbs – and don’t eat as much as other breeds but are rock steady layers. Very hardy and friendly, easy-going and QUIET chickens. My neighbors have told me they have never heard them.

      Last summer mine were in a chicken tractor that could move around the yard. I put a big awning over their tractor to keep the sun off but let the air move through. Yes, they need air and they need LOTS of fresh clean water when it’s hot. I throw a couple ice cubes in their water sometimes and they love that. This summer they have their newly built “Cluckingham Palace” to beat the heat (I super insulated the walls of the hen house and the top has an open area just below the roof panels for good air flow.

      So I would say it might work for you….try it! Nothing better than fresh eggs.

  9. Kelekona says:

    In my mother’s neighborhood, there was one classmate’s mother who had poultry. When she moved a street north where everyone had a plowed acre in back of their house, she still kept chickens at the old house because the moment the property became poultry free, it had to stay that way.

    We often had new people come in and think their dogs could be lose because it was so rural, but the street was a highway and the best way to get around 10 stoplights in a mile.

    I don’t know the details behind another neighbor, moved in and though he could have two horses and who knows what else on a half-acre of semi-swamp. Last I listened, he still had roosters.

    I think in this neighborhood, it is no outside cats and I think even the dogs have to be kept as indoor animals. Thanks for the tip to really do research on neighborhoods, I really want chickens with rooster and to alternate with guard turkey and guard goose.

    I think cavy and pheasant do okay as indoor livestock?

  10. Iguana One says:

    I live in a rural city of 50,000 people in Arizona. My wife and I have 2 chickens. No rooster. No chicks. Just eggs. We expect 10 eggs a week.
    I don’t know about the laws. We just aquired the birds and went forward. The noise level is very minute. Some screeching but not a lot. And the chickie’s pen is well hidden from nieghbors and other prying eyes. Our chickens’ “Yard” is cleaned twice a day. water is clear and clean. Food rations are quality. The chickens are beautiful. Their environment is pristine. What’s not to like? No complaints from anybody so far. We love ‘em!

  11. [Not sure if my previous comment registered, so here is another try.]

    Good post. There is much information available that describes the details of raising chickens, but few discuss the nitty-gritty hassles of bureaucracy.

    Raising the chickens (or whatever your self-sufficient endeavor may be) is the easy part.

    Complying with city ordinances in this age of ever-increasing regulations subject to change at any moment is the hard part.

    Americans are not as free as they think they are. We are becoming so regulated that our own land is not really ours to do with as we please. Even though a number of regulations might have begun with good intentions (and many others are just plain stupid that serve no purpose other than to give somebody a job), regulation after regulation accumulates to the point where few can fully comply. The result? It becomes easier (and more legal) to live under a Nanny State than to live independently.

    It is sad, but from what I have seen in real life, even if you are 100% compliant with all ordinances and regulations, the State can rezone your area overnight and force you to cease your independence in order to build a new shopping mall.

    The State would rather maintain its control than allow its citizens to live free and independently and be less of a burden on others and the State itself.

    Nonetheless, good post and thanks for bringing this up.

  12. I’ve been planning on getting chickens for a year. (I was supposed to get some from a friend’s flock but a coon broke in and ate half the flock). So, my coop’s been sitting ready and empty. We just picked up some Barred Plymouth Rock chickens yesterday. They are so cute & I’m so excited to finally have birds for my coop…although at the moment they are in my garage under a heat lamp. Here’s hoping they are all hens since we aren’t supposed to have roosters in my town.

    • Mrs. Prepper says:

      Katie,
      I have chicken envy. I want chickens so badly but my HOA forbids them. I could probably get away with it b/c how our property drops off into such a pitch (near cliff-like really) and could set up a coop and no one would see, but our youngest DS is only 10 and he would blab to everybody in 5 seconds and our natzi HOA would be knocking on the door. We get a violation notice within 3 days if we don’t replace our decorative street lamp (it does nothing as the light is so low). Congrats on the chickies! Please update about your girls so maybe I can have chickens vicariously…..lol

      • Mrs. Prepper-

        I’m fortunate to live in an older house with no HOA. 3 of my neighbors had chickens first and I decided to join the party…lol. We’ve only had the chicks 2 days now but they already respond to our voices and are already getting their primary feathers!! Wow. I had done all my research and decided on Rhode Island Reds but the farm supply store was sold out so spur of the moment I went with Plymouth Barred Rocks. Last night as I was doing so research on them I find they are better layers then the Rhode Island Reds! I was planning on going back this week to get the Rhode Island Reds to finish out the flock and now I’m thinking I’ll just go back and get more Plymouth Rocks. So, far, I’m liking this survival experiment!!

  13. axelsteve says:

    Some places in Ncalif are now allowing chickens in urban areas I think berkley is and parts of san Jose. Yoou can have up to 12 with no Roosters and you cannot butcher birds on premesis.I guess peta still has something to say.I was thinking of painting a chicken on the door of my toyota pickup and tell people that they are part of my hispaic heritage and raise a few.I see them running around in the more hispanic streets in my town.

    • Hunker-Down says:

      axelsteve,

      Don’t tell Bam Bam about the loose chickens, she likes to shoot them.

  14. Like other peole have said , it depends on city , town , county ordinances , Depending on where you are , even if its against the town ordinances , nothing will happen unless somebody complains , only then does it become an issue in some places . Sooooooo , if you live in one of those places , keep them quiet , keep it clean , and no stink or bad visuals that could piss off your neighbors . If you dont have a 6ft fence around your back yard , I wouldn’t try it .

  15. We live in a city that doesn’t allow chickens. Last year we went up against city hall to try to get the law changed. Nothing doing, they wouldn’t budge. Seems in this area all someone has to say is “they’ll make the property values drop” and everyone gets scared. It’s pure ignorance that stands between us and backyard hens. That being said, we got some anyway. 4 hens, in a coop the size of a doghouse and a run. It’s no big deal. If animal control comes knocking, we’ll put them behind a privacy fence and call it a day. In a few months, we’ll have enough fresh eggs for our family and some to share!