The Thinking 

Backyard Chickens in the Suburbs

February 14, 2013



I was raised on a family farm and have a childhood of experience raising chickens, geese and ducks (among other animals).  At our last home in the country I had a flock of 20 chickens, which provided eggs and garden fertilizer, reduced the bug and worm population, provided dinner to a couple of passing coyote’s and amused our family with their antics.

Since moving to our current home four years ago, we have learned that we cannot raise backyard chickens in residential zoning.  There have been two attempts since 2011 to change the ordinance to no effect.  See articles about zoning restrictions herehere and here.

My husband and I would like to put a small coop such as this one on our residentially zoned backyard.  It is self contained, attractive and cannot hold more than five hens, although three would be more than sufficient for our needs.

We have a neighbor a few doors down who has a stud dog and three bitches and raises multiple litters of lab puppies every year for the income.  This is okay, according to the ordinance, so long as the pups are gone by the time they are  four months old.  According to our city’s ordinance, it is okay to have a pot bellied pig… but no “farm animals.”

I am a homemaker and my husband and I have seven children (three still living at home).  I help support our family by keeping a large garden.  This year I hope to plant some fruit trees and grapevines.  I preserve our family’s food by canning, freezing and dehydrating. I give a lot of produce away. I compost all our food waste, recycle, freecycle, use a clothesline and repurpose rather than buy new. I would love to have a little homestead here in the middle of town.

I am wondering if you can offer any advice on how to “Fight City Hall”?  How about any of your readers?

Thank you!

Laura writes:

I don’t know what to suggest except persistence, meeting with members of your municipal governing body and zoning council individually, giving each a presentation with pictures of your coop and a full explanation of why the birds would not be a nuisance. It seems stupid for towns to deny small numbers of birds. Have you tried a petition?

— Comments —-

Kristor writes:

Paula should call the EDF, the Sierra Club, etc. They’d be all over this. I bet there is a “Friends of the Urban Garden” NGO in her city.

That said, there is a reason why cities decided to ban farm animals. Most likely, the decision was taken a long time ago when level-headed men were running things. I bet the Department of Public Health had a lot to say about it at the time. Think of it this way: the world’s new strains of influenza all crop up in China, where there are large populations of poultry and pigs living amongst large populations of people.

Molly writes:

I noticed Paula’s questions about changing her municipality’s zoning laws regarding chickens. I have been working on the same thing in my area. I have found the information in this paper helpful.

More and more, municipalities are trending toward loosening restrictions on chickens in residential areas. I hope she has success!

Teri Pitman writes:

I live in Vancouver, WA in the suburbs. In our county, chickens are legal, as long as you don’t have roosters. I don’t have a fancy coop (although I keep trying) but have had at least ten hens over the last three years. I’ve not had any problems about keeping the birds and there are groups in our area that encourage people to keep chickens. I can hear that neighbors down the block also have them. Portland OR is another area that is big on suburban chickens.

I would try contacting groups in those areas. There are folks that have experience on how to work with the zoning commission. You might be able to get approval for a small flock (some areas restrict to three hens or so.) Good luck!

Jane writes:

Fortunately I live in a suburban town that allows backyard chickens. I came home with three baby chicks last Memorial Day and I spent the summer building a coop, pen, perches and nesting boxes. I love my girls. I never expecting them to be so entertaining! The fresh healthy eggs are awesome too.

The town just to the south of me does not allow backyard chickens. I don’t think they will be able to maintain this no-go policy for much longer given the growing pressure to reverse the policy. I believe part of the resistance to allow backyard chickens in this particular town is stemming from the fear that the high Mexican population in the area will take advantage of the allowance to the point of creating ‘third world’ looking areas. This, I believe is also the reason why this town has banned clothes lines!

For the Backyard Homesteaders out there, sign up for the Resilient Communities newsletter. It’s a great newsletter full of practical ideas and helpful hints.

Karen I. writes:

My sister had to obtain a zoning variance to have chickens and a small coop. The town then decided to increase her property tax by $100 per year, as the assessor decided the coop was an improvement to the property. In my area, anyone can attend a zoning meeting and request a variance, as long as they give advance notice that they intend to raise the matter during a zoning meeting. If the original motion is denied, towns in my area allow anyone denied a zoning variance to appeal it, and real estate attorneys sometimes represent those making an appeal.

I always bought cage-free eggs and was surprised to learn that the living conditions of “cage free” chickens are often almost as deplorable as those of battery chickens. The 2008 movie “Food, Inc.,” opened my eyes to the horrors of factory farming and ever since seeing it, I have tried to avoid factory farm foods when possible. That includes buying eggs from my sister. The eggs from the backyard chickens are much better than anything in the grocery store. The shells of grocery store eggs are paper thin compared to the ones laid by my sister’s chickens. Also, it can be fun for children to see the little chicks and the grown chickens, though it came as a surprise to me how mean the chickens can be to each other, pecking out each other’s feathers sometimes to the point my sister had to buy a special purple ointment to put on the wounds.

Raising chickens can be a lot of work and my sister says they can live for years after their laying days are over. Obviously that can pose a problem for those who want eggs, but don’t want the nasty job of slaughtering the chickens who have stopped laying. They can just keep them as pets, instead, but if they want a continuous supply of eggs, that means buying more chicks and starting over. After awhile, it also means there are a lot of chickens around. Also, it can be difficult to tell when they are chicks which are male and female and some stores sell them by the half dozen, so there are often roosters in the mix. It isn’t uncommon for the crowing roosters to bother neighbors, so that can be a problem in a more populated area like a residential neighborhood. I saw quite a few chickens who aren’t laying anymore, along with noisy roosters their owners got with a batch of chicks on the “free” or “pets” section of Craigslist when I was looking for a cat there.

Jake writes:

I suggest your readers contact Victor Alfieri in Wayne, NJ. He just had a victory with respect to backyard chickens. He has a website at

Share:Email this to someoneShare on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest0Share on Google+0