How to Raise Chickens — Legally

To know whether you can legally keep chickens at your home residence, you need to explore the zoning laws for your location. Then, take a look at any special regulations in that zoning district that may affect either chicken-keeping or building chicken housing.

Your property may be zoned as agricultural, residential, business, or any number of subcategories. Here’s what those categories generally mean for you:

  • If the zoning is listed as agricultural, you can probably raise chickens without a problem. Look for a notice about the Right to Farm bill on your paperwork. The Right to Farm bill states that any recognized, legal methods of farming can exist or begin at any time in that zone.

  • If the zoning is listed as residential, residential/agriculture, or some other type of zoning, or if you rent or lease your home, you’ll need to determine just what is allowed. Note that landlords may have additional restrictions, beyond the local ordinances, against pets or livestock, so read your lease or talk to your landlord.

There are two types of laws and ordinances that you need to be concerned about before you begin to raise chickens:

  • Laws concerning the ownership of animals at your home location: There may be restrictions on the number of birds, the sex of birds, and where on the property chicken coops can be located. In some areas, the amount of property one has and your closeness to neighbors may determine whether you can keep birds and, if so, how many. You may be allowed to keep so many pets per acre, including chickens. You may need to get written permission from neighbors. Many other rules can apply.

  • Laws that restrict the types of housing or pens you can construct: Will you need a permit to build a chicken coop? Will it need to be inspected?

Not only do you need to find out what you are allowed to do chicken-wise, but you also need to make sure that you get that information from the right people. If you recently purchased your home, your deed and your sales agreement should have your zoning listed on them.

If you can’t find a record of how your property is zoned, go to your city, village, or township hall and ask whether you can look at a zoning map. Some places will have a copy they can give or sell you; in others, you’ll need to look in a book or at a large wall map.

In larger communities, the planning board or office may handle questions about zoning. In smaller towns or villages, the county clerk or an animal control officer may handle questions about keeping animals. The issue of building fences and shelters may be handled by another government unit in either case.

If you can, get a copy of the laws or ordinances so you can refer to them later if the need arises. You may want them to show a neighbor who challenges your right to keep chickens or to remind you how many chickens are legal to own.

Just because others in your neighborhood have chickens doesn’t mean that it’s legal for you to have them. They may have had them before a zoning change (people who have animals at the time zoning is changed are generally allowed to keep them), they may have a variance, or they may be illegally keeping chickens. Even if your neighbor — or even your realtor — tells you it’s okay to raise chickens in your backyard, you’re better off avoiding consequences by going straight to the primary source of legal info.

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