Backyard Chickens Growing in Popularity, but Local Laws Vary

Posted January 7, 2013 in Animal Law Your Home & The Law by

Hen in a chicken run

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Once, the crow of the rooster and the cluck of the hen were firmly associated with rural America. Today, they are just as likely to be associated with Brooklyn.

Due to a growing appetite for fresh eggs and unprocessed meat, coupled with the desire to “eat local” and to have a closer relationship with food, residents of many cities and towns have successfully petitioned their local governments for permission to keep a limited number of chickens in their backyards.

 

Laws and Backyard Chickens

To raise chickens in a residential area, you will need to comply with local ordinances. For a list of ordinances by state and municipality, see www.backyardchickens.com/atype/3/laws. There may be permits, fees or both. These are not much different than dog or cat licenses.

Local laws govern ownership of animals as well as restrictions on the number and sex of birds. Many localities allow relatively quiet chickens, but not noisy roosters. Sometimes you will need to get permission from neighbors. Renters will need to get permission from their landlords as well.

 

Don’t Be a Nuisance

To avoid nuisance complaints, owners of chickens must address issues like noise, smells, attraction of flies and rodents, cleanliness of coops, and proper disposal of chicken manure and deceased chickens. Some municipalities allow the slaughter of birds for meat on the premises. Others do not.

Finally, owners of backyard chickens in residential areas must make sure that any coops or fences are up to code. Some municipalities require permits and inspections.

 

Other Problems with Chickens

Chickens are susceptible to a wide variety of diseases. Plus, poultry and eggs can carry bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter that can sicken you, your family and anyone else who eats them. The risk of infection is especially high for children, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with weakened immune systems. Eggs laid by urban chickens have been found to contain lead and other toxins.

Urban chickens often fall prey to dogs, raccoons, foxes and coyotes. Neighbors can be quick to file complaints. Raising chickens for eggs and meat can be meaningful, but it is a lot of work. As a result, unwanted urban chickens and roosters increasingly end up in local animal shelters.

 

Sharing or Selling Eggs and Meat

Operators of successful backyard chicken operations soon find themselves sharing eggs with family, friends and neighbors. Many start to think about selling extra eggs.

Usually, there is no need to register with any state or federal agency, pasteurize your eggs, or use any special wash on the eggs you sell if

  • You sell only your own eggs
  • You sell your eggs only at your house or by home delivery
  • The eggs are fresh and unwashed
  • You don’t grade the eggs by size (AA, A or B, etc.)
  • You don’t label your eggs as “organic” (which requires special certification).

If someone becomes ill from eggs that you give or sell to them, you could be liable for damages. Before sharing or selling your eggs, you might want to consult with your insurance agent or a lawyer. If selling, you should check with your municipality about the need for a business license or permit.

The law surrounding the raising of backyard chickens in residential areas differs greatly depending on where you live. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a real estate lawyer.

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