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laureth's avatar

City ordinances: does no mention of a situation mean it's OK, or not OK?

Asked by laureth (27133points) July 24th, 2011

So Mr. Laureth and I are looking to buy a new place to live. One of the goals is to make it into an intensely cultivated minifarm, providing the majority of our food. As such, I would like to keep chickens for eggs and meat. (This is not a question about vegetarianism; but whether or not you approve of factory farming, please understand that as a meat-eater, I’m doing this so that it is done as well as possible.)

I don’t want to break laws, or buy land and then learn that I can’t engage in my self-sufficiency plan. So we’ve been spending a lot of time reading over local city ordinances, looking for laws about livestock in general, and chickens in particular. Some areas allow a resident to keep a certain number of hens (and no rooster) if they follow other rules, such as keeping them in a hutch that’s X number of feet from the neighbor’s house, perhaps paying a small licensing fee.

Most cities, however, don’t even mention any kind of livestock rules – especially the more rural, outlying communities. We don’t know what to think about those. Does the absence of a rule about keeping chickens imply that no chickens can be kept, or that chickens can be kept because there’s nothing saying you can’t?

(The main burg here is known for its hippy residents and allows limited numbers of hens, but the outlying communities “in the sticks” might want to seem more “modern” by outlawing the things one might expect to find in the rural hinterlands.)

I’m planning to send emails to the appropriate City Hall, if and when we find a property that we like. In the meantime, wanting to know what the general public assumes to be true, I’m turning to Fluther.

As a related question, please also tell me what you would think, in your own neighborhood, if your neighbor kept a well-tended, not-stinky clutch of 3 or 4 hens. (They might cluck a bit, but they’re not crowing all the time like roosters.) If you didn’t have to see them, or much hear them, would you be amenable to the idea? If you’re borderline on it, would the occasional gift of fresh eggs or garden vegetables do anything to sway your opinion?

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15 Answers

Kayak8's avatar

Chickens, in the sort of circumstances you describe, would not bother me much. Eggs and veggies are ALWAYS welcome!

Typically you can find a phone number for “code enforcement” and they can tell you what you can or can’t do in a given locale (on a wide variety of subjects). Remember if the local governing entity has no such prohibition, go up to the next level of government (e.g., village code says nothing, check county ordinances). Code enforcement will know if you can’t do it and what regulations prohibit it. I know of several cities that allow you to keep a small number of chickens (for personal use—I don’t even want to know what that means), but I live in the corn-fed midwest and we like our critters.

laureth's avatar

@Kayak8 – Good idea, thanks! We, too, live in the Midwest (SE Michigan, more “rust belt” than “corn fed”) and from what I understand, “personal use” means eggs for my household, but not a commercial poultry operation.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Just a bit of caution: the SO’s neighbors behind his house have hens. They aren’t heard, and the sight of them isn’t an issue. However, the sight of a rat in our small backyard was.

chyna's avatar

In my part of the country, if you live “outside city limits” anything goes. You can have horses, chickens, goats, etc. You can build a fire pit and burn your trash, just obey the fire laws during fire season or they can fine you.

laureth's avatar

Good to know, @Pied_Pfeffer – one of the rules for having chickens in at least one of the cities around here is to have housing for them (and secure their foodstuffs) so that rats cannot benefit.

zenvelo's avatar

This has been an issue locally, and generally if it is strictly personal and there is not a prohibition, they can’t shut you down or tell you to remove your hens. Same with rabbits raised for meat.

It gets tricky when and if you slaughter animals (such as a hen that no longer lays), or if you sell or even barter any thing, because then business and health codes are applied. And, as with rats, you need to not be a nuisance, so a pile of chicken manure needs to be taken care of, and flies kept to a minimum.

laureth's avatar

@zenvelo – Rabbits were another option I was considering, perhaps having both. Rabbit manure, I hear, is perfect for the garden (some call them “bunny berries”) and don’t even need to be composted. Chicken waste (and rabbit pee) is much more noxious and needs taken care of. I’m hoping to find a way to use it to build soil through compost, closing the loop as much as I can.

The main city that allows chickens here also says “no slaughtering,” which led me to wonder what folks do with old hens, just keep feeding them into their dotage? My other guess is that it’s some kind of crony capitalism, and there’s a local butcher who wants a captive home-chicken market.

Kayak8's avatar

@laureth I think the “no slaughter” rule keeps your headless chicken from running around MY yard!

zenvelo's avatar

@laureth Coincidence time: A friend of mine in Seattle was asking last night how to get her old hens slaughtered, it’s the one thing she doesn’t like to do. But backyard slaughters are permitted where she lives.

john65pennington's avatar

There are many traffic laws that are not specifically covered in the traffic manual. If a sign is not posted, most manuals state that the speed limit in alleys is 10 mph. This is just a common sense factor. Also, if a speed limit is not posted on a residential street, the speed limit is 30 mph. Again, common sense tells us to go slow.

I would be sure to check your local ordinances, before I bought my first chicken. Some cities allow them, some do not.

Always check the law first. It could save you from spending/wasting a lot of money.

Zaku's avatar

No mention anywhere means it’s ok. But that means no mention in any statute or lawsuit at any level of government that has jurisdiction: city, country, state, federal. And as others pointed out, situations created by the chickens might become a problem, such as noise, attracting rats, or whatever.

So, asking a lawyer with relevant expertise is a good idea, rather than trying to do the research yourself. And/or calling the police or the local government help lines.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Coincidence #2: I almost mentioned rabbits in my original post. The SO’s next door neighbor raises them in his garage. Since he has also had problems with rats, we decided not to notify the authorities about the chickens in the back.

srmorgan's avatar

The state department of agriculture will have a county extension for the county where you are planning to live. I am sure that even Wayne County (Detroit) has an agricultural extension.

This person will know what is or is not permissible concerning livestock within the county limits or any town in the county or any unincorporated areas.

They must have a website so you can find an agent. And they will not charge you for the service.


laureth's avatar

@john65pennington – Thanks. Luckily, I have been wading through ordinances lately. :)

crisw's avatar

You might find this site useful.

In general, everywhere I have looked, even rural areas, has zoning laws concerning livestock. Sometimes the county regs differ from the city regs, so you really have to look closely at where you are.

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