how to get backyard chickens legalized in your city

The most common question I get is “how do I get the ordinance changed to allow chickens in my city?”

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. Your best bet is to review the current ordinance, question city council & code enforcement to see what their stance is, and then address questions until everyone understands you’re not asking to open a branch of Tyson chicken farms in your backyard. Here are the steps I recommend taking, in order:

  1. Determine what the current law/ordinance is within your city. Google search for “muni code yourcity yourstate” to find out if your municipal code is online, and then search through that code for terms like “poultry”, “fowl”, “chickens” and “chicks”.  Be aware that not all muni code databases are updated regularly. If you’re in Michigan, most municipal codes that are online can be found here, listed by city. Michigan Muni Code Cities UPDATE: We’ve compiled a list of cities that allow backyard chickens in Michigan
  2. If you find that your city code prohibits chickens, determine on what grounds.  Some cities outlaw the keeping of chickens outright, others stipulate that you can’t have them near neighboring structures, and some prohibit them unless your residence is zoned for it.  Get the facts straight so you can plan how to argue your stance.
  3. Compile a list of nearby cities that allow chickens, and what their ordinance/regulations look like. Look for progressive cities of a similar makeup to yours, or cities that would be laudable to emulate.  College towns seem to be a good source of pro-chicken ordinances; when I first approached Ferndale to ask about backyard chickens, I had already investigated the ordinances allowing chickens in Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti.  Look to articles citing changes to city ordinances as well, because it will help you get a good feel for what city leaders are concerned with.  This blog has an extensive list of links to news articles on backyard chicken keeping laws.
  4. Communicate with code enforcement & council members in cities that allow chickens to get a statement on how their policy is working and if they’ve run into any problems.  Chances are they haven’t, or if they have it’s been an issue of people keeping chickens illegally.  Getting this sort of information is vital, and will help instill confidence in those considering the ordinance change.
  5. Draft an ordinance, or amendment to an existing ordinance, that is practical for your city. Keep in mind that roosters will almost always be considered a nuisance (due to noise from crowing), standard setbacks from property lines are ~ 20ft, and that most cities limit the number of hens to 6.  Base your ordinance draft off the ordinances of the nearby cities allowing chickens.
  6. Put together an informational packet illustrating the benefits and addressing common concerns. I recommend putting it online as a PDF in Google docs/drive, since that will make it easy for you to email the link to the information to anyone who might need it.  Be factual and cite references. Be sure to include maps, charts, graphs, tables and photographs where applicable. Add a table of contents and make it easy to locate information.  Include any information about nearby cities that allow chickens as evidence that your request isn’t unusual.
  7. Contact your city council members to see if there is anyone in support of backyard chickens.  A city council member who will champion the cause is the strongest ally you could ever have.  Build a rapport with your city council members in the hopes that one will sponsor the ordinance change. If you are sending emails to city council members, be sure to include a link to your informational packet that you’ve put online!
  8.  Recruit support. The wheels of change take time, so it’s unlikely that you’ll get chickens immediately after speaking to council members, even if some support the cause.  Take to social media and state your case- send out links to your informational packet.  Consider putting a petition together online to gain further evidence of support.
  9. Get involved with the media.  It’s terrifying, but the sooner you do it the better- you want to speak to the media BEFORE those who are against backyard chickens do.  Contact your newspaper’s “environmental” reporter or any beat reporter on a local level. Be ready for backlash- there will be plenty who oppose backyard chickens, but if you’ve done your homework and put together an informational packet that addresses common concerns, you’ll have ammo to nix most rational arguments.
  10. Ask for the issue to be put on the city council agenda. Learn the protocol for bringing an item up for discussion with your public officials.  If the city refuses to place the issue on the agenda, find out how your city council meetings function and if there is an opportunity for public comment. Take advantage of the comment period at the end of every meeting if you haven’t been placed on the agenda. Print up your informational packets to distribute, and a one-sheet summary of the packet that helps illustrate your case. Give information to anyone who will take it.
  11. Keep calm and carry on.  As much as I hate that phrase, it’s completely pertinent here.   The ordinance won’t get changed overnight. You MUST be persistent. If they strongly oppose you, any sign that you’re half-heartedly following through will allow them the opportunity to stall or shelve the issue. Likewise, if you’re not persistent the issue may simply be forgotten or ignored, even if they’re not entirely against backyard chicekns. Make sure they understand you are serious and determined, and remain polite, professional and factual at all costs. This is not the time to let your emotions get the best of you, and being rude, bitter, or sarcastic won’t further the cause.

So many people are addressing this issue within their city, and some of them are putting their presentations online. I’ve compiled some below to help you get a feel for what topics you should expect to address and what seems to be working for others:

Tips from a successful chicken ordinance change

One Year Review of Chapter 107 (Animals) Regarding Backyard Chickens – Ann Arbor, MI (evidence of any complaints filed during the first year backyard chickens were allowed in Ann Arbor- only one complaint filed against someone with illegal chickens, and one dog attack on legal chickens)

Backyard Chickens Presentation- Brookings, SD

Backyard Chickens 101 – Crookston, MN

Slideshow Presentation made by a renter requesting permission to raise chickens in Cleveland OH:

 

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