Chicken in the City: Is Yours Up to Code?

Photo: Linda Ly
Photo: Linda Ly

Maybe you're city folk but you've always thought about raising chickens in your own backyard. And maybe last week's profile of Dare 2 Dream Farms, a sustainable, free-range chicken ranch that caters to urban farmers, piqued your interest even more.

After all, chickens provide sustenance. They provide fertilizer. And -- to many people's surprise -- they are full of personality and make excellent, entertaining pets. For those who are already growing their own fruits and vegetables, raising chickens is the logical next step toward self-sufficiency.

But before you buy the chickens, the coop, and all the accessories that come with owning a backyard flock, consider whether your city even allows them first. City code supersedes county code, so while the County of Los Angeles has restrictions based on property zoning, several cities within its boundaries have updated their municipal codes to allow backyard chickens under certain regulations.

In the city of Los Angeles, chickens must be kept at least 20 feet from the owner's residence and 35 feet from neighboring residences. Roosters must be kept at least 100 feet away. The code does not specify a limit on how many chickens and roosters one can keep, so as long as you have space, you have free reign (or more like free range!).

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To determine whether your backyard is big enough for a flock, a good starting point for standard-sized breeds is to figure at least four square feet per bird for the coop (where they lay eggs during the day and roost at night), and at least eight square feet per bird for the run (an enclosed space where they can wander during the day if you don't want them to wander your whole yard). Smaller bantam breeds can live with a little less space. Of course, more square footage is always desirable, especially if your chickens are confined to the run all day. If the exterior walls of your coop and run are well within the setback requirements of your city, then you're good to go.

Ordinances vary widely between cities, with some capping the amount of chickens you can keep, many banning roosters outright, and others requiring permits for any type of fowl.

Your best bet is to contact your local city hall to find out current regulations, as "urban homestead" laws are being considered in many cities. BackYard Chickens, an extensive online resource for both aspiring and established chicken keepers, offers a crowd-sourced listing of California-specific laws on the books pertaining to poultry. Most cities also post their municipal codes online, so a good way to search for them is by Googling "(city name) poultry ordinance."

Once your city is on board with your backyard flock, you can join a community of fellow urban farmers on a group like Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts. Members organize frequent events for everything from meet-and-greet potlucks to seminars discussing chicken health and home remedies.

If you live in a city that doesn't allow chickens, the group is also a good place to possibly meet someone who can help you take the right steps toward swaying your city council. For tips from a chicken advocate who managed to turn around his city's ordinance, check out this article from Backyard Poultry. And ... good cluck!

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