Chicks in the city: how some cities are regulating urban farming

What comes to mind when you imagine the sounds of a typical urban or suburban neighborhood? Perhaps lawnmowers loudly grazing, kids bouncing a basketball on the sidewalk and cars rolling down the street. What about the gentle clucking of chickens?

Urban farming is increasingly popular around the world, and chickens are one of the more common animals to raise due to their conveniently small size. Some households start raising a flock in order to feel closer to their food source, to earn a little extra money or even just as a hobby.

The backyard chicken scene offers many benefits to humans and poultry alike, but as with all movements, there are downsides. For example, research has shown that non-commercial chickens are more likely to be infected by ectoparasites such as lice, fleas and mites. Because of risks, costs and sometimes general annoyances, many cities limit or outright ban the practice.

What’s the problem?

Health risks: Backyard chickens, in addition to attracting parasites, can draw other pests such as rats, foxes, hawks and stray dogs. These animals, especially rats, can carry disease. Many municipal lawmakers worry about the spread of avian flu when introducing poultry to densely-populated locations. Backyard chickens are not always subject to intensive testing like commercial chickens are before their products are sold.

Nuisances: To many neighbors, chickens on the block are annoying. Some worry about odors from unclean coops. Some are concerned about noises, which has led some cities to ban roosters but not hens, aiming to avoid the stereotypical cock-a-doodle-doo early in the morning.

How are cities controlling chicken ownership?

The best way to regulate backyard chickens is often the subject of heated — and sometimes pun-filled — debate. By-laws and zoning ordinances differ city to city and country to country. In Australia and many European countries, laws tend to be rather lax regarding raising chickens in urban areas. In the United States and Canada, however, regulations can be stricter, depending on the region. In many cities, the number of birds a household can have is limited, and sometimes expensive permit fees are required. In the United Kingdom, even hobby farmers need to register any flocks numbering 50 or more birds.

For these reasons, it’s important for anyone interested in backyard farming to check in with local authorities and experts in order to raise chickens legally, safely and humanely.

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