Rise in urban chicken-keeping spurs new ordinances
A chicken coop stands in a backyard of a house on a street lined with stately Victorians in Oak Park, Ill., a village with nearly 50,000 people just west of Chicago. The chickens, which were purchased this spring and will begin laying eggs in July, are owned by Mila Tellez and her husband, Nile Wendorf. “This is a very upscale area,” Tellez says. “A chicken coop is probably the last thing you’d expect to see here.”
The coop — and the four chickens it houses — are evidence of a resurgent trend taking place in large and small cities across the United States. Keeping chickens and other livestock in urban areas was common in the 19th century and is making a small comeback, forcing local government officials to react with new ordinances. Some communities have approved ordinances allowing residents to keep chickens, including Fort Collins and Longmont, Colo.; South Portland, Maine; Bloomington, Ind.; and Brainerd, Minn. However, some communities, such as the District of Columbia, prohibit chickens altogether.
Chicken-keeping ordinances vary widely but generally include bans against roosters — because they are noisy — and slaughtering the birds. Most regulate the number of hens allowed, placement and upkeep of coops, cleanliness and health concerns. In Chicago, for instance, there is no limit on the number of chickens that can be kept, but they must be housed in a separate dwelling. In Longmont, residents can keep up to four chickens in residential districts, but they must be housed at least six feet from the principal dwelling and six feet from a rear or side property line. In Baltimore, people can keep up to four hens in a coop that is at least 25 feet from the neighbor’s house.
Amanda Rhoads, a Portland, Ore., city planner who keeps chickens, says the interest in urban chickens is fueled by residents’ desire to eat healthier and to know where food is being produced. Tellez, for one, is looking forward to having fresh eggs this summer. “The quality of the eggs we’re getting in the supermarket are terrible,” she says. “They are factory-farmed eggs. I want eggs that taste natural.”