Suburban Squabble Erupts Over Backyard Chicken Coops


Many major U.S. cities and surrounding suburbs have tight regulations, or even outright bans, on whether residents are allowed to keep small chicken coops in their backyards. Several of the counties surrounding Washington D.C. have regulations so stringent that the practice is virtually impossible. As planning boards in two of these counties—Arlington and Montgomery—have discussed relaxing their zoning codes to allow small chicken coops, activists on both sides of the aisle have come forward with petitions to protest or encourage the change.


The debate has been spurred by proponents of the urban agriculture movement, which emphasizes a "return to sustainable living." Hugh Bartling, an associate professor of public policy at DePaul University in Chicago, said the movement is one of people who are searching for more local, fresh foods and are trying to improve their relationship with the Earth. For many, raising chickens is a core part of the lifestyle. However, regulations are preventing many of these simple life aficionados from using their backyards as they like.

In order to help promote urban agriculture, Arlington's planning board is considering "loosening rules that require a chicken coop to be at least 100 feet from a property line," because it is "a difficult standard to meet in the densely populated community," according to The Washington Post.

In Montgomery County, which currently has similar regulations in place, officials are also considering whether to allow chicken coops. Francoise Carrier, the chair of the county Planning Board, supports the changes. "People who keep chickens clearly love [them]," she said. "We had a woman who cried because she's so attached to her chickens and couldn't bear the thought of them being restricted."

However, not everyone is happy about the proposed changes. The group Backyards, Not Barnyards, has developed a website and petition opposing the right to raise chickens in Arlington. Their reasons? Well, there's the public health explanations: Small chicken coops will apparently lead to an "increased risk of salmonella exposure" and "explosion of pest population, including both insects and rats." There's also the dreaded "need to transport unsustainable amount of chicken feed." And of course, "The smell! Oh, god, the smell!"

Chicken raisers have touted the benefits of allowing chicken coops, which they say range from the pesticide-free eggs to the educational value for children. The Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm supporting the regulatory changes, claims that clean and properly maintained chicken coops do not cause a rise in pest populations.

In the meantime, some residents continue to raise chickens illegally. From the Washington Post:

One Arlington homeowner — who spoke on the condition that only her first name be used because having hens and a henhouse on her residential property violates the county's laws — said she solicited the approval of her neighbors before adopting hens two months ago.

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  1. This shouldn’t be a matter of pro- and anti-chicken forces begging leviathan to grant or withhold permission. It should be a matter of neighbors working it out, with recourse to tort litigation if some neighbor’s motherfucking rooster is waking them up at the crack of dawn.


    1. Sub-sonic .22s work great.

      1. I would think that bird shot in a 12-gauge would be better tool for the job.


    2. Shouldn’t even be that. It should be telling urbanites to get the fuck out of the city once in a while. There’s this ‘nature’ thing all over in the world that exists outside Manhattan.

      If someone wants to make the argument that the entire point of a city is that nothing natural or nature related should be permitted in it, then that’s fine too. Tell everyone to plant plastic grass of gtfo.

    3. I feel that sights, sounds, and smells are going a bit too far in the claiming of adverse affects on property. Property claims should be about actual direct, physical property damage.

      1. Says someone who never lived next door to chickens. They are foul fowl!!

        Want to grill put – bring a gas mask.

  2. Waste of effort by the counties boards, since HOAs will just adopt coup bans. I guess it could still benefit the few neighborhoods that are HOAless.

    1. I’d like to foment a coup within my HOA, but I can’t because of the ban.

  3. I’m having difficulty thinking of any thing or activity at all that your neighbors might NOT want to regulate. If they could get away with it, HOAs would be happy to mandate bed times and how closely you can sit to the television.

    1. A friend who had always lived in the country in rural GA or an apartment moved down the street from me. He thought I was kidding when I said most of the HOA people were second place finishers in student council elections. Then he got roped into serving.

    2. Naw – not what time you have to go to bed or how closely you sit to the TV, but at what time you have to turn off all the lights and make no noise at since it affects your neighbors property value if you’re up all night.

      Won’t regulate how close you can sit to the TV but they damn well will regulate how loud you can turn it up.

  4. My wife and I have a solution to this problem since we want to have a mini farm when we are done with school… Not live in a suburb

    We want moderate acreage so we can raise some livestock and shoot our guns with no problems. Not seeing our neighbors in added bonus

    1. I admit having no neighbors in sight is pretty great, but living in the middle of nowhere isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

      1. How far out in the middle of nowhere are you? I think it would be pretty cool, except that I need to be near an airport and a large center of commerce…

        1. I’m an hour or so away from a major airport. I’m fifteen minutes away from shopping malls. Those distances aren’t too bad, but I have a quarter to half mile lane I have to maintain myself and is constantly being washed out, and it takes me three to four hours to mow my lawn. Everything is a hassle, and no one wants to visit me out here (sniff).

          But every dude who’s ever come to my place (friends, deliveries, repairmen, whatever) think it’s paradise. Women, not so much.

          1. That does sound awesome. What state?

            Are you far enough from your neighbors that you can just blow shit up on your property whenever you want?

            1. The great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

              I’m going to start renting my place out for a week at a time for people, so they can see what it’s like. The dead of winter, I’m thinking, will open some eyes about rural living.

              1. Look man, I got a house in the city. Close to everything.

                I’ll trade you straight up right now if you’re so miserable.

                Because I know I am. A couple more years and one of these douchebags with a leaf blower* is gonna eat some serious lead if I don’t get the hell out of here.

                *my neighbor, whose home is all of about 15 feet from mine, blows leafs constantly. I’m gonna tape it and put it on youtube. I think he’s half retard or something. He just stands there blowing one leaf back and forth.

                1. Pass. It’s not all gravy, but when the zombie apocalypse happens I’ll be in a much better position than having to deal with a cluster of undead shuffling around in leaf piles around the ‘hood.

            2. And yes, I can shoot at things and blow them up and no one would know or give a shit.

          2. …it takes me three to four hours to mow my lawn.

            This is why Jesus invented goats.

            1. I won’t cede responsibility for my precious crab grass to those things.

              1. But they are so, so tasty.

          3. “. . .and no one wants to visit me out here (sniff).”

            Since no-one else was willing to take this really easy shot, I guess I will.

            Yeah, its the inconvenience of travelling to you that makes people not want to be around you.

      2. I admit it can be difficult. I lived and worked in rural areas at different points in my life. Tiny super rural is not something we are considering. Something like a town of 50000 or so

    2. We have 4 acres, but we’re within city limits (doesn’t help that city keeps annexing parts of unincorporated county), so a ban would apply to us. Happily, our city zoning allows it, but there’s no guarantee that won’t continue, and no guarantee we get grandfathered in if it does.

  5. “return to sustainable living.”
    Yep, a combine in every garage!

  6. My suburban neighborhood in Jersey is infested with all kinds of critters: deer, woodchucks, skunks, raccoons, foxes, chipmunks, squirrels, mice and snakes – even a occasional bear:

    So a few chickens wouldn’t even be noticed.

    A couple times a week we hear the red fox mating scream – it’s horrifying:

  7. The debate has been spurred by proponents of the urban agriculture movement, which emphasizes a “return to sustainable living.”

    The main drawback to having principles is that sometimes you’re forced to side with complete douchebaggery.

  8. “…and are trying to improve their relationship with the Earth.”

    Fools. The only way to get right with Gaia is to live in caves.

  9. While I admit it shouldn’t matter from a principle perspective, there is a large practical difference between these two counties that colors my feelings. Arlington County is very tiny, and entirely urban and high-density suburban. Montgomery County is a much larger geographic area. It includes areas similar to Arlington County, but also includes areas that are rural.

    While Montgomery County’s stance is indefensible, I feel like there’s a little bit of legitimacy to, “Really? Chickens in Ballston? Dumbasses.”

    1. Arlington “County” should be in quotes like that because it is really a city that merely has county status with the State. It is what used to be DC on the Virginia side of the Potomac before VA took it back. IIRC, it is the only county in VA without any cities or towns within its borders.

  10. I think this makes pretty good sense to me dude, I like it.

  11. When I lived in East Oakland chickens and roosters would occasionally appear in the streets after a big storm. Also once, two goats appeared in a vacant lot. Mostly the neighborhood was overrun with feral cats though. For the most part, I liked the chickens, goats, and cats better than I did my neighbors.

  12. Here in my town one can have a license for up to six chickens (hens only!) and the form is only 2 pages per hen. $75 in fees required. However, this is only good inside the city limits. The surrounding county does not allow chickens on property not zoned agricultural.

  13. At *least* one of my neighbors has a fething goat. And 99% of us don’t have grass and those who do – it takes longer to get the mower out and put it away than it does to mow the lawn.

  14. There’s a free range chicken across Seymour Ave. from me here in the Bronx. It used to cross Astor Ave. daily to get to the other side, going from yard to yard, because someone there put out treats for it. Chickens are so cute the way they peek at you from behind a bush, with eyes on the sides of their heads.

    However, roosters cock-a-doodle-doo all day & night. Don’t believe the bit about them just doing it as sunup. When I lived elsewhere but still fairly close to here, one used to scare our dog that way.

    My landlord’s daughter here had Chick and Chickie in the yard, but the landlady got rid of them. And when my sister & I were little, we briefly had Ichel, Michel, Pichel, and Quackel in a cardboard box. I wanted to take baths with Quackel, but Mother & Daddy wouldn’t let us.

  15. You can’t have chickens because they’re unsanitary and noisy…

    But they don’t mind if you have 4 or 5 dogs the size of a Shetland pony shitting piles the size of a small child all over your yard and barking at their own shadows 12 hours a day. How about an ordinance that says “If you annoy your neighbors with noise and feces you get a citation, 3 citations and you have to pay restitution in the amount of X dollars a day”? No restrictions on any particular type of animal, as long as you aren’t depriving anybody else of their enjoyment of their property.

  16. I’ve had a small coop in my backyard in Bed-Stuy for two and a half years, and my chickens don’t make nearly as much noise as the dogs in my neighborhood, and even when I’m lax about cleaning up after them, their crap isn’t nearly as big a nuisance as one canine steamer in the middle of the sidewalk. The only animal I’ve ever seen checking out the birds was my cat, who managed to hop in the coop when I left the gate open, and she ran screaming after about 45 seconds; as for bugs, yes, there can be a small concentration of flies around the coop, but get 10 feet away, and you don’t notice a thing.

    I totally understand banning roosters in the city, as NYC does, and I get not wanting your neighbor to convert their backyard into a Tyson ranch, but if you can’t handle a few chickens walking around your neighbors backyard, you’re probably not wired for city living. It’s kinda ironic.

  17. Says one who has obviously never lived next to chickens. They are dirty and their crap is foul!

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