Do You Need A License To Have Chickens? What You Need to Know

It’s easy to get excited about having backyard chickens. You think of the cute little coop you want to build and all the adorable chicks you will get. 

You have it all planned out to what color you will paint the window boxes you plan to fill with flowers. But there may be one thing you forgot. Do you need a license to have chickens? Is it even legal?

Do You Need A License to Have Chickens?

There is no straight answer here. Each state and municipality has its own rules regarding backyard chicken keeping. And even if they are allowed, there may be a list of conditions that apply.

So before you run out and get everything to do with backyard chickens, make sure you understand the rules about building a coop and having your own flock. This article will go over the things you need to consider before deciding.

What is the History Behind Backyard Chicken Keeping?

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States, having chickens was pretty routine. They were easy to raise, and even a small flock would supply a big family with plenty of eggs and meat.

By the mid-20th century, food production in America was becoming more and more industrialized, which meant a constant supply of eggs and meat in your local grocery store. As a result, people no longer needed to supply their own food like the generations before them. 

After the second world war, the development of more suburban homes spread quickly. These homes were seen as up and coming and desirable places to raise a family. 

Keeping backyard chickens was no longer necessary and was more seen as a nuisance. Over time, different towns throughout the united states came up with their own laws regarding chicken keeping. 

What Are Some of the Common Laws Regarding Chicken Keeping?

Attitudes towards keeping chickens have certainly relaxed throughout the United States, but there are still laws, and they vary from community to community. 

Some communities zoned as agricultural may have no limitations on domestic farm animals. Owning chickens, cattle, sheep, and other livestock may be perfectly legal. 

There are also such communities that will not allow any type of farm animal under any circumstances. So almost no two ordinances are the same.

But there are some common laws you may come up against.

  • Containment and Placement of Coops
  • Building Materials
  • Regulations on the Numer of Chickens
  • Rules About Slaughtering
  • Permits and Fees
  • Roosters and Other Nuisances

Requirements About Containment

Some communities may allow you to keep chickens as long as they are confined at all times. However, in a case like this, free-ranging chickens are not allowed. 

Placement of Coops

It’s possible that your town may have rules regarding how close a chicken coop and run can be to your neighbor’s property line. This may be more difficult if you have a small piece of property.

Rules About Building Materials

Some towns may require a design for your coop as well as the materials you plan on using. They may even require you to have a building permit before starting any construction. 

Regulations on the Number of Chickens

Some towns limit how many chickens you can own per household, and it may be determined by how much land you own, or it could just be a strict number, such as no more than six hens.

Rules About Slaughtering

Some communities will deem it illegal to keep chickens for slaughter. These rules may affect those who want to keep meat birds or those who cull older hens. 

Fees and Permits

In some communities, you may find that you can keep chickens as long as you get a permit, which usually means paying a monthly or annual fee.

Exceptions for Roosters

Some towns allow you to keep chickens as long as there are no roosters. However, roosters are loud and may go against the ordinance of your town.

Ordinances Regarding Nuisances

Often communities will regulate backyard chickens by having rules against nuisances, such as improper care and maintenance of the flock. A nuisance may also include odor, noise, or public health concerns.

How Do I Know if I Can Keep Chickens in my Town?

One thing that will be easy is that most towns have no problem telling you what you can’t do. However, a few specific categories apply to backyard chickens, and while each city may be different, there are a few places to look. 

Restrictive Covenants

A restrictive covenant is a clause in your property deed that may limit what you can do with your property. You will usually find these with homeowners’ associations, and they may place limitations on backyard chicken keeping.

These restrictions can vary regarding how many chickens you can have to the placement of your coop or whether or not you can free-range. 

Zoning Laws

A zoning law is a lot like a restrictive covenant in that it can regulate how your property may be used. But, again, this information can usually be found at the city hall. 

Zoning laws are public record, and most towns make this information available online. For example, my town’s zoning category is agricultural, which means backyard chickens are fully permitted. 

Towns that are zoned residential or commercial may have certain restrictions on keeping chickens. An example may be that you can have chickens but can’t profit from selling the eggs. 

Lease Restrictions

Even if your town allows backyard chickens, you will want to check the terms of your lease if you rent your property. The landlord or leasing company may have its own restrictions on raising chickens. 

What if Keeping Chickens isn’t Allowed in my Town?

While it may be tempting to try to get around the law, you will most likely get caught. Your neighbors and passersby will notice your chickens, and sooner or later, so will your local police department.

It’s not worth the frustration it will cause both you and the officials. Your chickens could be taken from you by animal control, you could be hit with fines, and your neighbors may turn against you.

But this does not mean that you can’t press for change. Find others in your town that want to change the law and come together. 

Seek Advice and Do Your Research

Research the concerns that may be brought up, such as noise, odor, or health issues. Talk to the head of the poultry division in your state and ask about each issue. You may find they have some pertinent information that supports your cause. 

Consider Your Local City Council

If you are armed with research, reach out to your city council members. Educate them and respectfully help them to understand the desire to keep chickens. You may be surprised at how easily you can change people’s minds.

Social Media

The power of social media is immense. By using Facebook and other platforms, you can reach out to community members and form networking to connect you with other like-minded folks. 

As your presence on social media grows, you may have more leverage when bringing your case before the board.


Keeping backyard chickens can be fun and rewarding, but you also want to make sure you aren’t breaking the law. By understanding the rules in your town, you will be able to make a better decision on whether or not you want to pursue this hobby. 

You can also arm yourself with plenty of information to be the one who makes the change.

Related Articles