In recent years, in cities and counties across Florida, residents have pushed to change local laws to allow chickens in residential areas.
The City of Deltona is currently considering an ordinance to permit backyard chicken-keeping. Tampa is in the process of rewriting its code to ease restrictions on keeping chickens. In May, Orlando started a pilot program allowing 25 residents to keep chickens. Backyard chicken-keeping is already legal in several cities, including Miami, Tallahassee, Lakeland, Sarasota and St. Petersburg. The ordinances in these cities have several common restrictions, including a ban on roosters, limits on the number of hens allowed, and requirements that chickens be confined in an enclosed yard or coop and kept at least 25 feet from neighboring homes. Other Florida cities (Port St. Lucie, Port Orange, Niceville) have considered backyard chicken-keeping, but rejected the idea.
Although the original motivation for keeping chickens is usually to obtain a source of eggs to eat, people often discover how much they enjoy the companionship of chickens. It’s a positive thing when people learn about the intelligence and unique personalities of chickens. But there are also many reasons why allowing backyard chicken-keeping may not be good for chickens.
A few questions for local government about backyard chicken-keeping:
- Will chickens be safe from cruel slaughter? City ordinances permitting the keeping of chickens must specify that chickens may not be raised for slaughter.
- What will happen to chickens too old to produce eggs? As chickens get older, they will stop producing eggs long before the natural end of their lives (chickens can live to be over 10 years old). People considering backyard chickens must be prepared to care for chickens for their entire lives.
- Will strict requirements to protect chickens be established and enforced? Caring for chickens, like any animal, takes time and money. It is a daily job to provide chickens with fresh food and water, a clean coop and proper veterinary care. Chickens require space for regular exercise during the day, shelter from rain and the hot sun, and a coop that will keep them safe from predators (dogs, raccoons, coyotes) at night. Applicants for Orlando’s pilot program are required to attend a seminar on how to care for chickens; an agricultural extension agent will also inspect the site where chickens will be kept.
- Will adoption be encouraged? Many “backyard chickens” begin their lives at huge hatcheries. Young, sometimes day-old chicks are mailed out from hatcheries, and are often deprived of food and water, and exposed to extreme temperatures. 50% of all chicks born at hatcheries will be male; these unwanted chicks will be killed. The cruelties of the hatcheries can be avoided by adopting a chicken from an animal rescue organization or an individual.
For additional information about backyard chicken-keeping, we recommend “Recommendations for Municipal Regulation of Urban Chickens”, available from United Poultry Concerns.