Chickens in the backyard -- are they legal?


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For Southern Californians who are interested in pursuing a green lifestyle, keeping chickens in the backyard takes the urban farming experience to a level beyond the vegetable garden. You can read all about it in a recent Home Section article here. But one question not answered in that article is whether the whole endeavor is legal. To find out, I contacted Capt. Wendell Bowers of the Department of Animal Services. Here’s what he had to say:

“Well, you have to live somewhere that is zoned for having livestock or fowl. So are all places zoned for it? No, they are not. But if you live somewhere that is zoned for livestock, the only thing we enforce is distance requirements. If you have hens they have to be maintained 20 feet from your residence and 35 feet from your neighbors residence—not the property line, the residence. If you have roosters they need to be 20 feet from your house and 100 from your closest neighbor.”


The distance requirement has more to do with sound issues than sanitary issues. “Hens cluck, roosters crow,” he said. “And roosters do not only crow in the morning -- I used to fall for that. They’ll crow at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. In fact, they’ll crow all day and all night.”

Final issue? “They also have to be in a pen. They can’t just wander around your yard.”

If you have chickens illegally (and a neighbor complains about it) expect a letter from the Department of Animal Services asking you to get rid of the chickens. If you fail to do anything about the chickens in a week (and your neighbor complains again), you can expect an officer to come to your place with tape measure in hand. If you are in violation of the distance rule you’ll either have to hand the chickens over or pay a $110 fine. I’ll explore how to tell if your backyard is zoned for chicken rearing in a subsequent post.

-- Deborah Netburn

Photo: Two chickens roam the backyard of Audrey Diehl and Dakota Witzenburg’s Mount Washington backyard. Diehl and Witzenburg have had them as pets for almost a year. Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times