Roosters and chickens and pigs in urban L.A., oh my!

Times Staff Writer

When her neighbor’s roosters and chickens persisted in running through her yard, G. Stone took matters into her own hands.

She marched next door and issued a warning: Do something about the uninvited guests or the birds “were going in my pot.”

The incursions stopped. But Stone, a retired Los Angeles County librarian who lives northwest of Watts, shook her head in exasperation as she recalled the incident.


“I’ve lived here for 50 years,” she said. “All of a sudden, there’s an influx of chickens. You’re not supposed to have chickens in the city.”

For many, the image of South Los Angeles is that of a paved, parched, densely packed urban grid. But increasingly, it is also a place where untold numbers of barnyard animals -- chickens, roosters, goats, geese, ducks, pigs and even the odd pony -- are being tended in tiny backyard spaces.

“Most people don’t realize just how many farm animals there are in the city,” said Ed Boks, the general manager of the city’s Animal Services department.

Indeed, about a block from the beauty parlor where Stone was getting her hair done earlier this month, a pair of goats chewed something dark and unidentifiable as they stood placidly near the traffic whizzing by on Avalon Boulevard. A pit bull next door eyed them lazily.

The cacophony of cock-a-doodle-doos south of the 10 Freeway is one of the louder manifestations of a demographic change that has transformed South Los Angeles in the last few decades.

Once primarily an African American community -- and still the cultural and political heart of the state’s African American population -- the area has absorbed tens of thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America and is now predominantly Latino. In Southeast L.A., the black population has dropped from 71% in 1980 to 24% in the 2000 census; the Latino population grew from 27% in 1980 to 74% in 2000.

For some folks, the rooster has become a potent symbol of the way their neighborhood is changing.

“Sometimes, I think it’s Mexico,” said Tony Johnson, who lives in Southeast L.A. He confessed that after being roused early some mornings, he has fantasized about silencing the birds permanently. “Boom. Boom. Boom,” he said, pantomiming how he would do it.

But a few blocks away, Jose Luiz, 43, seemed surprised that anyone would be bothered by the noise.

“It’s natural to have roosters,” he said as he surveyed a new community garden where corn, squash and tomatoes were growing. “I’m Mexican. We are accustomed to hearing them.”

Zoning rules prohibit most of this husbandry, but overtaxed animal control officers rarely take action unless they get complaints.

Some of the birds may be being used in cockfighting. But animal control officers say most of the backyard roosters are not implicated in anything so sinister. They are simply part of the household, a hobby and a comfort for immigrants who hope to re-create a little piece of home in a faraway, foreign place.

Still, as deluged city officials and sleep-deprived residents have learned, one person’s comfort is another’s headache.

“I can’t sleep,” said Perry Partee, 55, who lives near Watts. He sternly dismissed the conventional wisdom that roosters crow at dawn; in fact, he said, they often get going much earlier.

Animal Services officials say there undoubtedly are more chickens and roosters in long-established Latino communities on the Eastside, such as Boyle Heights and El Sereno, where it is not unheard of to see flocks of the birds running down the sidewalk. But in those neighborhoods many residents are accustomed to, or at least not overly bothered by, the sights and sounds of free-roaming fowl.

In South Los Angeles, on the other hand, the crowing -- and bleating, quacking, honking, oinking and neighing -- has been a growing source of irritation, with callers lighting up city phone lines demanding that officials do something.

Take the recent rooster- related activities near 110th and Avalon.

An 11-year-old boy was chased home from school by a rooster, according to his mother, who did not want his name published.

Around the same time, on the same street, some roosters mysteriously disappeared out of a backyard, according to resident Dwight Johnson, who said the birds’ owner walked up and down the street looking for them.

Animal Services Officer Jose Gonzalez, who patrols the southern part of the city, said he’s getting around five calls a week about rooster noise. He’s also had reports about a pig running down Central Avenue and a man who kept goats in his backyard and posted signs advertising slaughterhouse services.

Boks said Animal Services deals with about 150 reports of unauthorized slaughtering a year.

The rules about keeping animals in Los Angeles are complicated. For the most part, Animal Services officers rely on distance requirements, which vary from animal to animal. Roosters, for example, must be kept in an enclosed pen 20 feet from their owner’s house and 100 feet from any neighbor’s house. Other chickens, on the other hand, can be 35 feet from a neighbor’s house, while horses must maintain a distance of 75 feet.

Because many Los Angeles lots are no larger than 100 feet long, it is physically impossible for many property owners there to legally keep roosters.

Hen-pecked by constituent calls about rooster noise, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn recently proposed limiting each household to one rooster and setting up new procedures to deal with loud birds.

But animal control officers warn that they have a lot on their plates already, including vicious dogs, feral cats and thousands of stray animals crowding shelters, not to mention the occasional snake or bobcat.

The city employs 64 animal control officers to cover some 460 square miles; from May 1, 2007, through April 30, 2008, city shelters took in 628 farm animals, including 345 chickens, 11 goats and five pigs.

Officials vowed to keep studying the issue.

Officers will continue to respond when they get calls, and will investigate if they suspect cockfighting, animal cruelty or, as in the case of the freelance goat slaughterhouse, a health-and-safety issue.

Many residents, such as Stone, who was plagued by her neighbor’s birds in her yard, took pains to stress that it was the roosters they deplored, not their owners.

Near where she spoke, the distinctive crow of an unseen bird cut through the noise of a police helicopter and the hum of traffic. Cock-a-doodle-doo, the bird cried. A moment later, a goose honked in response.