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Permission, rather than forgiveness when it comes to municipal ordinances

Emily Shoop – Extension Educator 9-5, farm wife the other 16 hours, aka Matt’s daughter

Here I am, 19 days into 2021, already dealing with 4 separate calls from clients about local municipal ordinances in PA that prohibit the keeping of poultry. This prompts me to write today concerning that issue. After lots of tears and one client being fined almost $1500… It’s time for some common sense education on this topic.

In Pennsylvania, and in many states across the US, local municipalities (townships, boroughs, cities, counties, and HOAs) restrict the keeping of poultry and other livestock. Some of these ordinances came about because of a nuisance issue, some came from long-standing prohibitions, and some are currently under review for their antiquated language and lack of scientific basis.

Lack of access to science-based information on small and backyard flocks for local councils and government is another issue we can tackle on another day… I’m writing today to remind folks who are considering starting to raise poultry or any other livestock to ASK FOR PERMISSION, first.

If you read any number of our “planning to raise poultry” articles on the Penn State Extension website, you’ll find “check with your local municipality’s ordinances to confirm that you can or cannot raise poultry within the municipal limits,” at the beginning of every article.

With the uncertainty of a prolonged quarantine due to COVID-19, poultry hatcheries across the US saw an incredible increase in sales in 2020. Folks were home, maybe scared about a perceived meat/egg shortage, and able to devote time and energy to a flock of birds. HOWEVER, there are also plenty of folks who did not do their homework, due diligence, and are now being fined for their chicken coop from their township, HOA, or otherwise.

Bottom line, like any other hobby you might invest significant money and time into: do your research. And the first Google search should be your most local municipality’s ordinances (don’t forget your HOA, if you have one.) Some prohibit numbers, species, and sex of the birds. Some prohibit poultry based on acreage. If you have questions, call your township, borough, or city’s planner. These folks are the most well-versed in the letter of the law. They can answer the most questions about the ordinances themselves. The second would be a review of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies to ensure you’ll be insured if something were to happen to your home or coop. Some policies consider poultry farm animals, some do not. Read the fine print here. The last thing you need is to be left uninsured in a disaster because of your chicken coop. Third, if your municipality and your insurance say “no,” DON’T BUY BIRDS! I can assure you no poultry coop is worth a $1500 fine, loss of insurance coverage, or meetings with zoning officials.

In cases where the municipal council or board may seem willing to revisit their ordinances, continue your research! Take an online course, attend meetings online or at your local feed store. Gather the information you need to present a well-researched argument as to why keeping poultry should be allowed. Make sure your own coops (if they are permitted) are neat, tidy, and have some curb appeal. if you decide to let your poultry roam, keep them contained and out of your neighbors yards. Free-range birds do not observe property lines and make tasty snacks for predators. More and more ordinance disputes start with an unkempt coop and angry neighbors.

Be smart about this stuff, folks. Start off on the right foot with your local government. It makes for a more pleasant experience owning and keeping your birds for years to come

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