Sustainability has become a hot topic over the last few years. Whether for health reasons or just to save a few dollars, many Virginian households have turned to growing or raising their own food in their backyards.
About five years ago, after a long legal battle, chicken enthusiasts persuaded the city of Richmond to approve a zoning amendment to allow residents to keep chickens in their backyards. While it is now legal to own chickens in the city, breaking the rules set up by this amendment can result in fines or even the loss of your chickens.
Regulations for Urban Chickens in Richmond
First, let’s talk about the city of Richmond’s rules for keeping chickens. According to the Richmond Animal Care and Control permit application, there are several restrictions if you want to keep chickens in the city of Richmond:
- You must own the property or get express written permission from the owner.
- The chickens must be in your backyard – not in the front or side of the house.
- A maximum of 4 female chickens are allowed.
- The city prohibits roosters.
- The owner of the chickens must submit to a background check to determine if they have had any convictions for animal cruelty or neglect.
- The city will inspect your chicken coop or pen. Each chicken must have at least 3 square feet of space, and the coop can’t be less than 15 feet away from your house. There are also rules about feed storage and how secure the coop’s fencing should be.
- You will have to pay a $60.00 application fee and $60.00/year to renew your permit.
These rules help to ensure that you treat your chickens humanely and that they aren’t a nuisance to your neighbors.
Pros and Cons of Urban Chickens
In 2013, chicken enthusiasts and farm-to-table food advocates were thrilled with the decision to allow urban chickens in Richmond. Now, with a few years of urban chicken ownership under our feathered belt, we can look back and see some pros and cons of backyard chicken coops in the city.
Let’s start with a few advantages that chicken owners possess over their neighbors.
Fresh Eggs – The main reason people keep chickens is for the eggs. The eggs are fresh, organic, and available every morning. Also, most egg-lovers agree that fresh eggs taste better than supermarket eggs. If you have your own chickens, you don’t have to go to the farmer’s market to buy fresh eggs. That’s good, because most eggs at a farmer’s market cost about 2-4 times more than the eggs at the grocery store.
Humane Treatment – Animal lovers take pleasure in knowing that their food comes from happy critters. Getting eggs from your own chickens means you’re not supporting the commercial egg industry. This way, you can rest assured that your eggs come from healthy chickens.
Chickens can be Good Pets – Chickens as entertaining companions and some people bond emotionally with their feathered friends. Parents say that their children love to care for the chickens. Owning backyard chickens is a great way for city kids to learn about where their food comes from. As pets go, chickens are also relatively quiet. The soft clucks and scratches that chickens make are nothing compared to barking dogs.
Pest Control – Another benefit to having chickens in your yard is insect control. Many chicken owners report a huge reduction in pesky insects, especially Japanese beetles. Since most people who keep chickens are also gardeners, this is great news.
Along with the benefits, some chicken keepers have realized that keeping urban chickens is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Limited Supply – Typically, chickens will start laying fewer eggs as they get older. Older hens can actually live for several years without producing eggs. A chicken owner will have to decide whether to butcher the chicken, get rid of it, or continue to keep it as a pet.
Chickens are Susceptible to Predators – This is one of the biggest complaints from urban chicken owners. Since the city doesn’t allow roosters, backyard chickens are left defenseless against predators. Owners have reported attacks by neighborhood dogs, hawks, raccoons, possums, and even snakes.
Not Technically Free – Having your own chickens means you get free eggs, right? Well, not really. Not only do you have to provide feed for the chickens, you also have to pay up front for the coop and fencing. Then you’ll have to maintain the chickens’ living space over the years to keep it up to city standards.
Chicken-Sitting – Anyone who wants to leave for a vacation will have to consider what to do with their chickens while they’re gone. Chicken-sitting is another unexpected expense that owners have reported. While dog sitters or kennels are easy to find, it may be harder to find someone experienced in caring for chickens.
After a long battle, the city of Richmond approved keeping backyard chickens, with some restrictions. Residents can have up to four chickens, but no roosters. The city also has restrictions about how and where you can keep your chickens.
If you decide to keep chickens in the city, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. Further, if you fail to comply with the new zoning laws you could face civil or even criminal legal battles.
If such an event occurs, consult a lawyer immediately. After all, losing a criminal or civil battle in court for zoning offenses is for the birds.