Phone call: Can I keep chickens in Chicago

Fellow named Chad Kimball calls the Chicago police, the city clerk, and the legal department to find out if he can raise chickens in the city. No one really seems to know.

Does My City Allow Me to Raise Chickens? (Via Homegrown Evolution)


  1. There are so many laws and so many regulatory agencies that there is no way to know for sure what is legal and what isn’t anymore.

  2. As a long time chicken keeper, I’ve always just figured that as long as you’re only keeping hens (which are quieter) and nobody complains, you’re fine.

  3. According to the Googles, the city of Chicago’s city council considered banning chickens in December of 2007. I can’t find a thing that says whether or not they succeeded in doing so.

    However, a web site called “The City Chicken” says:

    Chicago, IL. Can have unlimited number of chickens if use is only for pets or eggs; cannot have if use is to slaughter. Must be penned.

    I also found out there is a website for this avocation at and a magazine called Backyard Poultry, online at

  4. Move to California. We like Chickens. We Just voted to give them space. Also note that there are Chicken catalogues that mail chicks
    of amazing variety and temperament. Some have startling colors and style.

  5. From the article mentioned above:

    “About a year ago, in late 2007, a proposed chicken ban was put before the Chicago city council. Before that time, there was no inkling of any cohesive community that would protest such a ban, but a pro-chicken contingency crystallized around the threat. After hearing that the legality of homegrown eggs was being put to a vote, Urban Initiatives worked to get the word out. The response was surprising, they said, and helped quash the ban.

    In fact, according to Mark Rosenthal, operations manager of Chicago’s Animal Control, it’s perfectly legal to keep chickens and roosters as pets and as sources of eggs. It is illegal, however, to kill them for food.”

  6. The full set of regulations for pet and non pet animals is online:

    Note there is a strict ban on the slaughter of any animal (7-12-300) including poultry. So you cannot use your chickens for meat. Eggs aren’t mentioned.

    But keep in mind even the mention of the word “unsanitary” or any perceived disturbance reported by your neighbors can still allow the police to fine you.

  7. We raised chickens when I was a kid. You don’t want to be next to the chicken coop. The roosters crow all night every night. I drew that spot at a summer camp once and was wide awake all night. After that it didn’t matter. I zonked out regardless.
    If you let them wander about the yard, white leghorn roosters are real mean and will chase little kids. Rhode Island Reds are much more mellow but I haven’t seen one in years.
    Someone had chickens near us in the burbs and I ran into them in another neighborhood so it’s possible. Just be sure to spread the eggs around to the locals.
    Hens lay well for the first year. After that you’d better like chicken stew. They’re too tough to cook any other way.

  8. Many cities do not permit chickens. Folks in Chicago are lucky! Obviously you don’t want a large number, but you don’t want just one or two. Chickens are social, so get enough for a small flock, say four to six birds. They are much happier that way. And they absolutely need a yard where they can forage and stretch their legs. Miniature chickens, banties, are great. And their little eggs are so cute!

    If you want your chickens to be really happy, give them a bit of oatmeal with their breakfast feed. They also love kitchen scraps. Leftover spaghetti, pie, that melon that got a little bruised, even pizza.

    They do not care for olives.

  9. @MDH

    That’s what I thought, or Animal Control. It’s like this guy is only trying to get some laughs at city employees’ expense (haha, look at these people who can’t give me an answer, aren’t bureaucrats stupid and funny?).

    If I were serious about getting an answer, my first call would’ve been to Animal Control or the SPCA, not some CPD desk jockey.

  10. “I can haz chikenz??”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    There are so many laws and so many regulatory agencies that there is no way to know for sure what is legal and what isn’t anymore.

    I know. I wish it was back to theft/rape/murder is illegal instead of ‘mowing your lawn in spandex shorts on Tuesdays is a crime’…

  11. Love it – they follow the Iron Rule of Petty Democracies all over this big wide world: when asked by a citizen whether they can do something, the first, second and third reaction must be “no.”

  12. It’s kind of ridiculous to expect city employees to know whether or not it’s legal off the top of their heads. The municipal code is online, search it and you have your answer…

    But then what does that say about the city employees? They aren’t savvy enough about the tools their own city provides residents?

    But we all know what he was really doing… exposing the fact that the police/animal control/etc. would rain down all manner of problems on this guy by enforcing an ordinance that everyone “knows” is on the books… somewhere.

  13. I don’t know about Chicago, but chickens are perfectly legal in New York. Roosters, however, are not. I presume this is to combat cockfighting, but you’d have to be a real jerk to subject your neighbors to roosters. Those little monsters are LOUD.

  14. @12 “It’s kind of ridiculous to expect city employees to know whether or not it’s legal off the top of their heads. The municipal code is online, search it and you have your answer…”

    Funny, that is sort of who I ~would~ expect to know or be able to get the answer.

    Maybe we should call the Post Office instead?

  15. Not knowing your city’s animal laws can lead to sadness. Consider the sad case of Bilida v. McCleod (211 F.3d 66), a federal appeals court case from 2000 involving a pet raccoon.

  16. A decade or more ago, living in the Lower East Side, Manhattan (La Loisada), my landlord kept chickens. In an empty apartment. Still preferable to crackheads.

  17. In Cambridge, MA. If you pass by Sidney street, right in the heart of MIT you can find about 10 chickens being raised in a house. They usually escape and you can find them walking on the middle of the streets. You’ve got to love Cambridge.

  18. In my city, you can keep up to three hens and one doe goat in residential zones, subject to the same noise ordinances dogs are.

    This is relatively common AFAIK, and the reasons are obvious.

    The person eating the inexpensive, fresh goat cheese omelet for breakfast is likely the healthiest person in the neighborhood.

  19. @18, there’s a rooster who lives on the Lower East Side less than a block from the 7th precinct police station. If he’s illegal, he’s one very bold illegal rooster (or else the NYPD know about as much about chicken ordinances as the Chicago city clerk’s office).

    Here’s a photo I found on Flickr. Note the caption is misleading, as Grand and Broome don’t intersect. The rooster lives on Pitt St between Grand and Broome.

    There also used to be a rooster who lived on Ludlow street. RIP Ludlow St rooster.

  20. There are at least three halal live-animal dealers in my Brooklyn neighborhood. All of them carry chickens.

  21. Legal or not, chickens are all over different parts of Miami, and they are used for everything.

    I remember walking through Little Haiti one day and the chickens roaming the streets and yards outnumbered the people.

  22. A tip for ensuring you get eggs with good strong shells… save the empty shells after cooking the contents… every now and then roast the eggshells you’ve saved (kills off anything nasty) and grind them down into a fine powder to put back into the chicken feed a desert-spoonful per chicken per day…

  23. BoingBoing’s posted a few times about my band with chickens — and I’m here to tell you that we had a *hell* of a time trying to get people to let us play shows in Richmond, VA with 2 chickens as bandmates.

    This might be like asking permission to jaywalk in New York, though. Just go ahead and do it, you’ll be fine.

  24. Listening to this guy talk on the phone is painful.

    Also, the whole second half of the call he is told there isn’t an ordinance, and he insists on telling them that he keeps getting told there is a law in an attempt to create a dispute.

    If this guy doesn’t buy chickens, he should be fined for being a pain in the ass.

  25. Agree with #32. This guy is making a big deal out of something that if he did a little research and maybe was up front about his requirements (I think they were concerned that he was going to make a business out of this) he would have gotten much clearer answers. Besides the fact that even having a law against chickens is pretty meaningless unless you are seriously pissing off your neighbors (i.e. someone has to call the police, they don’t go on chicken patrol). Better to check with your neighbors and communicate rather than worry about the law for something so minor.

  26. I’m a little appalled that people think they’re wasting the city worker’s time with this. You pay your taxes for these kinds of services; you should have the right to call and ask questions like this on priniple. Once I was curious how often street signal light bulbs (stop lights) were replaced. After 10 minutes worth of calling around I found out they’re on a 6 month rotation in my city. Another time I called city hall to see if there were any municipal taxes on gas or diesel (there aren’t). The government is there to /serve/ you – don’t forget that. They’re civil servants and you have every right to ask for their help regarding situations like these.

  27. the government is there to /serve/ youHuh? The government’s employees are there to earn the money to feed their children.

    The government is composed of the same sort of idiot you see in your shaving mirror every morning.

    Of course, a competent person would have simply referred the caller to the municipal code…

  28. @ #11 Pipenta: My friend in Santa Fe is about to get chickens. Point noted on the olives. Does that go for any kind of olive though?

  29. I couldn’t tell if it’s legal or not, but my neighbors had chickens. They were all over in the alleys and on various garage roofs. I lived in Humboldt Park (North and Kedzie for those in the know), which is a west side neighborhood with a significant Puerto Rican and Mexican population.

  30. I work in an a profession that requires a lot of searching of municipal codes (and my mom manages the legislative reference bureau at our local city hall), so I feel I have at least a little working knowledge of the topic at hand.

    Municipal/Zoning codes of large cities are hopelessly complicated beasts. A single zoning district can have pages and pages of restrictions in place. I would be flabbergasted by anyone who knew all the restrictions in a single commercial zoning district in our city, much less the entire code…

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