Sunday, June 7, 2009

Chicken Laws

As interest grows in all things green, there is a resurgence in chicken keeping. Just a generation ago, chickens were a normal part of everyday life. My father's family kept chickens. I grew up with chickens in our neighborhood. It was just accepted. I don't recall any problems.

So, Lolo (pictured above) and I were hanging around the yard this weekend. It has been a year since she and her five sisters joined our family. We agreed the whole experiment has been a great success. The chickens have been easy to care for and just plain old fun. We clean up every couple of weeks so they don't smell. Our hens are relatively quiet (no roosters). They don't wander into neighbor's yards (although a neighbor's dog got into our yard one day and gave us all a scare). They give us great compostable droppings for the garden. And, best of all, they lay eggs that are more nutritious and less taxing on the environment than those trucked into town.

So, what's the beef with chickens? Why aren't there more around? We did a little research and it turns out that chicken keeping in Pasadena often runs afoul (or is it afowl?) of laws that were passed in 1956. Lolo and I agreed that the old laws are outdated and need change.

Why the Nix in '56?
Pasadena's chicken laws are part of a series of ordinances that were passed in 1956 to prohibit certain farm animals and severely limit others. Cows, pigs, and roosters are prohibited. Goats and horses are extremely limited. Restrictions on chickens and other fowl are so severe that any fowl is prohibited in most Pasadena neighborhoods.
It was only slightly before my time, but most likely Pasadena's animal control ordinance took hold amid the twin pressures of post-war population growth and the drive to modernize. In an era of space exploration, TV dinners, and homogenized everything, there was probably no room for farm animals in a world class city like ours.

Better a Chimp Than a Chick?
Under Pasadena's Municipal Code, no person can have more than 10 chickens and the chickens must be kept 50 feet from a property line, 50 feet from a street and 100 feet from a neighbor's dwelling. Pretty strict requirements. As a practical matter, these rules bar chickens from most Pasadena neighborhoods. (Sections 6.20.020 -- 6.20.070)

There is a potential exception. The Municipal Code allows residents to file a petition with the city's Health Officer for permission to keep a chicken or chickens. The Health Officer holds a public hearing and makes a ruling. You can appeal the ruling, presumably to city council, provided you pay the appeal fees. (Section 6.20.200)

Though most Pasadenans cannot own a chicken, you'll be glad to know you can keep monkeys. The city code allows residents to own any "monkey, ape, chimpanzee, or any animal of the monkey type" as long as as you leash the animal when you go in public. I don't want to offend the pro-monkey forces, but, does it make sense to allow monkeys while outlawing chickens?

Urban Chicken Movement

Urban chicken keeping is a growth industry. In the year since I've been keeping this blog, I've been surprised at the number of people who have inquired about our chickens. East Pasadena's Centinella Feed sells so much chicken feed they have a hard time keeping it on the shelves.

Nationally, an urban chicken movement is fast pecking away at prohibitions against chicken keeping. There are a lot of great sites to visit on this topic including: Homegrown Evolution, Backyard Chickens, The City Chicken, and Ann Arbor City Chickens.

It is time for Pasadena and other cities to take a look at old laws limiting chickens. As part of its program to be a Green and Sustainable City, Pasadena says it intends to "support the public health and environmental benefits of locally grown organic foods." Loosening the restraints on chicken keeping is a good way to pursue this goal.


Sarah said...

Nevermind the monkeys, I think chickens are far less of a nuisance noise and fouling-the-neighborhood-wise than DOGS.

Michael Coppess said...

Thanks Sarah! You're right. We've lived next to dogs that weren't cared for, smelled and barked constantly. They're a nuisance as are the leaf blowers that wake the dead at 8 am every morning. There are a lot of nuisances out there. Chickens are not among them.

Hey, my photo was picked up by the amazing website, which gets 700 hits a day. Our Rhode Island Red, Lolo, has hit the big time!

ns said...

Thank you so much for this post! I am moving to Pasadena next year, and want to keep a few chickens. Do you know of anything going on currently to change this ordinance?

Michael Coppess said...

Thanks ns. Though Pasadena prides itself on being the leading edge of everthing, there is no official movement toward relaxing the chicken ordinance. However, I'm not aware of any city action enforcing the chicken ordinance either. I'm considering proposing revisions to the current ordinance.

ns said...

All good news! Thanks for your response.

If you ever decide to go ahead with proposing revisions and want help (research, writing, etc.) please let me know. is putting together a toolkit for this purpose, I believe.

Knitting Painter Woman said...

I remember (vaguely) the 1956 flap. There were neighbors within ear shot who had a rooster or two and a donkey. I think people were annoyed at the noise; although the spring bull frogs in the barranca behind our house were louder! Oh, and friends in Altadena complained about domestic peacocks. Another neighbor had a mercifully silent MONKEY but it was known to bite little kids.
Glad you and your chickens are happy.

Stasi said...

Hey, I found you when I googled "Pasadena backyard chickens". I'd also be interested in the process of changing Pasadena's laws. I have a great spot for some chickens in my new backyard...

Anonymous said...


Do you know if there is anything we can do about roosters? Our Pasadena neighbor had one rooster in their backyard and it has been crowing since 4AM til noon. We didn't want to involve the city so we wrote them a letter. However, the owner decided to adopt one more rooster. I feel bad to have animal patrol take them away but what else to do?

Michael Coppess said...

Anon: You've already done what I would suggest as a first option -- you've gone to the neighbor and made them aware of the issue and asked them to fix it. Unfortunately, the neighbor has not only ignored your request, but they've doubled down with another rooster. At this point, I would not feel bad about lodging a complaint with the city and letting the matter take its course. I think you can make the complaint anonymously.

The only other possible option I can think of is to contact the city's Neighborhood Connections office. The folks there are trained in how to handle the various conflicts that arise within neighborhoods. They may have some other thoughts.

Your neighbor is being irresponsible with their chickens and inconsiderate to their neighbors. Its the kind of thing that can give urban chicken keeping a bad name. And, it is unfortunate because urban chicken keepers I know are exceptionally thoughtful of their neighbors and very responsible with their birds.

Good luck to you. If possible, can you comment back on how things turn out?

B. Jones said...

Okay, so I am researching keeping chickens and come across an article that says Bozeman, MT residents have few complaints after allowing chickens to Bozeman residents a few years ago. So I am thinking does Pasadena, CA allow chickens, and I come across your site. So what is next? How do we convince the City Council to change the ordinance and allow residents to keep 3-6 chickens in the yard of properties greater than 5000 sf, fewer if less; and 1 more for every 1,000 sf if the property is greater than 10,000 sf (i.e. 11,000 sf would be able to keep up to 7 chickens, 12,000 sf property would be able to keep up to 8 chickens and so on.) back to my question, what is next? A petition? I would personally like to keep about 3-4 chickens. I would hep move a petition. Call me at six-two-six-five-seven-eight-zero-eight-two-nine.

B. Jones said...

P.S. No roosters, just hens. I walk in the Eaton Canyon area at 4:30 in the morning and can hear the roosters crowing. I would not do that to my neighbors, and hope others wouldn't either.

Anonymous said...

Both my family and our neighbor have roosters but we both bring them into our homes overnight and keep them in until after 8AM. We haven't had any complaints yet and the hens seem very comfortable with a rooster around during the day.

Anonymous said...

I realize that many houses in the Los Angeles area are close to each other. I find that there are so many things that are more annoying than the sound of a rooster. And, don't forget that it takes a rooster to make all those hens that everyone in this green movement loves...If everyone is so worried about bringing the eggs closer to home, what about the whole process from egg to chicken. I live in a neighborhood with several neighbor roosters, and they really don't bother me. I agree that the dogs are much more annoying, especially when a possum is in the area, and they all bark for an hour straight in the middle of the night. I think that a couple roos per hood are reasonable, and a valuable addition toward overall sustainability of LA.