In a perfect world, we and our neighbors (and our chickens) would be the best of friends. We’d get together every weekend for potlucks or backyard barbecues. Our children would play outdoors together, and we’d have joint garage sales, card games, and outings to the beach or amusement park.
Many of us may have grown up in exactly these circumstances. I’m actually Facebook friends with nine of my childhood neighbors and had an hourlong phone call with one just last week.
Times have changed, however. These days, we’re lucky if we even know our neighbors’ names. Everyone seems insular, existing in their own little fiefdom. Because of this, disagreements easily arise which, decades ago, would’ve been settled much more amicably.
Everything from mowing along the property line to burning leaves seems to draw a new battle line. And now you want to add chickens to the fray.
Unfortunately, if you live in a municipality where permission from your neighbors is required, you may find yourself out of luck when it comes to raising chickens. If you can keep chickens without the need for permits and permission, however, you’ll still need to deal with displeased, if not irate, neighbors.
Here are four ways to manage chicken-keeping in a hostile environment.
Open a Dialogue
It’s time to open up communications with your neighbors, even if you’ve never done anything beyond waving hello. Dress tidily—remember those first impressions!—then head over in person to introduce yourself and gently let them know that you are adding a poultry flock to your property.
Stand firm when you say this. It needs to be a statement of fact, versus something they might be able to talk you out of doing.
Reassure them that you will be doing everything possible to ensure that your flock does not disturb them, then give them your contact information so they can reach you should they have any questions or concerns.
Be aware, however, that your reception may be a chilly one. Your neighbors may be self isolating because of the pandemic and may not even open their door to you. They may be very private and may find your approaching them an intrusion.
They may even have guard dogs on their premises.
As much as opening communications with your neighbors is important, keeping yourself safe is even more important.
Close Yourself In
To prevent any issues with your flock destroying your neighbors’ gardens or flower beds, nesting under their decks, or pooping on their patio, you’ll need to enclose your flock in a sturdy run. Give your birds plenty of room to roam around while enclosed.
Typically, 10 square feet per bird is recommended, but I suggest at least 15 square feet per bird … or per the size of flock you plan on ultimately keeping.
Bury the bottom 12 to 18 inches of the run fence well into the ground to prevent your hens from exposing the edge through their dustbathing. Burying the bottom fence edge will also help keep digging predators out.
Make certain that your fence is also at least five feet tall if not taller. Believe me, I’ve had hens and roosters jump out of enclosed runs that had 4-foot fences. You’ll want that height!
If you have your heart set on free ranging your birds, I strongly recommend fencing your yard in. You’ll need to check your local ordinances to see what permits are required to erect a yard fence. You’ll also need to let your neighbors know that you are putting up a fence for your chickens, which may lead to squabbles over property lines, overhanging tree limbs and fence maintenance.
To avoid adding fuel to the fire, a fenced chicken run is your best solution.
Keep a Log
I cannot stress how crucial it is to keep a log of any incidents that may occur from the moment you start keeping chickens. Your hens escape into your neighbor’s yard? Note the date, time and the location in their yard that you found your hens.
Your next-door neighbor’s dog came into your property and harassed your flock? Note the date, time and how long it took for your neighbor to retrieve their pet.
The neighbor kids came over to play with the chickens without asking? Note that as well.
Any phone call, email, text message or in-person visit from a neighbor, complaining that your chickens are in their yard or are being noisy needs to be logged. Documenting these interactions and incidents will protect you should your neighbor lodge a complaint with your municipality. It will also serve as evidence should problems such as a nuisance dog recur.
I recommend also keeping track of such information as when and how frequently your neighbors apply pesticide or herbicide to their yards, especially if you let your chickens roam free. These toxins can poison and kill your chickens.
Learn Your Ordinances
Be prepared for any issue a neighbor may raise by thoroughly familiarizing yourself with your local ordinances. Most municipalities publish their ordinances on their web sites. You can also request a PDF copy or a printed version, although there may be a fee for printing.
Read up on every ordinance that directly impacts you and your flock. These should include regulations for the keeping of poultry or livestock, including:
- how many maximum
- whether roosters are allowed
- permitted size of a coop and run
- the location of a coop and run in reference to property lines and your home
- storage of chicken feed and supplements
- the disposal of manure and corpses
- slaughtering of meat birds
- sale of eggs
Learn these all, and follow them to the letter. Do not give an irate neighbor an opening that could lead to the end of your chicken-keeping.
Also familiarize yourself with the ordinances regarding yard fences, trespass and nuisance dogs. You never know when you will need this knowledge. Most municipalities side in favor of the chicken-keeper should a neighbor’s dog harass, attack, stress or kill any of your birds, with the penalties ranging from fines and compensation to the euthanization of the dog.
Hopefully this will never come up, but it never hurts to have this knowledge at hand.
Stand up for Yourself
Should you learn that a neighbor has indeed filed a complaint against you or has gone so far as to demand that you cease keeping chickens immediately, be prepared to fight for your right to farm.
Contact your ordinance director or your town council about the complaint and request a hearing. Your log and your knowledge of your local ordinances will come into play here.
You can also opt to contact your state’s Department of Agriculture and request to be granted Right to Farm status. There will be forms to complete, plus an interview and inspection by a state representative. But, should you be granted Right to Farm status, your state’s protection of your farming rights trumps whatever complaint your neighbors may lodge locally.
You may forever alienate your neighbors by speaking out for yourself and your chickens at a local hearing or by obtaining Right to Farm status. But if you did not have a relationship with them to start, the loss is minimal. And you’ll be cleared to keep your chickens with your government’s backing.
Naturally, it’s best to keep the peace with your neighbors. Our former neighbors to the south adored our chickens. They would feed them scraps of bread whenever any of those naughty little chickens crossed the property line to pay them a visit.
Our new neighbors to the north actually came over to introduce themselves. They let us know they were installing an invisible pet fence to keep our birds safe from their dogs, two fabulously trained German Shepherds.
Our across-the-street neighbors actually keep chickens and have bought several from us.
And the Bad
However, it hasn’t been all flowers and friendship. Our previous neighbors to the north—city folk who built a suburban-style home next door to our poultry farm—lodged a complaint about our poultry operations with our ordinance director. This led to our Right to Farm status (they soon afterwards moved away and were replaced by our wonderful, dog-owning neighbors).
Our neighbor to the east never informs us when he’s spraying pesticide or herbicide. We sadly have lost numerous hens due to these toxins.
But we do the best we can and are grateful to have several neighbors who appreciate us and our birds and who, like us, strive for peace and harmony out in the country.