I don’t have anything against poultry, but I’ve seen enough of them to last a lifetime.
My grandfather had a small family chicken ranch (he never called it a chicken farm), and my uncle raised turkeys. So I am a little leery of people who want to keep hens in their backyards in a densely populated suburb like Lakewood.
On the other hand, I can fully appreciate people’s desire to have fresh, wholesome, home-grown eggs. If you are part of the Backyard Hen movement, you should be aware of a number of legal issues related to keeping hens at home.
The most basic question is whether your city allows farm animals on residential property. Some cities such as Lakewood completely prohibit farm animals.
In other cases, a city may limit the number or kind of animals that can be kept. For example, you may be able to keep three hens, but no goats.
However, even if the law allows you to keep hens, there are a number of other legal issues that you will have to address.
Although you may be legally permitted to keep hens in your backyard, you must still comply with all other applicable health and safety regulations. The birds must not create excessive noise or odor, and the yard must be kept clean. The hens also must be kept disease free so as to not endanger the health of others.
Given the climate in Ohio, you cannot raise hens by simply letting them wander around your yard, so you are going to need a coop.
A coop, like a garage or a storage shed, must comply with your city’s building code.
There may be restrictions on how large the coop can be, or how close it can be to your neighbor’s property line. You will probably need a building permit, and the coop may need to be approved by a building inspector before you can use it.
If you intend to let your hens out of the coop to feed and exercise, you will have to make sure that your yard is secure. If your hens wander onto someone else’s property, you could be liable for trespassing.
Also, if a free-roaming hen causes a traffic accident or pecks someone, you could be liable for the resulting damage.
What’s even worse, you could be liable even if an injury occurs on your property and even if all the hens are in a coop.
Many children love farm animals, and they may be attracted into your yard to play with the hens. This makes hens an “attractive nuisance.” If a child is pecked or catches his finger in the coop door, you could be held liable because your hens attracted the child into your yard.
Speaking of nuisances, you should also bear in mind that other animals may consider your chicken coop to be a free dinner buffet. Rats don’t eat chickens, but they love chicken feed and eggs. Dogs and coyotes do eat chickens, and even if they cannot get into the coop, they can create a real ruckus in the middle of the night.
Finally, if you intend to sell or give away any extra eggs, remember that you are responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of your product. And, if you are selling the eggs, check carefully to determine whether your city considers this to be a business.
If so, you may need a business license.
As my Grandmother would say, you have to put in a lot of work to get those free eggs. For those who really are dedicated to the Backyard Hen concept, I’m sure it is all worth it. But as for me, I’ll see you at the Giant Eagle.
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Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.