Zoning regulations for chickens and bees

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Zoning regulations can be revised or implemented to allow residents to keep chickens and bees within city or municipality limits, especially in urban and suburban areas where previous policies may have prohibited such practices1. Zoning regulations can establish where and how many chickens and bees can be kept, outline specific property characteristics and accessory structure requirements, and set standards for animal welfare, waste management, and public health education2. Some cities require permits, especially for those owning more than three animals3. Raising chickens or keeping bees can be part of individuals’ and families’ income-earning and food-producing activities in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Many owners report keeping chickens for eggs or meat, as garden pest control, or as pets. Owners in rural areas tend to keep larger flocks and are more likely to keep chickens for income4.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased access to healthy food

  • Strengthened local & regional food systems

  • Increased earnings

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased healthy foods in food deserts

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Zoning regulations that allow residents to raise chickens and keep bees, as part of urban agriculture activities, are a suggested strategy to increase access to healthy foods, build sustainable, self-reliant food systems, and increase household income56. Models suggest that cities can achieve significant levels of self-reliance for poultry, eggs, and honey through urban agriculture activities7. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Regulations addressing public health safety concerns and educational campaigns for those in contact with live poultry are suggested strategies to decrease potential risks of infectious disease transmission related to raising chickens4, 89. Experts suggest ordinances limit flock size, require manure management, prohibit slaughter, require veterinary care and appropriate disposal practices, link permitting to public health education, and maintain a registry of poultry owners to reduce the risk of disease transmission2.

Backyard chicken owners report several perceived benefits, including more nutritious and better-tasting eggs and meat, improved food safety, and better animal welfare. They also report ownership challenges, including efforts to minimize predation and comply with zoning regulations, soil management, and the cost of feed4. Experts suggest planners responsible for adjusting or developing livestock codes consider appropriate setbacks and animal limits per lot size, high standards for animal welfare, provisions addressing sales and slaughter, and how to increase public visibility of regulations3.

Implementation Examples

Many municipalities have adopted or changed zoning regulations to support raising chickens and bees, including Boston, MA10; Cleveland, OH11; Salt Lake City, UT12; and Madison, WI13. The specifics of these ordinances (i.e., codes, requirements, and restrictions regulating urban livestock activities) vary significantly1.

As of 2012, 84 of the top 100 U.S. cities by population (according to the 2000 census) have laws that allow chickens in some manner. Chicago has never banned livestock or limited the number of animals permitted; Jersey City allows ownership of up to 50 chickens without a minimum lot size, though a 25-foot setback is required; and Indianapolis allows ownership of chickens and roosters, if roosters are kept in enclosures at night, and also permits slaughtering personal animals on site14. Only 3 cities have an outright ban on keeping chickens, and 13 restrict ownership to agricultural zones or large property lots15. State legislation may supersede local restrictions; for example, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) regulates, inspects, and permits honeybee colonies14, 16.

Implementation Resources

SELC-Urban ag 2018 - University of California Berkeley, UC Cooperative Extension, and the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC). California urban agriculture food safety guide: Laws and standard operating procedures for farming safely in the city. 2018.

Somerville-Urban ag 2012 - City of Somerville. Somerville, Massachusetts: The ABCs of urban agriculture. 2012.

USDA-Urban ag - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library (NAL). Urban agriculture.

UMO Ext-Urban ag - University of Missouri Extension (UMO Ext). Urban agriculture.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 Butler 2012 - Butler WH. Welcoming animals back to the city: Navigating the tensions of urban livestock through municipal ordinances. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2012;2(2):193-215.

2 Tobin 2015 - Tobin MR, Goldshear JL, Price LB, et al. A framework to reduce infectious disease risk from urban poultry in the United States. Public Health Reports. 2015;130(4):380-391.

3 McClintock 2014 - McClintock N, Pallana E, Wooten H. Urban livestock ownership, management, and regulation in the United States: An exploratory survey and research agenda. Land Use Policy. 2014;38:426-440.

4 Elkhoraibi 2014 - Elkhoraibi C, Blatchford RA, Pitesky ME, et al. Backyard chickens in the United States: A survey of flock owners. Poultry Science. 2014;93(11):2920-2931.

5 CDC-Urban ag - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Land use planning and urban/peri-urban agriculture.

6 FAO-Livestock - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Livestock and dairy products.

7 Grewal 2012 - Grewal SS, Grewal PS. Can cities become self-reliant in food? Cities. 2012;29(1):1–11.

8 Bailey 2013 - Bailey T, Larson J. Backyard poultry: Implications for public health and safety. Minneapolis: Food Policy Research Center (FPRC), University of Minnesota; 2013.

9 Beam 2013 - Beam A, Garber L, Sakugawa J, Kopral C. Salmonella awareness and related management practices in U.S. urban backyard chicken flocks. Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 2013;110(3-4):481–8.

10 BRA-Urban ag zoning - Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). Urban agriculture rezoning initiative.

11 Cleveland-Farm animals and bees - City of Cleveland. Local foods and sustainable business: Keeping of farm animals and bees.

12 Salt Lake-Chickens - Hendrickson M, Porth M. An ordinance amending sections 8.08.010, 8.08.060, and 8.08.080, and enacting section 8.08.065, Salt Lake City code, to authorize the keeping of chickens in residential districts subject to certain requirements. Salt Lake City: City Council of Salt Lake City; 2011.

13 Madison-Beekeeping - City of Madison. Obtaining a city of Madison beekeeping license.

14 Meenar 2017 - Meenar M, Morales A, Bonarek L. Regulatory practices of urban agriculture: A connection to planning and policy. Journal of the American Planning Association. 2017;83(4):389-403.

15 Bouvier 2012 - Bouvier J. Illegal fowl: A survey of municipal laws relating to backyard poultry and a model ordinance for regulating city chickens. Environmental Law Reporter. 2012;42(9):10888.

16 FDACS-Beekeeping - Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Beekeeper registration.