Backyard chickens in jeopardy


This is Buttercup

Oh for clucking out loud. Just as many of us in Western New York are rejoicing at the sputtering arrival of spring(ish) weather, two of my favorite local gardeners are being intimidated to the point where they may even leave town. Over their chickens.

Sometimes I am almost embarrassed to discuss these Buffalo problems with you all, but in this case I suspect that gardeners who keep chickens in other cities may have experienced problems similar to my friends Blair and Monique. Not every municipality—and certainly not every homeowners’ association—is chicken-friendly.

In Buffalo, chickens were legal until 2004. That year, the law was changed, perhaps because of some cock fighting problems. Monique and Blair bought their chicks last year, having researched the older statute, where chickens were allowed. They found out about the new law eventually, but it was too late; the chickens were already beloved pets and useful egg providers. They kept them. You can read the whole story here.

The 5 roosting

But to make a long story short, Blair and Monique are much more than chicken owners and gardeners. They are also urban pioneers, having bought 2 houses and 2 empty lots in a troubled neighborhood. They live in one house and have renovated/beautified the other properties, in an effort to improve their community and chase out the drug dealers. Their neighborhood is also the one where Buffalo’s co-op garden center, Urban Roots, is located, a garden center Blair and Monique helped start. As I write this, it’s evening, and the neighborhood drug dealing is likely going on at a lively pace, but—never fear—the chickens have been taken away (removed to a safe place). An anonymous 911 call prompted quicker action against the chickens than most other illegalities in the neighborhood had ever received.


Their house and adjacent pen

Here’s the thing: there is every chance that the City of Buffalo will amend the chicken law, most likely in a way to allow hen-keeping with some regulations. I harbor no illusions that our city fathers have kept up with the popularity of chicken-keeping in urban areas, but I do know that they are now getting a crash course in how chickens are legally kept (under various regulations) in cities everywhere, including New York, Baltimore, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Boise, and Portland. I got my information from the wonderful City Chicken site; I’m sure many of you are familiar with it. (And apologies to Amy as I am equally sure she has previously shared this information and more.)

Can you help Blair, Monique, and other hen-loving Buffalo residents keep their chickens or buy a hen or two? Blair and Monique would appreciate your support in the form of emails to our Common Council President David Franczyk ( and our mayor Byron Brown ( or if that doesn’t work). Some of you will remember that your emails had a wonderful effect in saving fellow Buffalonian Jean Dickson’s front yard garden. This time they could help change a law. I am optimistic, as a large grassroots effort is already underway locally.

In closing, I offer a neighborhood chicken-sitter’s thoughts about Buttercup and the rest of the hens:
I’ve “chicken sat” for Monique and the hens are absolutely beautiful animals. The colors and patterns of their feathers are lovely. They’re quiet, too—about as noisy as a pigeon warbling at the loudest. Monique and Blair are about the best neighbors ANYONE could hope for, anywhere, and the chickens are well cared for. I joke that their coop is nicer than my house… except that it’s kind of true. (It’s not true.)

And this from Friend of Rant and chicken aficionada Robin/Bumblebee: My chickens will come running from the other side of our property when they hear me call “Where are my chickens?” My hens will jump on my lap and let me pet them. … They all make me smile whenever I see them.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. In this day and age when everyone is trying to save money and buy local (how more local can you get than your backyard?!) that is ridiculous! I am constantly amazed how politicians put so much effort into the wrong issues. Like bullies who pick an easy fight. They should be revering your friends and getting rid of the real criminals who endanger our children and property values! I will send a letter and an email now, shame on them.

  2. I live in the red-neck suburb of our states capital city. I can’t have chickens. I can’t have any form of livestock even though my lot is more than an acre. My neighbors can keep all the dogs they want, they can cage them, chain them, let them do whatever they want as well as bark and howl all night long. I’m planning on moving just so I can garden bigger and have a flock of chickens. Am I moving out into the country? Nope, I’m moving to the big city next door – they allow chickens! Even people that live in apartments have chickens in the city.

  3. I don’t live in Buffalo, but I’ll take the time to write them. So ridiculous. And the comparison between how long it takes to get a cop out there to get rid of drug dealers as opposed to animal control is beyond insane. Urban pioneers have my admiration, but stuff like this makes me so glad that I live out in the middle of nowhere.

  4. Urban chickens don’t have near the economic impact as the drug trade unless the city can arrest, prosecute and jail the chickens to help support a private chicken warehousing industry. Your friends should just ignore the law and start selling eggs, chicks and barbeque. If a few relatively quiet chickens get locked up, the city can promise they are tough on chickens and will win the war on chickens.

    Meanwhile more eggs are hatching.

  5. This makes me happy that I live in the boonies where bureaucrats can’t decide whether or not I get to eat fresh eggs from my hens. So sorry to hear of your friend’s troubles and hope that things are resolved summarily. Nearby Austin is a great town for chicken owners . . . perhaps Buffalo could follow in their footsteps??? There will soon be a “Funky Chicken Coop Tour” all over town!

  6. in Gainesville, FL a family can have two hens (no roosters in city limits), so long as they are not in a specialized development that has further restrictions out chickens (the golf communities are not crazy about chickens). A friend of mine bartered with her two adjacent neighbors & she keeps their allotment of two (so she keeps six) & gives the neighbors each four eggs a week. This has worked for her for years; the only people likely to complain are in on it & by limiting to hens, no one else really cares.

    your friends might want to look at Gainesville as an example of a community that is trying to reconcile the self-sustaining with the urban.

  7. It’s amazing how vehemently bureaucrats dislike anything to do with America’s rural past.

    If it involves producing your own food, they find it by definition “dirty.”

    Really, a sophisticated and beautiful city like Buffalo should understand that dictating the look and contents of people’s yards–when no neighbors are being injured–is uncivilized.

    In Paris, they sell fancy-feathered chickens on the streets and allow dogs on restaurant banquets. Now, that is civilized.

  8. We live in Medford, Oregon, and — thanks to 4H — we can have 3 hens within city limits. Maybe you should contact your local FFA or 4H group? They need to be able to raise chickens too, and that’s what changed our laws. Who can say no to a bunch of cute students?

  9. Last year I finally decided I did indeed want chickens. And bees. Eggs from my own hens ? Honey from my own hive (and my own personal troop of pollinators for my crops) ? Could have been pure delight … but then I read the statutes. While some nearby cities allow such urban livestock, ours, in its misguided efforts to be civilized, only allows chickens in coops minimally 20 feet from any human-inhabited structure. Bees ? 500 feet !! The bigger city nearby has no such restrictions.

  10. “An anonymous 911 call prompted quicker action against the chickens than most other illegalities in the neighborhood had ever received.”

    Chickens don’t shoot back.

  11. Oh good heavens..this is ridiculous! I’m getting so disgusted with all the city governments out there. When they don’t have dopers, hookers and pimps out trolling the neighborhoods, then they can come look at chickens!

    I’m fighting this battle to get them legalized here in Norfolk too. After all, you can have known dog fighters, neglected children, druggies, dealers and an army of cockatoos…but not one chicken.

  12. You know, I really don’t get why people would try to regulate others into not having livestock of any kind but they can have all the dogs they want. They’re much louder and IMO more destructive than chickens would be. I like in the “country” in a wooded development on a 2 acre lot. I can’t have chickens here either. It’s just weird. I have a neighbor with 5 dogs and another with 3. They used to tip my garbage cans over every week and scatter my garbage all over the street (until I started taking it to the dump instead). BTW, no one ever got mad at the dog owners, they got mad at me for “leaving” my garbage out. (Was the garbage man supposed to come into my garage to pick up my garbage can?)

  13. I live in a huge county that is urban to the south and rural to the north. I think for purposes of tracking a potential avian flu outbreak, among other things, chicken coops have to be licensed. That’s about it. There may be limits to how many you can keep.

    I have a fuss to product ratio that I maintain. Dogs and chickens are too fussy for my hectic lifestyle. Cats, however, fit in perfectly. So do the bees.

    And so far, my bee hives are more of an amusement to my neighbors than any kind of a threat.

  14. Oh. You mean that OTHER Portland in Oregon.

    The City Chicken site incorrectly lists the real Portland in Maine as ‘voting on an ordinance to allow’ chickens.

    The ordinance was passed (although there is a weird license fee structure) and we can now apply for up to six chickens.

    If I had a larger space in the yard, chickens would be so there.

  15. We are fortunate that our chickens are on our ten acres. They are able to free-range and we can provide healthy organic eggs to family and friends.

    There is a new dvd just released called Mad City Chickens by Tarazod Films and it is excellent to explain the benefits of urban chickens and certainly shows them to be much healthier than dogs while most zoning allows dogs over chickens. (Of course we love our dog and cats too!)

  16. Thanks garden ranters for caring about my girls and for your suggestions for information to help change the ordinance. I was in city hall today and David Rivera’s team has formed a chicken task force to help me work out the details of an ordinance to present to the council. I would sure appreciate it if anyone who has links or contact for other cities that have taken steps to allow chickens in urban settings would share them here. I’ve found many on the website, but any info will help. I hope to get the girls home soon, but whatever happens this whole thing has reminded me of why we moved to Buffalo in the first place – all of you.

  17. I live in a transitional neighborhood in Portland Oregon. Three doors down is a drug house. Across the street is a very kind family and their three chickens. I’ll tell you who’d I’d rather see hauled off by the police… and it ain’t da chickens! ;^) (They’re very sweet birds that we like to go visit with a few raspberries in hand when they’re in season.)

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