It’s Time to Legalize Backyard Chickens In Philly, and It May Finally Happen
"I'm ecstatic," says longtime Philadelphia backyard chickens activist Maureen Breen. "Dreams do come true."
In many American cities, if you want to keep chickens in your backyard, you can set up a coop and do your thing. But Philadelphia? Not so much. Backyard chickens are, with very few exceptions, illegal in Philadelphia. Philadelphia City Councilperson Curtis Jones wants to change that.
On Thursday morning, Jones, who represents the 4th District, introduced a bill that would legalize backyard chickens in Philadelphia.
Farm animals are illegal in Philadelphia. The city code currently defines a farm animal as follows:
“Any chicken, goose, duck, turkey, goat, sheep, pig, cow, or other farm animal, provided such other farm animal presents a public nuisance due to smell and/or noise. Does not include a cat, dog, or horse.”
Jones wants to change that language to:
“Any rooster, goose, duck, turkey, goat, sheep, pig, cow, or other farm animal, provided such other farm animal presents a public nuisance due to smell and/or noise. Does not include a cat, dog, hen, or horse.”
If the bill becomes law, the new language would allow you to keep female chickens in your backyard — just not cock-a-doodle-doo-ing roosters.
You wouldn’t be able to have as many chickens as you want. The bill, in its current language, would restrict ownership to six chickens per household. The chicken coop must be fully enclosed and measure at least one square foot per chicken. And there must be a chicken run of at least two square feet per chicken. (Disgraced former councilperson Bobby Henon introduced a similar bill in 2019 when he was still in office but never followed up on it.)
“I’m ecstatic,” says Maureen Breen, one of the city’s lead backyard chicken activists (and underground chicken owners), who has been working with Jones and his team for about a year on the bill. “Dreams do come true.”
Backyard chickens weren’t always illegal in Philadelphia. In 2004, killjoy Republican Brian O’Neill (the same person responsible for the so-called Philly Blunt Ban, which was later overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court) decided he wanted to ban them. And O’Neill was successful. He’s expected to introduce his own bill to ban them in his own district, should the Jones measure pass.
“We’ve evolved a great deal since 2004 in our thinking,” Jones tells Philly Mag. “Mostly in ways of how to produce food with less energy consumption. And thanks to the pandemic, we’ve also been forced to become more creative with the way we use spaces. This will be from the backyard to the table.”
Jones says he has no issue if O’Neill wants to ban them in his district and also suggests he’s willing to compromise on the number of chickens per household.
He expects there to be concern from some residents over the impact of chickens in their neighborhoods, such as the smell. But, he says, the answer isn’t banning chickens. It’s making sure residents take care of the chickens they have.
As for roosters, he assures us that there wouldn’t be any allowed, even though he’s a fan of the noisy fowl.
“I have an illegal rooster in my neighborhood, and I love hearing it crow when I’m out for a walk in the morning,” Jones says. “But, roosters have been accused of breaking domestic tranquility, so…”