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Birds & bees of urban homesteading

March 29, 2010 Urban Food Systems 27 Comments
ABOVE: backyard coop in St. Louis County

I don’t eat any poultry nor do I consume many eggs, but I love backyard chickens!  I’m not alone either, this segment of urban homesteading is gaining popularity because it makes so much sense. Over the last month I have talked to numerous people currently raising chickens as well as those interested in doing so.  I’ve met people with multiple acres to those with typical city yards. Interest in backyard chickens crosses economic boundaries.  Those interested include those of modest means looking for an affordable way to have fresh eggs to those who can easily afford to buy eggs but who prefer the freshness of their own.

A neighbor of my last place in South St. Louis had a rooster and I enjoyed hearing it.  Roosters can be noisy but they are not a necessary to the backyard coop. I met one woman from Clayton with chickens and a rooster. Her hen house is sound insulated and doesn’t let the rooster out until later in the morning.

All the people I talked to said their neighbors are supportive. For couples, the interest seems to start with one of the two who convinces the other to go along with the idea. If your better half says yes your municipality or subdivision my not be so agreeable.   I wanted to dig into the various laws for our region but with hundreds of units of government it is a monumental task to take on.  Here is a relevant section from the city’s code:

10.20.015 Keeping of certain animals prohibited.

A. No person shall raise or keep within the City of St. Louis any cattle, sheep, goats, swine, except for Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. Nor shall any person raise or keep within the City of St. Louis any canine which is the offspring of the mating of a domestic canine with a wolf or coyote. The raising of such animals is hereby declared to be a public nuisance. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the above specified animals may be raised or kept within biological laboratories, hospitals, slaughter houses, stockyards, zoological gardens, or an itinerant or temporary show.

B. One Pot-Bellied Pig, per parcel of property, may be kept in the City of St. Louis, provided that males over the age of four (4) weeks (28 days) are neutered and females over the age of one hundred twenty (120) days are spayed. All such animals must be proven purebred lineage, and the owner must be able to produce litter papers to verify pedigree. Pigs over the age of one hundred twenty (120) days must be registered and licensed as required of dogs and cats. Fees for such licenses will be the same as required for dogs and cats, and must be obtained from the Health Commissioner, who must receive certificate of immunization from a licensed veterinarian that such Vietnamese pot-bellied pig has been vaccinated against pseudorabies prior to issuing such license. Upon compliant of annoyance, the privilege of keeping a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig will be determined by an investigation by agents of the Health Commissioner, and if deemed an annoyance and nuisance, the pot-bellied pig shall be removed from within the limits of the City of St. Louis, within 48 hours.

C. No person shall raise or keep chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas, peafowl or rabbits within the City, and the raising or keeping thereof is declared a public nuisance; except that such animals may be raised or kept within biological laboratories, hospitals, pet shops, slaughter houses, stockyards, zoological gardens, or itinerant or temporary shows; and except that such animals may be raised or kept where not more than four in the aggregate of all animals, including domestic animals and a pot-bellied pig, are kept as pets within any one parcel of property unless the owner obtains a noncommercial kennel permit. (Ord. 62853 § 7, 1993.)

So no goats for milk & cheese but you can have four chickens provided you have no other animals.

Here is the regulations for Webster Groves, MO:

Sec. 33.210. Domestic Animals Prohibited; Exception.

b. Any person desiring to keep any chicken or goat within the City may file with the City Clerk a written application for a permit, stating the location and the facilities to be provided, the size of the premises of the applicant, the number and type of each to be kept, the purpose of the keeping, and the names and telephone numbers of persons who can respond to any emergency involving the animals in the owner’s absence. The City Clerk shall notify all neighbors within 100 feet of the property lines of the application and invite the neighbors to submit comments for or against the application to the office of the City Clerk within 15 calendar days of the date of the notice. Within 10 business days after the 15-day comment period, the City Clerk shall decide whether the application meets the terms and conditions of Article III of this Chapter, and issue or deny the permit. Any applicant or aggrieved neighbor within 100 feet of the property lines of the applicant may appeal the decision of the City Clerk to the Health and Environmental Services Advisory Board, which may affirm, reverse or modify the decision of the City Clerk.

Each permit shall be for a term of three (3) years from the date thereof, unless sooner revoked by the City Manager or such person designated by the City Manager, after a hearing.

A permit granted under this Section may be renewed for a period of three (3) years through the same procedure set forth above for an initial application.

Permits granted under this Article may not be transferred upon sale or gift from a permitted owner to a new owner.

Sec. 33.220. Required Facilities; Running at Large Prohibited.

a. All chickens permitted to be kept in the City shall be securely restrained and enclosed in a suitable shelter, chicken coop, aviary, or other outbuilding or enclosure, upon the premises of the owner, and shall not be permitted to be at large at any time. Enclosures for chickens shall be completely enclosed including a roof to prevent chickens from escaping the enclosure. Such shelter, chicken coop, aviary, or other outbuilding or enclosure, and any appurtenances thereto, is to be located outside the side setback area as defined by the Webster Groves

Municipal Code and may not be nearer than fifty feet to any portion of any dwelling, residence or living quarters of persons other than their owner. (Ord. No.

8040, §3, 8-4-98)

b. Chickens are limited to parcels zoned single family residential and with occupancy permits for single family residential. Chickens for lots less than 7,500 square feet or with less than 5,500 square feet of unimproved land area are prohibited except through a variance approved by the Health and Environmental Services Advisory Board. Eight (8) chickens are allowed for lots 7,500 square feet or greater. An additional chicken is allowed for each 2,500 additional lot square footage to a maximum number of twelve (12) chickens. Areas containing any shelter, chicken coop, aviary or other outbuilding, and any appurtenances thereto must either be of level grade or graded in a direction away from the property line preventing run off to adjacent property.

The City of Ballwin requires a very large parcel of land:

Sec. 5-1. Keeping animals within city restricted.
(a) Except for dogs, cats and non-domestic animals which are otherwise provided for in this Code, and traditional household pets such as caged birds, similar caged animals and aquarium animals, no person shall keep, raise, harbor, water or offer for sale any cattle, cow, bull, hog, horse, mule, jennet pony, donkey, sheep, pig, goat, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, rabbit, skunk, raccoon or any other domestic or wild animal or fowl within the city, unless such animal or fowl are kept in an enclosed area on a tract of land of two or more acres in size.
(b) Large animals (over 50 pounds) shall be limited to two per acre over a total of two acres as required in subsection (a).

Why go to the trouble?

Backyard chickeners say, with responsible ownership, chickens don’t bother anyone, and a surplus of roosters is a small price to pay for the benefits chickens provide — from fresh eggs to insect control. They also point to one surprising benefit: A study found that a hen can consume about 7 pounds of food scraps a month, or about 84 pounds a year.  (Full story)

Urban Homesteading doesn’t stop with chickens.  Some are replacing their front lawns with raised garden beds and adding new family pets:

“Looking for a pet that can live in your urban yard, answers to its name, wears a leash for strolls – and might produce milk you can drink or turn into cheese?  Meet the miniature goat.

The Carbondale, Ill., Planning Commission was debating this month whether to allow residents to keep chickens when Priscilla Pimentel, a member of the city’s Sustainability Commission, added goats to the mix.  “If you can have a 250-pound dog in town, why not a miniature goat that can produce milk?” she says. “It’s just common sense.” (USA Today: Goat fans, cities butting heads)

Some that I talked to are also getting into bee-keeping.  Reasons for doing so are two-fold.  First, obviously is fresh honey.  The second is to ensure their garden is pollinated so their vegetable plants produce.  Slowly those in suburban and urban areas are engaging in what was commonplace 100 years ago, but today is rare outside of industrial complexes.

Tonight Slow Food St. Louis is offering a free screening of the film Mad City Chickens, here is a trailer:


The film starts at 7:30pm at Schlafly’s Bottleworks in Maplewood.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "27 comments" on this Article:

  1. electroponix says:

    If we ever get a house, I'm going Filipino on y'all. 2 chickens, dog, pot bellied pig (mini water buffalo). 🙂

  2. Fenian says:

    What about bee keeping? I believe that Mrs. Stinger (no, seriously) who sells honey at the Clayton farmer's market raises bees in the County. Her honey is amazing.

    What are the restrictions on that?

  3. Former Farmgirl says:

    As a person who grew up on a real farm (10,000+ acres) which chickens, cattle, horses, dogs, cats, and assorted guinea hens, I don't quite understand the novelty of having livestock in the city. Farms are for livestock, not 30' x 120' city lots. Why people would want to have chickens that sh#t all over the place and make noise, and generally make your neighbors dislike you is beyond me. I'll keep getting my eggs and poultry from store.

    • Mark says:

      “Why people would want to have chickens that sh#t all over the place and make noise, and generally make your neighbors dislike you is beyond me.”
      I feel the same way about my neighbors' dogs…

    • The eggs from the store are about 45 days old by the time you buy them vs. 45 minutes old.

    • Dennis says:

      I grew up on a farm too and agree with you. Listen up folks! For those of you that are considering the chicken thing, just remember, they DO SHIT all over the place. I have a 35 ft wide lot. The space in my backyard between the house and garage is thus about 25 x 35. I thought about chickens too. But just three in a space that big would mean poop poopy doop all over. And just two wouldn't be worth foolin with. They do have to be fed and watered daily. And then there's the question of feed storage. Rats love that stuff. If you start storing chicken feed on the place rats will eventually get a whiff of it and come crawlin out of the sewers. And you have to have good feed or they won't lay eggs. Those hens need to crank out one egg every day and a half or they should be yanked off the production line and tossed in the soup pot! It's a fact. For all you hen lovin city slickers, ever wonder why the big commercial chicken farms keep the hen house lights burning all through the night? That's to fool the hens into thinking its really daytime so they stay awake, keep eating and keep producing eggs. If they are left in any darkness they will sleep more, produce less. Keep em in the light 24/7 and they are forced into production. Now and then they manage to grab a little shut eye from total exhaustion. The old bags that can't hack it anymore end up in pot pies!

      • samizdat says:

        http://gardengirltv.com/ Here's a woman who gardens and raises chickens in her small lot. She has a system. You can see her moving her coops around, from one raised bed to another, utilising the droppings as fertiliser. Really, get a grip.

      • Beau says:

        Using the Deep Litter method helps a lot with managing chicken waste in a small area. You place the coop/run directly onto the soil. As the chickens crap on the ground you add a layer of compostable material (I use shredded junk mail) about once every week or so. This causes the bottom layer of waste to continually compost and greatly reduces the smell. The composted waste can be cleaned out periodically (annually) and used as fertilizer, as it is very nitrogen rich.

  4. Cheryl says:

    I live in a condo in the city of St. Louis, but I would keep chickens if I could. From genealogical research, I know that my ancestors kept chickens within the city of St. Louis. My grandmother in the city of Jacksonville, IL kept chickens when I was a little girl. You don't need to be on a farm to keep chickens.

  5. johnpalmer2010 says:

    It seems like as a community we should be concerned with quality of life issues that could be associated with this topic: noise pollution, offensive odors, watershed run-off, property destruction, etc. Why can't we have municipal codes to buffer the negative impact(s) without telling people a specific number of animals. An irresponsible owner with three (3) chickens can be a much bigger problem than a humane, responsible neighbor and farmer with thirty (30) chickens.

    • johnpalmer2010 says:

      My neighbors have chickens, and they are no problem. In fact, I wish they has a larger pen or more free range. They used to have a moveable enclosure which seemed better for the environment and the poultry, but the addition of a coop made it permanent.

  6. equals42 says:

    I had chickens and rabbits as a child in California. I do recall they weren't much work really as we had a large, fenced pen for them. They did however make quite a stink and attracted/bred flies. Now I had a good dozen or more so the mess was a lot more than a couple hens, but I wonder what they would do to a small city yard? What would people do with them over the winter here? I'd be inclined to have soup in Fall and start over in Spring but can they survive with a coop?

  7. Gaby says:

    I appreciate this post. The facts are just so agreeable. Same here, I also love backyard chickens and I even have this site about it. Makes much sense I suppose. Thanks for the article. And the video too. Its in Maplewood aye?
    Chicken coop

  8. Gaby says:

    I appreciate this post. The facts are just so agreeable. Same here, I also love backyard chickens and I even have this site about it. Makes much sense I suppose. Thanks for the article. And the video too. Its in Maplewood aye?
    Chicken coop

  9. linsey says:

    I've had chickens in STL and in my former city Austin, TX. As much as we could, we used a chicken “tractor” a mobile enclosure to basically put them out to pasture on different parts of the yard. They kept the grass mowed, the weeds down, the bugs (cockroaches, mosquitos, other beetles, grubs) way, way down. What I miss the most, though, is their poop, actually. Four hens produce a perfect amount of awesome fertilizer – I was growing an unbelievable amount of food in two small raised beds. Kitchen and yard compost is just not the same.

    WRT the eggs….with access to fresh greens and bugs chickens produce eggs that are healthier and tastier in every way than their store bought counterparts. Also, modern egg production is a theater of cruelty with no real parallel. Unless I shell out 4-5 dollars for pastured local eggs, I know that each factory farmed egg I eat represents 24+ hours of torture. Not super appetizing, to be sure.

    We did have a neighbor complain. This is is our busy body on the block who has a history of complaining about many properties. At any rate, the city inspector cited us and said we could only have three hens. At that point they were laying less so we went on and slaughtered them a couple months later. Haven't gotten a new flock.

    City chicken-eers do seem surprised when, after a few years, the chickens aren't really giving them many eggs. I have helped several squeemish city slickers slaughter their birds. No one wants to run a chicken retirement home for 15 years.

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  12. Once I get a house,I'm going to do like you

  13. Luelie Isbell says:

    How do I find out if Creve Coeur allows backyard poultry? I am assuming they do not, but maybe.

  14. Kevin Simpson says:

    What about Saint John? Having trouble finding laws. Please help.


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