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Roosters run afoul of proposed regulations on backyard barnyards

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 by Bill McCann

If the Planning Commission is in a fowl mood tonight, roosters could be another endangered bird in Austin.


The commission is scheduled to consider a city code amendment that would prohibit residents from keeping roosters. Raising hens – as long as they are kept in a pen – would be okay. 

The amendment was suggested by the Codes and Ordinances Committee of the Planning Commission as part of efforts to update the city code, said Robert Heil, senior planner at the city’s Planning and Development Review Department. City staff supports the amendment, Heil said.

 Hens are favored because they lay eggs, which people eat, and roosters are not needed for hens to produce eggs, say city staffers. Cock-a-doodle-dooing roosters, however, can be a problem if they bother neighbors, especially at the crack of dawn.


Right now, the city code does not differentiate between hens and roosters. It merely says that feathered fowl, such as chickens, may be kept as an accessory use in residential zoning as long as they do not roam free and as long as the pen is at least 50 feet from a neighbor’s house. The code change would make it clear that hens are welcome and roosters are not.


City staffers say they don’t know how many roosters would be banished – or eaten – due to the proposed the code change. But there are perhaps hundreds of Austin residents who keep chickens.


If the commission approves the code’s chicken change, it likely will go to the City Council for final action early next year, he said.


If the code is amended, it does not mean that city inspectors will be out hunting down residents who are afoul of the law, Heil said.  Rooster owners would have time to get into compliance and inspectors would only respond when there is a complaint, he said.


“Keeping chickens in urban areas has become more and more popular nationally,” Heil said “The amendment would bring our code into the general standard practice that we see in other cities around the country. It also would be consistent with the City Council’s support of efforts on sustainability and local food production.”


Heil hopes the proposed code change will not ruffle too many feathers. He said he has received 15 to 20 calls on the subject, mostly from people merely curious about the commission agenda item. Some of the callers favored the code change, but there were a few rooster boosters as well, he said. 


The commission has scheduled the item for possible discussion, just in case anyone cries fowl.

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