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Council opts to make Austin a friendlier place for backyard chickens

Friday, October 21, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Chicken enthusiasts have cause for celebration, as a proposal to loosen setback regulations for chicken coops passed last week on City Council’s consent agenda.

The move stems from a collaboration between the Public Health Department and the Office of Sustainability, which sought to make it easier for Austinites living on smaller lots to reap the benefits of keeping backyard chickens. The ordinance will amend setback requirements for coops, lowering the minimum distance from neighboring properties from 50 feet to 30 feet.

“APH recognizes that some Austin residents want to expand their sustainability options with respect to food sources … and is seeking to compromise desires of the sustainability minded with non-fowl owners by keeping a setback distance versus completely eliminating it,” Assistant Director of Environmental Health Services Marcel Elizando said in a May briefing to the Animal Advisory Commission. “Through this compromise, more residents will be able to keep fowl on smaller properties.”

The city has promoted backyard chickens for a number of years, launching a program in 2017  (which ended in 2021) offering $75 checks to flock owners as part of Austin Resource Recovery’s composting rebate program. Keeping chickens can help Austin accomplish its zero waste goal of reducing 90 percent of waste sent to landfills by 2040, since the birds eat kitchen scraps and their droppings fertilize the soil. Chickens also provide a sustainable food source, turning their diet of food scraps into farm-fresh eggs.

“This issue is actually more important than it seems,” Animal Advisory Chair Craig Nazor said during the commission’s unanimous recommendation of the change in May.

Right now we’re in the process of trying to expand composting … we’re trying to keep more landfills from being filled and producing more methane. Yard scraps go to chickens really easily, and they’re turned into edible food in a cheap and healthy way. It’s really hard to go out and buy an egg of the quality you’ll raise in your backyard.”

Other regulations for backyard chicken owners still apply, including maintaining sanitation standards, mitigating excessive noise (read: roosters) and preventing chickens from wandering off-property. With the relaxed setback in place, Austin Public Health says it will address any concerns about new feathered neighbors on a case-by-case basis.

Those interested in their own backyard venture can learn more on the city’s chicken keeping website.

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