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Les squires

I'm specifically thinking about my own county of Centre County Pa - a rural county with pretensions of being an urban county because of the influence of Penn State University.


What's the best way to try to get chicken and food animal husbandry for small landholders declared legal again?


I haven't been able to find a document defining the actual regulations with my first crude searches at the centre county website:


There's a section that is behind a paywall, maybe in there? That seems unfair, if true, hiding regulations behind a paywall.


Or do we look at the townships first?



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While researching ordinances nationally in preparation to do battle with our own "powers that be" on the Backyard Chicken issue, I'd say 95% of what I've found is at the individual village/town and township level. A county reg would apply if a smaller body of gov't hasn't declared anything more specific or different.


I just did a quick check for "Centre County" on and found these two small farms with poultry in that county. They are very active on the Forum. Use the "Contact Us" info on their websites; I'm sure they would share what they know about regs, and might be helpful in pointing you towards more specific resources in Central PA:  in Farwell, Pennsylvania

lol, I did the same search, that backyard chickens site is great, I dunno if the php search url will work if posted lets see:


I saw the crestview farms thing but thought - with a name like crestview farms, and the poultry sales sig, those folks must be real farmers with more then 10 acres, and I got from Chips writing the idea that this was a regulation that only applied to people with less then 10 acres of land - like me with my measly two acres.


What's ironic is I have a dairy farm a hundred yards away from my place, with roosters that crow, and it hadn't really occured to me that a different set of laws would apply to me cuz I'm a little landowner.


Not that I have moved this thought closer to the center of my mind, I see it as a fascinating injustice. And I'm wondering if transition can make political hay ouit of the chicken and food animals issue.


I think I'd like to try raising ducks and rabbits.

Well, Good Morning!


Alright, these are my random and unformed thoughts.

I think I should crosspost this over to the centre county initiative forum, as it's actually more germane there.

Note, this is going to be somewhat stream of consciousness :)

We decided to go 'all in' to Centre County a while back, after a few disappointing democratic processes took place in my home state of WV. She is already established in PA, and we have a split domicile, and as the future is rolling up hard and fast, we felt like we needed to find the forever place, and get on with the work that is worth doing.
I stumbled upon a place I thought would work, she agreed, we signed a contract. We close in March.

The place is in Harris Township, and everyone around has seen the roving hordes of chickens in Boalsburg, so it was 'assumed' that small scale animal husbandry was completely okay, as it is in a lot of the rest of the state.
The borough of State College proper had to amend it's occupancy rules to allow it, but it did so. Common sense approach. No problem, so we thought.

I called the township office, spoke with the zoning enforcement fellow there, nice guy. We had a nice chat, and I learned that the roving bands of birds in Boalsburg are in fact, pirate outlaw chickens. Harris Township has a rule on poultry and livestock, restricting it to 10 acres or more. Period, paragraph, end of subject. The zoning fellow allowed as how he did expect it would probably come up as an issue in the next 'few years'. Few Years? well, we'll see. :)

I did a lot of further research. A 'backyard chicken' amendment to the zoning rules was attempted and defeated in Belleville. Oh my. Defeated? Who have thought? The overall trend is clear. Heck, there are even trade magazines dedicated to backyard poultry and rabbits and such. Now, the State College borough allows for 4 hens without a permit. Not great, but better than nothing. Currently we have 5 birds on 1/4 acre in Cumberland Co, and could easily have twice that without any issue. They are wonderful and joyful additions to that kitchen garden. (Gotta keep'em out of the blueberries, but I digress).

The outlawing of poultry and livestock on properties of less than 10 acres appears to have been adopted county wide in 1917. I did managed to dig that nugget up while poking about the internet. having learned that, I shelved my research for a while. I did post the 'does anyone know' query on the Centre Country Initiative forum, and left it at that.

My thoughts.

What happened in 1917? Well, The Spanish Flu pandemic started that summer. Many places, esp clueful places, killed off all backyard geese, ducks and chickens right away. I'm guessing that Centre County wisely codified that public health issue in law.

Now, I don't *KNOW* that, it's just a guess, But it's pretty coincidental timing. People have relied on garden poultry for a very long time. Giving it up must have required good reason. If that actually is the case, then I am deeply impressed with the governing bodies of that day. That's good thinking, fast and effective.

However, is it relevant today? In a word, yes.
Traditionally, if some are good, a lot is better. This has been the predominate model of food production for a very long time. For the record, there is a world of difference between some happy chickens running about in the back yard, and crates of chickens stacked up as high as one can reach, packed in tight, as we see in the news concerning avian flu on the news. Many folks have this latter model in mind. They imagine backyards with hundreds of birds, living in abject filth, de-beaked, shoved into boxes, shedding disease and all vile things in a small model of our industrial food system. Some folks even imagine cock fighting rings and other less desirable aspects of poultry keeping.

These imaginings are not without precedent. But that's not what we are talking about. Differentiating that vision with a holistic vision of integrated pest management in a non toxic food garden, increased fertility, happy children enjoying their happy chickens.

The arguments that were made against town and village keeping of poultry in Bellefonte were along the lines that keeping poultry in town would negatively impact property values, would spread disease, would create a nuisance, and 'the laws are good, there is no reason to change them to accommodate one person'.

To point one, I think it's specious. Property values in the Centre County region are NOT currently endangered. Further, State College Borough allows chickens, and it's property values seem to be doing fine.

To point two, yes, that's a consideration. Again, reasonable guidelines and constraints will nicely deal with that issue.

To the nuisance issue. Well, nothing quite like a barking dog. However, that's a red herring. Are backyard chickens a nuisance? Some areas don't allow roosters for this reason. personally, I like roosters a whole lot more than I like leaf blowers, string trimmers, lawn mowers, circular saws, hammers and other fun things one is likely to be
awakened by early on a sat, or even a sun morn, but that doesn't necessarily mean that others feel the same way. I
see this as a place where some actual research is needed.

Okay, that's about all i feel like writing right now.

Aside from,
There is Centre Regional Council of Governments. They are kinda the place where all the boroughs, the townships,
the this, and the that can coordinate. I think that might the place to address this. So that there can be some
consistency across the region.

Where on the net did you find that bit about 1917? link please.


Something that transition faces that transition people seem to ignore is that almost every imaginable law and regulation and local government wonk and good-old-boys-network member is against us and hates everything we stand for.


All summed up in that most consumer society of keyphrases - "property values".


We are going to have to go political, and build into our efforts a political action arm.


Or be willing to be illegals, and fight the way illegals fight.



Sorry, I can't comment on your local rules and regs.  But if it were me, I would contact my immediately adjacent neighbors and get their opinion of your idea of chickens.  Try to explain how backyard chickens are nothing like factory chickens housed cramped pens stacked to the ceiling, in giant buildings.


If none of your neighbors is adamantly opposed, I think I would just do it.  But do it as discreetly as possible, and build your coop to be very well insulated, (for heat, but noise too).  Design your coop to look like a garden shed, and maybe even match the color and trim of your house.  Don't let your rooster crow outside unless it is decent hours for humans to be awake.  Be tidy and don't get behind on your chores to keep any possible odors to a minimum.  Then, as soon as your hens start laying, be generous with your neighbors and bring them eggs.  If nobody complains, then I doubt the authorities will be bothered.  If someone complains, well, then you may have the beginnings of an argument on your hands - ya never know, you might be the first to get the laws changed!  Or, you might be the first to prove that the law will be ignored, if good neighbor practices are followed.


Good luck!

PS.  All that is just my two bits, not legal advice, of course... lol

PPS.  You don't have to have a rooster, but conventional wisdom is flock dynamics are much better with one, and if you want wee lil peeps without buying them, well then a rooster is a requirement - and the only way to be self-reliant.

Going political ? Ick!
Going legal? Ewww!

How about going with the democratic process?

I think it is important to try and do this legal - raise the issue - address the issues - get more people thinking about the alternatives to a planetary food system.  Chickens seem to be a good place to start because of the salmonella in eggs problems with factory production.  There are more reasons to support local food than peak oil and climate change.  At least you will find out which of your city officials is opposed and have a shot at a better outcome after the next election. 


There is a middle way between illegal and changing the ordinance.  That is to apply for a variance.  With a variance you can include restictions that address the kinds of concerns that Chip lists.  It is also good to poll your neighbors and get their buy in.  Notice to the neighbors is usually required in the variance process.


I am interested in a middle way between producing for the market and self-sufficiency.  Trying to be self-sufficient is a lonely road limited by a family's resources.  A neighborhood, on the other hand, has lots of extra resources that could be devoted to food production.  I think of it like a joint venture among the neighbors - a sharing of the cost in materials and labor to be able to generate fresh, healthy food for ourselves.  I think in terms of multiple use facilities like the ones we are working on in my group here in Colorado.


If a group of neighbors went to the town council for a variance for such a facility I don't see any upside to a council member voting against it - if no one is objecting and the request is made by a block of voters like that.  If anyone wants to work on that kind of a neighborhood project let me know so we can compare notes and share information. 

I like the variance idea.  Sounds a whole lot simpler than trying to get ordinances changed, and less risky than just going for it and potentially having to tear down a coop and getting rid of your birds if it goes awry.  With a variance, you might have (legal) chickens by springtime.  People get variances all the time for things a lot less noble than raising your own food.
In my village, it costs over a grand to apply for a variance. Changing the ordinance changes it for EVERYONE; a variance applies only to me. If my neighbor see the light and wants BYC too, that's a chunk of change out of their pockets in addition to the start-up costs.

Have to say the variance idea is good if you don't incur a huge cost just to go through the process... you can plant a "seed" location, let word spread through neighbor word-of-mouth that chickens aren't such a bad thing after all, and have some enlightenment spread that way.

If the variance process is costly, I've got to lean towards changing the ordinance.

Agreed that the best approach will vary by circumstance.  But this idea of involving the neighbors in a "neighborhood sufficiency" project is specifically related to this issue of cost.  If we don't do something because it is beyond our personal resources, that is a limitation imposed by our "cowboy"/independent/self-sufficiency mentality (I know, I'm as guilty as anyone).  If we got say ten families involved then a grand is not that big a deal - particularly where each family is spending $100.00 a week at the grocery store.


A sustainable community is a whole new set of transactions in which the community  produces goods and services for internal consumption.

Well, we got the chicken ordinance changed in our town for our Zone, but we rode in on a General Plan change which facilitated things.   Nonetheless, it was not a quick, easy road. 

Anyway, just saw this Grist article on Urban Eggtivism -- How to Get Your City to Allow Backyard Chickens.  Might be helpful.

Hey Judith;


Nice link, thanks kindly for passing it along. 


No, not a quick and easy road. We sometimes imagine that we could put our case, get some debate, fall back, address the concerns, hold for a consensus and move an idea forward. Never quite so simple.


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