Yes, People of the City of Delaware, Ohio, Some of You Can Have Chickens!

Delaware, Ohio Chicken Laws

Contrary to popular belief, the City of Delaware’s ordinances do permit the keeping of chickens.  Granted, Delaware’s ordinance is not as lenient as those of Columbus, Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, Bexley (that’s right, Bexley), and many other places.  But, raising backyard chickens here is possible.

The ordinances that apply to the keeping of backyard chickens can be found in Chapters 505, 1148, and 1149 of the city’s codified ordinances.   The ordinances can be interpreted to give three different options for keeping chickens: 1) outdoors in fenced areas of at least one acre per bird, 2) entirely inside the primary structure on the lot (just like a parakeet for example), or 3) for purposes of 4H or a similar program, with a temporary use permit from the city for periods of time not exceeding seven months so long as they are kept in an entirely enclosed structure with no outside run area.

Now, these laws seem stringent, but it is important to keep this in perspective.   A large chicken is the size of a small dog.  Like a small dog, it can bite, though not as viciously and it cannot cause as much injury.  If it is a hen (a female chicken – you only need females for fresh eggs), it can make noise, but not as much noise or as loud of noises as a small dog.  And, like dogs, chickens poop-but the quantities of feces are less in weight and smell than that of an equal number of dogs.  So, the logical reasons for Delaware’s strict ordinances cannot be any of these items.

Delaware dog ordinances are not as strict as the Delaware chicken ordinances:  1) dog owners may keep up to three giant dogs on the very smallest residential lots in town, 2) dog owners may keep the dogs inside or outside the primary structure on the lot, and 3) dog owners do not need a temporary use permit if the dog is for a 4H project.  In addition, the dogs may bark (so long as not “excessively”) in the middle of night and it is lawful for the dogs to wake up the neighbors up and down the block.  A property owner is permitted, with some limitations, to allow their dog’s feces to marinate in the sun and rain full of maggots, and the resulting stench and flies may drift into a neighbor’s backyard.  This is lawful.  And, the dogs can run along the fence and terrify and harass the neighbor’s children.  This, too, is lawful.  Chickens will not make noises at night (unless attacked), their feces are tiny compared to that of an equal number of dogs, and hens will not terrify and harass the neighbor’s children.

There is no known scientific or logical reason (or rational basis) why year-round outdoor chickens inside the City of Delaware require one open acre per bird, but three giant nighttime-barking dogs (or ear piercing yappy small dogs) may be kept on the smallest of residential lots in Delaware.  There is no logical reason why indoor dogs may be permitted to run in the backyard, but chickens kept in a coop inside the garage cannot be allowed to free-range in the backyard.  There is no logical reason why a poverty-stricken family in Delaware cannot raise four hens to defray food costs unless they own four extra acres for those four hens, but a much wealthier family in Delaware may enjoy the privilege of owning expensive full-breed dogs, parrots, cockatiels, and other fancy animals without owning more than a standard residential lot.

Fair or not, the law is the law.  Whether you keep dogs or chickens, it is important to remember that many additional legal restrictions apply and it is important to know the fine print of the law.

About D.J. Young

D. J. Young writes the DelawareO legal blog. He is a 1998 graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School. He is a partner with the Delaware, Ohio law firm of Firestone, Brehm, Wolf, Whitney & Young LLP, and can be found on the web at This blog contains news and commentary and is not intended to be legal advice directed to any particular group or person. Interested persons must see an attorney to discuss their particular factual and legal circumstances.

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